One summer Sunday in Italy, I was invited for lunch with a group of an Italian family and their closest friends. It was an honour to be invited in the first place. And then the location: marvellous, on the veranda of a white villa, one of the few located right by the sea.
The housemaid, with the family for more than 30 years, was preparing an abundant meal, starting with her famous „focaccia“, then an assortment of antipasti, escalloped pasta and deep-fried seafood. That alone would have been worth the experience. While we were waiting for the other guests to arrive, we started conversing with an old man in his mid-80s, a friend of the family for decades (and more), whom they respectfully nickname „Don Giovanni“. He was the delight of the group, not only because he had a lot to tell and constantly kept speaking, but also because he openly admitted it was the advantage of being old that you could say and do whatever you liked. He impressively demonstrated that philosophy of his when he threw a noodle at his host.
Another funny incident was when it was time for dessert and it occurred to him that he had brought some tartlets, which unfortunately he had forgotten in the car – with outside temperatures of around 30° Celsius! The dessert was saved from the car and Don Giovanni did not miss the opportunity to point out that the cakes were so fresh they were still warm from the oven.
Of course some of the old stories were told of when Don Giovanni and his wife would go travelling with our hostesses father and mother. The latter, an impressively elegant lady, was present for lunch, and posed a stark contrast to Don Giovanni with her quiet character. Don Giovanni’s wife was also at the table, although it took me a while to understand that she was his „better half“. She looked young for her age, with her hair died in burgundy and her extravagant clothing. She seemed to be famous for her provoking character, and our host admitted that she had always intimidated him when he was younger, attacking his masculinity whenever she could – something that she still seemed to enjoy these days. Besides this illustrious group of older people, the children of the family were present, all in their twenties, a daughter and two sons, who had brought their girlfriends. Since that day one of the girlfriends was for the first time participating in a Sunday family lunch, it was quite a special occasion. But this younger group of people did not stand much chance in influencing the conversation that revolved around Don Giovanni. Finally, there was a couple at the table of which the man was a friend of our host - a politician that seemed rather important in terms of societal status. His girlfriend was about my age and seemed a straightforward person that knows exactly what she wants. Well, and then there was my friend who had brought me to this encounter, and the host couple. I have never experienced a very quiet encounter of Italians, and it was the same here, with Don Giovanni playing a major entertainment role.
Over lunch I listened carefully to the conversations, and when I was drifting away mentally for lack of understanding, I would study the fast movement of the hands as they supported the spoken words. I love the gestures that you can observe in the South of Italy – open your eyes when you drive behind an Italian car in the summer and you will see a hand sticking out of the driver’s window, dancing outside of the car to his inside conversation. Luckily, there are still many cars without air conditioning that far South. But I am getting off track here...
Well, it was a very colourful mix of people that Sunday afternoon, and a lunch to remember – for its very intimate Italian atmosphere that I was allowed to get a glimpse of, besides the excellent food I was offered. I will always treasure that memory.