Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Buon' Amici

How we got so incredibly lucky, I don’t know, but we are extremely blessed to have such kind friends as Giorgio and Francesca. They are hospitable, generous, tolerant, and downright fun to be with. They come for weekends to enjoy the sea, the garden and the casual atmosphere, but live on the northern outskirts of Rome during the week. They have two grown sons who do not come to the seaside (I can’t quite figure out why).

Francesca is a consummate gardener. She is out in the yard immediately upon rising each morning, dead-heading flowers, picking up bits and pieces of things that may have blown in during the night, and watering; she is out there until well after dark, “to say goodnight to the flowers,” Giorgio says. She spends a great deal of time puttering around, inspecting, tying up and trimming plants. She talks to the flowers and sings to the snails and mutters darkly about the dreaded pidocchi (aphids). Every weekend she arrives with more flowers and herbs to plant, and takes sickly-looking leaves to the fioraio (nursery) for inspection and possible solutions. Walks with Francesca in the neighborhood are piano, piano (slow) as she gazes over walls and through gates to observe the flowers and trees, pointing out her favorites. She works like a fury, always in motion, tending and cleaning and rearranging until she goes to the beach to meet with friends for rousing games of cards. She loves to win and often comes home smugly victorious. She is active and devout in her church, but in a way that exudes a living faith, not of piety but of real concern for others and real devotion to God. When the nearby church bells tinkle out the Ave Maria at 8:00 each evening, she hums along while puttering in the yard.

Giorgio partakes of none of this. He is in the garden only when Francesca calls him out to assist with something (though he was gratefully replaced in these tasks by Bryan the minute Francesca heard he had worked in landscaping at one time). Instead, Giorgio prefers to be in the kitchen. Her passion for gardening is matched by his passion for food. He was a restaurant owner and chef for many years, and enjoys immensely the entire process of cooking, from thought conception to the final presentation. (We met them in their restaurant on our first trip to Rome, where he painstakingly explained the daily menu to us, clearly reveling in the dishes he had on offer that night.) He carries a folio containing scraps of paper onto which he has jotted down notes for new recipes. After he has finished his morning coffee (heck, sometimes before he has finished it) he is cooking a sugo or marinating fish for pranzo. He has a shelf of cookbooks from nearly every region of Italia, in case his innate inspiration fails him (it rarely does). He prepares simple fare - in true Italian fashion - always delicious, always served lovingly and with great pride.

When not cooking, he likes to be in front of the TV, to Francesca’s great consternation. He sits down and is immediately hypnotized. He stares transfixed and usually falls asleep promptly, the monotonous blare his lullaby. He sneaks snorts of grappa and whisky in the evening, saying, “shhhh, Francesca no know”. She tends his high blood pressure as carefully as her garden and monitors his salt and alcohol intake, clucking and rolling her eyes when he is errant. He does not walk to the beach, the many steps to reach it are too difficult for him after his hip replacement surgery. He has a desire to start an Italian food export company; we discuss collaborating on a cookbook. Food is his zeal.

Together, they are a wonderful couple, patient with each other, loving toward each other. They know themselves and the other well, adapt easily, anger slowly, and have a finely honed rhythm in their partnership which is a joy to watch. They joke and tease and talk and discuss; arguments are short and quiet and always respectful. They have mastered the fine art of a marital relationship, the blending together of two personalities and minds, while maintaining a large circle of friends and opening their hearts to others (even foreigners like us). They are genuine – with us and with each other. Far beyond their amazing generosity to us, we are truly blessed to know them.

copyright 2006 Valerie Schneider


Lynn said...

Valerie, in my humble opinion, this is one of the most interesting and best written blogs that you've ever composed. I was enchanted by it from beginning to end. I'd love to meet these people, see this garden, smell and taste that food! And the boys: they're just being teenagers, I thought to myself, remembering my own children at that age. Contrarians! as Steve would laugh and say.

It sounds as though you're having a wonderful time, and that makes me very happy to hear. Keep writing, in order that I and others can keep reading, please! This is exciting for us all.

With love from Lynn

Valerie said...

I always think that you would love this little garden! How wonderful to hear from you; send an email...I'd love an update on the kitchen remodel and how your own garden is surviving the drought and heat. Thanks for the feedback, and coming from a distinguished professoressa like you it means a lot! Keep in touch.