Friday, August 2, 2013

The Vulgar Tongue, vii


        Everywhere Servi had traveled in Italy, there were draconian restrictions on water usage.  Most people showered with two bowls of water: one to soap up, and one to rinse.  But Servi was told by Beatrice that he could shower as long as he wished.  Servi stood beneath the steady, cold stream.  The shower was lined in pink marble.  He stayed so long in the shower, that he was late for dinner.  When he shut the water down, he realized that he had left a film of dirt on that fine marble, and felt obliged to clean it.  By the time he reached the dining room, Grillo and Beatrice were already seated.   
       Grillo had a bottle of half finished wine near his elbow; Beatrice sat next to her father sipping a glass of Pellegrino.  Servi apologized for his delay and sat across from Beatrice.  She cast him a bemused glance, and something about its mocking intensity made Servi gaze down at the plates and cutlery.  He felt like a little boy again.  She smiled at him warmly, perhaps because he was clean, and he thought he saw a glimmer of the girl he kissed beneath the monkey bars.
            No one mentioned Frank Grillo’s earlier collapse.  The conversation, in a mix of Italian and English, was about the fabled immigrant past in New York, of the Grillos and the Servis and their unwavering dedication to American ideal of hard work and familiar dedication.   
            Beatrice alternatively frowned and laughed at the stories her father told of her childhood both in New York and Italy.  Grillo was drunk, or quickly on his way, but when the food came out, the Tuscan fare appeared to stabilize him.  The food was classic to the region: an appetizer of young broad beans and pecorino cheese, onion soup covered by a thin crust of melted gruyere.  For the main course, a stuffed, boned rabbit, with a generous portion of steaming semolina pasta.  Servi felt he would burst at the seams from the abundance.   
           Grillo and Beatrice ate unhurriedly and without tension:  like most Italians, they ate little during the day, and reserved their hunger for the gastronomical gymnastics of the evening meal.  Grillo helped to wash down the food with glass after glass of wine.  Every time a bottle was empty, the servant brought another without Grillo’s overt request.  Servi heaped praise on the meal as they drank coffee, but Grillo waved him off with his hand. 
            “You think that was the essence of Tuscan cooking,” Grillo slurred, leaning forward.  “Beatrice’s fiance's family is pure Tuscano.  Everything that comes out of their kitchen has been kissed by this good earth,” Grillo said as he sloppily kissed his finger tips.
            “You're engaged?” Servi asked Beatrice.
            “Not really,” she answered, casting a cold eye on her father. “Father is ahead of himself.  I would say we are engaged to be engaged.”
            “She met him at the Sapienza,” Grillo went on, the bottle in the air again, the glass full. “But his family has lands to the east of here.  They’ve had it since the time of the Medicis.  Grapes like this,” Grillo made an indeterminate gesture with his hands. “Olive trees probably planted by the Romans, or the Etruscans…” and he trailed off into a cough.
            “What do you study in Rome?” Servi asked, turning to Beatrice. “We’ve spoke so much about the past, I hardly your present.”
            “I study Medieval Italian literature in Latin and Italian” she answered nonchalantly.  “More talk about the past.  That would be my father’s influence.  He had me reading Petrarch’s sonnets since I was in a training bra...”
            “She is getting her PhD…” Grillo interrupted, entrapped in his own soggy thoughts.  His daughter shot him an icy glare, and chastised, he sipped some wine.
            “I am writing a dissertation on Dante’s Latin essay De Vulgare Eloquentia.  Have you read it?”
            “Yes,” Servi answered.  “His work on Italian dialects?”
            “Beatrice is getting some help from the Vatican,” Grillo interjected and laughed, and again was shot down by his daughter’s glare.  He seemed to realize that the moment was over, and acted sober.  “Why don’t we show Aaron where I make my wine?”
            In the dwindling light, the three walked to a series of low sheds tucked against a hillside carpeted with grape vines.  Birds darted among the trees.  A crescent moon rose over the ruddy horizon.  Grillo walked ahead, while Beatrice and Servi walked slowly behind .  Servi wanted to ask her about her fiance, Dante’s Latin essay, and the Vatican, but sensed from Beatrice’s closed demeanor that the moment was not right. 
            They stood and watched Grillo struggle with a shed door.  When it opened, they entered a dim barn cluttered with wine presses, casks, and all manner of vessels and tools.  Servi knew nothing about wine making, but was assured by Frank Grillo that everything was done according to the most ancient methods and techniques.
            “Here,” Grillo said, as excited as a boy.  “You must try this,” and he rushed off to a cask to draw some wine.  Servi looked over at Beatrice, who had sat on a low stool, her bare, long white legs crossed, her palm on her chin.  She smiled knowingly.   
             A cup was thrust into Servi’s hand, and he was told to taste such and such a flavor.  Servi responded that indeed he tasted the hint of raspberry, and Grillo rocked with rapture.  In a half hour Grillo had passed out.  This time, Servi helped Beatrice carry him to bed.

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