Sunday, May 19, 2013

Dinner at Francesca and Paolo's (Letter #14 from Italy: April 30, 2013)

Francesca has been hospitable to us beyond all expectations.  Tonight she has invited us to dinner with her and her husband, Paolo, and has even come to pick us up and take us to their place. On the way, we stop at her brother- and sister-in-law’s farm (Carlo and Silvia - they’re not actually related but that’s how they refer to one another) to say hello, see their beautiful gardens and meet their many animals (four dogs, a few cats, at least two hens and two donkeys. Francesca says if an animal needs a home, Carlo and Sylvia will take it in. I like them already).

They show us around, and Carlo apologizes for the length of the lawn (I hadn’t noticed). “It’s a huge job mowing a lawn this big,” says Judith. “It’s a ri-di-cu-lous job,” agrees Carlo. “I just finish the lawn and I have to start again!” They show us around their beautiful gardens – peonies, lilacs (a pinker shade than we have in Nova Scotia), lavender, rosemary, and much more. Francesca tells us it’s because of Carlo and Silvia that she and Paolo bought a place nearby (without the yard and garden. Too much work. They visit Carlo and Silvia when they want a garden). Our visit is quick, but we plan to come back tomorrow for coffee and/or wine. I’m looking forward to it already.

Francesca and Paolo’s place is just around the corner; they live within a large stone structure that used to be the estate of a wealthy landowner. Today the building is split into 14 units. Francesca and Paolo live in one flat and doing extensive renovations on the flat above. Eventually, they will move into the upstairs flat and rent the lower one (Francesca says the upstairs flat will be ready in a month – an ambitious timeline – because they are expecting guests).
We start out with bread, wine and several varieties of cheese, two of which are sheep’s cheese. All are delicious. Then Francesca serves risotto with asparagus and olive oil (also wonderful) and a blend of sautéed vegetables. Francesca mixes water and wine – she says it is a Venetian custom that horrifies other Italians. I try it – and like it.
Judith happens to notice Francesca’s toaster – stainless steel with removable grills for toasting (similar to a setup I’ve seen used for camping). Francesca says a friend of hers gave it to her when she worked in the music business. Have we heard of Sharday? It turns out Francesca worked for an Italian record company for several years, and met several big stars (she tells us the story of the time she made pasta for Mick Jagger and was too nervous to eat it herself).
Francesca is expecting other guests shortly – a few locals who stop by for an hour once a week to learn and practice English. Tonight we’re joined by Rosita and Maria. Rosita brings lemon pie (torta limone); she is a magnificent baker and I tell her so (and just in case she doesn’t understand my English or there’s any room for misinterpretation, I eat two pieces). Throughout the evening’s conversation, when words fail to get the point across (either in Italian or English), we resort to gestures and sound effects (like the honking of a car horn and the meowing of a cat).
Because Rosita and Maria live in Pieve San Lorenzo, they generously offer to drive us home. Although both are relative beginners in speaking English, Maria is more confident. On the way to the car, I tell them I am trying to learn a few words in Italian. “How do you find the grammar?” asks Maria, genuinely interested. “Oh, I haven’t gotten to any grammar yet,” I say. “I only use nouns.”
While Maria lives in the community before ours, Rosita tells her she’s coming with her to drop us off. “You’re my translator!” she says to Maria, slightly panicked. We all laugh. We say goodnight/goodbye/thank you in a mix of English and Italian, and Judith and I head inside; it's been another full day in Italia.


  1. Hi Margaret, I found your post on my aunt's Silvia Facebook page, I'm Martina, Paolo's daughter, I live in Milano with my family and I was delighted to read about people and places I love on your blog... And the picture of Napo you took is just too sweet for words!
    Enjoy your stay and feel free to contact us if you stop by in Milano anytime!

    1. Thanks so much, Martina! I'm glad you enjoyed the blog. I hope to meet you someday!