That was just the curtainraiser. Coke and chips for the kids. Watermelon. Coffee and wine for the adults. Maria’s Aunt Clara and Uncle Joe were invited, because they speak English. We talked, about New York, where they had lived for 30 years, and about Ponza, where they had come home to retire, and the evening moved deliciously slowly from dessert to wine to more dessert. Then Uncle Joe decided the children needed some ice cream. So we climbed down the stairs and walked a bit further down the alley to Zanzibar, where he bought the kids gelati. Back at the Mazzellas’, Ofelia invited us to stay for dinner (dinner!) and we, of course, accepted.
It was no longer amateur hour. Out came cheese, tuna Ofelia had preserved herself—this took three days—olives, octopus salad, two different kinds of zucchini, a potatoParmesanpancetta pudding that I can only think of as unkosher kugel, and bread. Wine. A pizza. And then the main course.
Langoustine pasta with red sauce. Isaac, our little boy, murmured, "I can’t eat any more," when Ofelia offered him pasta con burro (with butter). What hurt expressions around the table! "Doesn’t he like Italian food?" asked Clara.
It was hard to convince anyone that he was full. He put his head in my lap and began to moan. Next there was fruit, strawberries in sugar syrup, coffee, and God knows what more, and at this point we called it quits. We thanked our hosts profusely and rolled down the stairs to our beds, grateful to the Mazzellas and feeling oddly as if we’d failed them.
In the morning when I woke up, I was still full. I stumbled out onto our patio. There were pots of pink, red, and white geraniums the size of a baby’s head. A little lizard pushed a ball of chocolate cereal we’d spilled from breakfast the morning before across the tile with its nose. I took our laundry off the line and smelled the ocean air in our stiff but clean pajamas, trying to memorize the scent before I folded them and laid them in our suitcases. When I unpacked the bags after we got home, I could still smell the sea salt.