Saturday, October 10, 2009

Snow White and the seven deadly sheep

posted Sat, 25 Sep 2004

In Italian, the word for “sheep” is “peccoro.” The word for “sin” is “peccato.” When you are talking about avarice (avarisio), it is important to describe it as one of the seven deadly sins, not one of the seven deadly sheep, or else no one will know what you are talking about.

I go most weeks without committing any misdemeanors or felonies. But yesterday, I managed to commit two crimes – or at least be accessory to – in one afternoon. Biagio took Jenny and me on a quick driving tour from Sorrento across to the Bay of Salerno, going through Sant’Agata on the way. He stopped the car on the side of the road at a point where you can see both the Bay of Naples and the Bay of Salerno. There’s really not much of a shoulder to the road – the car was sticking out a bit into the lane – but that seems to be commonplace here. None of the drivers who passed us seemed to be bothered.

The Bay of Naples

When we got out of the car, we realized that there were grapevines with ripe grapes over the barrier. Jenny pointed them out and said she wanted some, so Biagio, the Cassanovissima, climbed over the barrier and picked a bunch for her. Then he saw the fig tree and got us some figs. I myself did not physically steal the grapes, but I did receive them, which I think is a crime in the US.

The second crime was when we entered a private property by climbing over a fence made of iron spikes. At least I thought it was a crime. It turns out that Biagio actually has rented this property, which is an old hunting lodge on the top of a hill from which both bays are visible. The property has an olive grove, a vineyard, fig trees, and a full vegetable garden. Biagio and Giuseppe, his entrepreneur son who had the idea to open a cooking school in the first place, plan to renovate the lodge and rent it as a villa.

Giuseppe and I discussed his plans. He is considering breaking up the lodge into several apartments around a large central kitchen and living room. I, playing the devil’s advocate, suggested that it might be better to rent the lodge as one house. If you get multiple unrelated families or couples in there, I said, they are going to call you to complain that someone is too noisy or didn’t clean the kitchen after cooking.

We got online and searched on Italian villas. There are villas in and near Sorrento that sleep up to ten persons (theirs could sleep 12) that rent for as much as $5,000 for one week. Rent to one group, I urged, and let them worry about how many people are in the house. That way you won’t be pulled into those sorts of fights.

Giuseppe’s other concern is that the villa is too remote. It’s twenty minutes from Sorrento, he argued. I told him that Americans, at least, are not used to living within walking distance of downtown and that he could promote the remoteness to give the villa snob appeal. People want to be able to tell their friends that they vacationed at an exclusive, remote hunting lodge in Italy, I said. Well, at least I would want to be able to do that.

On the menu last night:

· Slices of bread and mozzarella fried together after being dipped in a mixture of milk and eggs (sort of like French toast except not sweet)
· Pasta di frutti di mare with squid, clams, mussels and shrimp. I did not help prepare this dish as Giuseppe and I were putting together his business plan for the villa. And because I really don’t like shellfish or fish that much and like it even less raw and bloody.
· Fried sardines. Delicious.
· Lemon delight for dessert – ‘delizione di limon’ in Italian. That’s something like lemon delight, I think. It was a lemon cream piped in between two pieces of sweet bread, then covered by the same cream to which whipped cream had been added.

The only times I have seen Biagio measure is for the baking, when he measures the dry ingredients in a scale. For everything else, he knows the right amount just by looking. He has been cooking for over 30 years, so I guess he has had enough practice.

Jenny showed me a photo last night of a stunningly handsome man standing at a stove, one hand stirring something on the stovetop, the other hand holding a cigarette. “That’s Biagio,” she said. I had to look again. The photo was 20 years old. Biagio 70 pounds ago and with a full head of hair.

When another guest saw the photo, she refused to believe it was Biagio. Of course it is, I told her. Look at his children. They are stunning – which they are. Biagio and Camilla’s two daughters are tall and slim with thick chestnut hair, high cheekbones, straight noses. They are gorgeous. Giuseppe is just as good looking. That doesn’t happen by accident, I said.

She still refused to believe. In an act of almost unbelievable tactlessness, she took the photo to Biagio and asked if that was really he. When she returned, she was still shaking her head in disbelief, even though Biagio had confirmed his identity.

Jenny and I leave for Rome this morning. I might not be able to post for a few days, but do not be alarmed, i miei bambini. I will be back soon.

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