I was a fugitive from a chain gang
It’s Wednesday early evening and I’ve just planted a couple of lemon trees in the hard baked ground outside Carmela’s house in Southern Italy. Using a pick axe and spade, I feel I now know what it’s like to be a fugitive from a chain gang!
My hands are blistered …and my back aches, and so we decided to ease the pain by dining at Valentina’s, in the nearby mountain village of San Gregoria. We call first to check she’s open, she’s not but insists we come and she’ll open up anyway. This makes us feel pretty bad either way: ungrateful if we decline or inconsiderate if we go. We decide to be inconsiderate and arrive just as the sun dips down. Our hostess is a typically rotund Italian mama, in her late sixties who cooks from the heart and speaks far too fast to give me a chance. Her menu is always simple, just a couple of dishes per course, always verbal with never a sordid mention of the price. The wine is charged by how much of the bottle we drink.
The first time we ate here we were a bit apprehensive. Were we about to be ‘tucked up’ for my ‘give away’ English accent? But not so, the bill has always been more than reasonable and on this occasion 18 euros was excellent value for my pasta, Carmela’s steak, a shared ‘Mille foglia’ dessert, a bottle of mineral water and half bottle of an excellent local red wine. By this time memories of the ‘chain gang’ had long receded.
If only life back in Suffolk, could be as ‘laid back’ as this.
by Roland Blunk, engraving by Anon (I was away that day)