We had just arrived in Milan, on a 12 day trip to Italy.
We went outside and saw the light, which was like a teaspoon, filled with silver and smoothness, and the vines were withered but shapely, hanging onto old stuccoed walls in a former glory of summer. You could see the shadows of their lives and what was to come and in their dried leaves was enough sustenance and hope to see you through until the next summer. And in the towering soft brushes of pines and the swaying gray bones of trees one knew it would be all right during the wait.
Our first meal in Italy was unremarkable-yet very funny. We were terrified…..we had to order wine…would the waitress understand us? Essentially sweating behind my knees I listened as Sara said the requisite words: “un becchierini de vino rosa.” And the woman said “you want a glass of wine or a bottle?” At that point we collapsed in resignation at our nationality. I sadly ordered pizza viennesa, with wurzel. I thought it would be festive and foreign. Essentially, I ordered a pizza with hotdogs cut up all over it. We laughed and laughed but it was good.
We left for Rome after a couple of days, traveling to Firenze and enjoying the Uffizi, Boboli Gardens, and Brunellschi’s Duomo. We arrived in Rome on New Year’s Eve, and after prevaricating for hours we decided at last to have New Year’s Eve dinner at our hotel, and it was one of the best decisions I think we made while in Italy.
At first I was very nervous before dinner. I had nothing to wear. It was awful. I wore my leather shoes and a nice pair of slacks but all I had was a long sleeved cotton shirt. All the other women were dressed to the nines and I felt like a sack, dry and shabby and shaped like a sparkplug on top of it. I tried not to put my hands in my pockets. But this hotel! The proprietors! They were the most brilliant hosts and hostesses. They served a dry presecco as aperitif before dinner, and we all mingled. Sara smartly brought a very nice long sleeved black silk shirt and she looked very put-together and dashing with earrings and dark slacks. I hid behind her. But then the soprano began to sing, and I was transported. No longer did I care about my wretched corporate clothing. The woman put her heart and soul into the arias and her accompanist on accordion did the same.
The room was splendid…beautiful baroque furniture, with the chandeliers adorned with festive balloons and streamers, and the guests sipping their chilled sparkling wine…it was very elegant. We were seated soon, and thankfully well matched language-wise with the British consulate from Dubai and his wife and two young sons, and an American general contractor from Washington D.C. and his son who was studying political science. I was seated next to the two young boys (10 and 13) and got along splendidly with them. We started off with a gazpacho with buttered toast triangles and shrimp….delicious and refreshing. All tables had as much wine as they could handle. Then came tagliatelle with clams and a light creamy sauce….after that were the sorbets, home-made, nestled in cups of dark bitter chocolate and surrounded by blueberries, raspberries, and currants. Finally came the main course….delicious rare roast beef in gravy, and green peppercorn sauce, with scalloped potatoes, steamed vegetables: carrots and baby turnips. The soprano sang in between courses, and we all talked and got along surprisingly well. Finally! It was almost midnight….all of a sudden there was a belly dancer! A really competent, curvaceous, undulating belly dancer. Then the dark Ethiopian waiter came out and danced with her, parading the first gigantic baked Alaska dessert on a platter out of which sputtered a huge blaring firework! Women and men got up and danced with the waiter and the belly dancer, the women’s earrings sparkled and the men, portly men in Italian suits, cavorted with grace, mindful of their feet, like fat fauns.
We were all served baked Alaska but it was midnight! There was a mad rush for the stairs, and there we watched the fireworks exploding chaotically and in bizarre temperamental bursts all over the Roman skyline, above the coliseum, above the Castle of Angels, above Vatican City, above the Tiber. It was smoky and cold and loud and we toasted one another with champagne. A drunk British man came over and kissed both of us on the cheek and wished us a happy New Year’s and we both kissed him back. Already it exists in my memory as a lovely scene out of my life.