Rita asked me up. Follow me she gestured.
She is tiny, gorgeous. Her lipstick a warm coral. Her blue eyes are sharp and alive, friendly.
She leads me to the decorative wrought iron gate I’ve been peeking into for two weeks, drooling with insatiable curiosity, an entryway with a circular stair case where a large urn, old photos, a volley of canes and art objects tell a story of travel. With the turn of a skeleton key the door opens. I gawp. Dream-walking the winding staircase behind her, straining to absorb what I’m seeing, pinching myself. She deliberately pauses, breathing ....”piano piano”, she says, “slowly slowly”. Here she tells me she is ninety years old and that someone somewher in this household, in my limited understanding, speaks English.
On the landing we halt at an ornate wood and glass door. She presses a buzzer. We wait. The door clicks open. She yells,“Lucia! Lucia!” I am swimming in details, bright yellow and blue hand-painted plates, sepia portraits, eight cans of specialty tomatoes meticulously lined up on the dish cupboard.
Lucia is on the phone in the sitting room and gently waves Rita quiet.
Rita leads me to a chair where I am meant to sit, a warm sunlit room with more photos and a lush pastel of sun-kissed peaches.
At the small grocery store the family owns I had met Rita briefly as I offered my much-loved salted rosemary shortbread. Another day we passed in the street, nodding our hellos, her face warm and animated.
Once off the phone Lucia speaks to me in English. Lucia is Rita’s daughter. The aunt of the young man who rents me my flat in the same building, the palazzo of the Italian composer Niccolo’ Piccinni.
Lucia had begun lunch before her phone call and returns to the dining room table to a ball of fresh mozzarella she slices and eats with fork and knife. Rita invites me to join them. To my left at the head of the table is a plate of bleached centipedic tripe, alternately smoothly translucent and densely textured. Rita makes me coffee in a tiny Moka stovetop maker and while it brews serves me a glass of mineral water.
Easily seven minutes into our gathering we finally exchange names. Mi chiamo Ana. Ana Felicia. Lucia. She pronounces her name with the hard emphasis on Loo. Lucia, I say, is my grandmothers name.
Now that Rita is older, Lucia explains, she knocked down a wall between adjoining flats to create one large dwelling, shared with her husband and mother.
Lucia picks at the furry tripe cut into worm length pieces. Squeezing lemon over each slice she salts then eats it. Do I know what it is she asks. I do, I say with pride masking my American squeamishness. Seeing that the spirits have colluded in this coveted invitation, I announce my willingness, “cut me a very small piece, I’ll try it.”
((((((oh brave brave Ana eats offal.))))))
Lucia prepares a taste about two inches (5 cm) in length.
I say. “Tiny.” I mean finger nail size, preferably toddler-size nail.
With a good salting and more lemon Lucia instructs me to eat it with my hands, an act I am perpetually confused by with the fork and knife set. Do I use my hands or a fork? Most food is eaten with a fork, including pizza, unless you buy it on the street and then you eat it folded while scalding hot.
I eat it one handed and do not throw up. It’s... a bit like calamari in texture, softer, slightly gamey, not horrible. But a plateful? Knowing I will not win a fear-factor prize at the end I do not wish for more. When she was a girl, Lucia adds, tripe was sold from roaming push carts. She cuts into a piece that is darker, rosier. I ask, “what is that?”
“I don’t know”, she says. I don’t know.
To have hot sweet black coffee gladdens me. “What is you name”, she asks again. “Ana”, I repeat. “Ahh, yes, I was thinking of something American.”
As she eats we talk pizza. I mention a pizza I enjoyed from a trattoria near the apartment. “Where? That place!” She points down the street, I am momentarily confused in my new location. “Yes”, I stutter. “ They don’t even have a wood-fired oven! It’s gas.” She shakes her Neapolitan prayer hands at me in all seriousness. “What kind of pizzaiuola are you?”
(((((((((((Oh god! Flashbacks to Davide and pizza school.))))))))))
“I was with a handsome man”, I demur. She eyes me coolly. I’m an idiot-she knows it- I know it, a novice. She plays it off gracefully. I pivot. Where does she like to eat pizza?
Lucia offers two suggestions, both I’ve heard of, yet being a novice, (I admit it), I only know what I like. She likes her pizza crispy, you ask for “ a bucco di forno”. Yes! I know this. The mouth of the oven. This is the spot the pizza is baked to crispness if desired.
I drink my coffee. Lucia finishes her lunch. Before I leave Rita shows me photos of her sons. Grandsons. Her husband. We part with many ciaos and buon viaggio.
Pizzeria Gorizia 1916, Vomero, Naples, Italy
The host is on the phone for minutes as I wait to be seated. He apologized and explained he was expecting my companion, obviously he is more generous in his opinion than I.
I sing o solo mio as we jaunt past the pizzaiolo. He corrects me, O sole mio.
In widow corner, I am sat next to the seventy year old woman who eats small plate of pasta, fried sardines, followed by dessert, a wedge of honey dew melon. She eats without phone or book,quiet, resolute and determined. Clearly she is a regular.
Ironically the pizza I desire, in its description states, “a bucco di forno,” baked in the mouth of the wood-fired oven. Delivered minutes later, the sauce is cleanly fresh tomato with a punch of hot pepper. A plate of sliced semi-hard cheese and arugula is served along side. The cheese cuts the fire of the sauce, the same way yoghurt lassi cuts the heat of Indian food, arugula adds the pepper. I am deeply in love.
The lunch rush over. The trattoria thins out.
I’m am decidedly the slothiest shit ever.
Here. At Pizzeria Gorizia, Dal 1916.
A glass of red wine. Un piccolo bicchiere d’acqua frizzante.
Now. Time for the caffe’.
A little pick me up. Hot black espresso, one sugar.
Fat and happy.
I am stuck at "eat". Pray is uncomfortable asanas, yoga-y
do-gooderism and bamboo shit that makes me want to break things, and love is crickets.
I eat Neapolitan pizza. I pray my great-grandfather Francesco never naturalized. I love the solitude of aloneness, and am never alone.