After a 6 hour flight and 8 hours on an over-crowded train, we finally reached Alassio at 4:30 pm April 1, 1970. Alassio was beautiful. The air was filled with the perfume of orange blossoms and other flowers, the streets and plazas were also filled with flowering trees and palm trees, some of which looked like huge pineapples. After having what is called a “toast” (a dry as dust grilled ham and cheese sandwich cooked in a toaster) and a coke into which they’d plopped a slice of lemon we went to my husband’s aunt’s house.
The surprise was general and boisterous! My husband’s aunt began to finish fixing dinner, although she was a little upset because she hadn’t a lot of time to fix a proper celebration dinner.
In the States, where I was born, in 1970 my dinner would probably consist of maybe fried chicken, mashed potatoes and maybe some ice-cream for dessert. I was 18 then and hadn’t had much to do with Italians food, outside of pizza and spaghetti.
We set down to dinner at around 8:30.
To begin with, there was antipasto…some cold cuts with olives and pickles on a large tray. I was hungry by now, not having had much to eat so, I took some ham and olives with crusty bread. Wine was poured for everyone, something I’d never seen happen before in my house (where we usually still drink water).
Then our hostess brought in a huge bowl of pasta with Bolognese sauce. That didn’t surprise me, because, like wow! we were in Italy, right? I had two portions and thought : “This is great!” and it was too, really fantastic.
I was full and figured that dinner was over, but alas, no.
Now she brought in two trays; one of sliced roast and the other roast chicken as well as oven broiled potatoes and vegetables. I had a portion of both, or rather, she put a portion of everything on my plate. I couldn’t pass I was told or I’d offend her.
Finishing this I felt like a stuffed chair. I was sure that the meal was over. Nope, she now brought in fruit and cheese and they insisted that I try pears with cheese, a real delicacy. Near to bursting point by now, I was really beginning to suffer.
She then brought dessert, a “tira-me-su”, a rich trifle made with whipped cheese, sugar, eggs and cake that she’d thrown together at the last moment.
I don’t think I’d ever eaten so much in my life, not even on Christmas or Thanksgiving! We all then set around continuing to drink wine (or rather they did as I didn’t like the wine at all) then, she brought in the coffee. Tiny cups half filled with a very dark liquid. I asked for milk at this point, it was just too strong for me.
I began to feel pretty sick. Jet lag had caught up with me and I was Of course I’d eaten far too much and then there was the wine, though I let up quick on that because as I said I didn’t appreciate the taste, but still, I was feeling woozy. My stomach hurt as well as my head.
From the middle ages Italians have drunk at the end of a meal what they call a “digestive”. Some are pretty good actually, they’re made with a combination of herbs that have sat in alcohol for a few months (or sometimes years). One in particular is a horribly bitter mixture made from artichokes called “Fernet Branca”. When aunty saw that I was in distress, she immediately pulled out the magic bottle, filled a water glass half full and told me to drink it down in one gulp.
I did as I was told, via my husband of course, who in all this could have given me some warning as to what was happening, but he thought it was cool that I should judge Italy on my own without any forewarning, besides, what a splendid April Fool’s Day joke! Anyway, the dark coffee black liguid, went down in one gulp…and then I ran as fast as I could to make it to the bathroom, where everything came out at once.
For the next three days I was abed with a fever of 102 and only began to eat toast and tea the second day.
What an April Fool’s Day joke that had been.
Short Story Prompt : We Drink Because We’re Poets