For the past couple of Sunday afternoons, Sarie has gone somewhere with friends after church, so Bob and I have eaten lunch out. Last Sunday we wandered around the northern part of town, which we like for its narrow streets and city feel, until we found an Italian version of a vintage diner. There we ate lunch–caponatina siciliana, polpette (Bob, because he always orders the same thing at least twice), and carne crudo or bucatini (me, because I rarely order the same thing twice).
The restaurant’s name (Pastis, meaning anisette) and menu were vaguely French, but not really. The chairs were 1960s-style laminate in fiesta ware colors, and in the back room there was a glass-covered inset in the floor with a brightly colored piece of cement displayed underneath. It looked similar to something I’d seen in New York.
“What is that under the glass in the floor?” I asked the cashier as we paid.
“A piece of the Berlin wall,” he said lackadaisically. I’d guessed correctly. That was because I’d seen another piece of the wall at the Intrepid Museum.
The other employees were more enthusiastic. The first Sunday, we ordered a creme brûlée and were trying to figure out what gave it a slightly different taste. Nutmeg, perhaps? When we asked, the very young waitress brought out…a box. We laughed to ourselves that she had admitted the cream came from a powder, but the box did have all the ingredients on it. No nutmeg.
This Sunday we sat in the front room of the restaurant. There was no Berlin wall, but we could see more customers. Shortly afterwards another couple came in with their eight-year-old son. He was an only child and obviously much beloved, though he would occasionally get a bit carried away. At one point we heard him rather loudly sing-song, “Na-na-na-na boo-boo!” and I whispered, “They do that here, too?” Bob responded, “That was a very American-sounding ‘a.’ Do you supposed he’s been watching movies in English?” We looked at him amusedly, at which his parents gently quieted him.
About halfway through our meal, while a waitress was standing at their table, we heard him say, “Bye-bye!” in English. The waitress said something back to him, and we heard him say in Italian, “If you can’t at least say ‘good-bye’ and ‘hello’ in English, you are poorly-educated.” At which Bob muttered into his plate, “Sono maleducato in italiano.”
This week our young waitress was wearing a neck brace. A run in between her motorcycle and a car, she explained. Thankfully nothing broken. We ordered bonet, a Piemontese chocolate pudding cake, for dessert instead of the creme brûlée. The homemade bonet Bob had tried at his office was better, he decided.
About the time we were finishing our coffee (coffee is always after dessert), the little boy got up and walked by our table. As he passed, he suddenly did a double-take. Then he kept walking slowly, but his eyes were glued to Bob, and his mouth slightly open. Bob slowed down his speech and started using simpler words, to see if he could understand. Suddenly the boy ran back to his parents, crying: “Parlano inglese!!”
We had become a living field trip.
We purposely went up and paid at the same time they did. As both families left the restaurant, Bob turned to the boy and said, “Buona giornata,” and then repeated in English, “Have a nice day.” The little boy suddenly looked shy.
“Il tuo italiano è molto meglio del mio,” I offered. (Your Italian is way better than mine.)
“See you later,” said the mom, in English, smiling, and we went our separate ways.
I really want to speak Italian now. I want to expand our ability to make friends. I’m reading books, looking up extra words, and trying to have more extensive conversations with people. I still butcher the grammar every which way. But I’m learning.