August saw a most handsome couple get married at Villa Lucia, beautiful Ana and her handsome companion Randy, publishers of Newport Beach Livestyle magazine. Ana’s family came from Spain to join some 50 other guests for a week of activities. As usual, my husband, doctor Jorge ( once a most successful plastic surgeon) performed the ceremony as he has done for many more in his new role as minister at Villa Lucia.
Taking into consideration the possibility of interesting table conversation at a formal dinner of 25 guests from around the world, I placed a distinguish American industrialist near our guest of honor from England. I noticed our English lady frowning constantly as if in discomfort glancing with the corner of her eye at the gentleman to her right as she attempted to distance herself as much as possible from his seat. I detected some displeasure but could not determine the cause. Her frown and constant pull to the left in her seat caught my attention but I was not in a position to change her seating. This continued throughout our first course but as I was about to serve the second course, she stood up and with proper British accent, demanded “ stop it, that is my dress”. Mortified upon seeing his finger prints of cioppino tomato red fish sauce on her white silk designer dress and not on his napkin, he apologized profoundly. It did bring some laughs to the table but also a laundry bill that our American businessman from New York, insisted on paying. Happy to say a new friendship developed from this mishap at our table.
“Don’t forget to have Francesco water while I am gone”, Martha said, as she was about to leave for the States. “ The new nursery is great, all organic. I look forward to great organic minestrone on my return.’ “ No problem,” I reassured her. After giving Francesco the order, I myself had to leave to attend a convention.
Upon my return, before putting down my bags, I heard Francesco swearing at the funny looking veggies that were popping colorful heads out of the earth. “Do you eat these things in America?” he asked while looking down at a beautiful assortment of colorful spring flowers in a bed of blooming lavander. The colorful flowers were organic, but unfortunately no veggies in sight being that the new nursery confused vegetable seeds with spring flowers. “Oh, Americani,”was Francesco’s usual response as he ranted and raved about Americans that eat flowers instead of real food.
That afternoon as I was working in my office, I heard a shotgun blast. Looking out the office window caught Francesco holding a dead bird. Questioning what it was, he responded we would have pheasant for dinner and had to add, “ better than eating flowers”.
Rubbing my back one evening after dinner, I was encouraged to have a massage by one of our dinner guests, the director of the Grotta Giusti Spa (5 minutes from us) who lived on the premise for 5 years, in our barn apartment. Referring me to the best of all, he suggested Daniele, an amazing masseuse. I finally set a date for my first massage and went off to the Grotta Giusti Spa, and did as told. I disrobed and picked up a sheet at the end of the bed, to cover my aging body. I was overwhelmed when a 6 foot 5 body builder walked into my room, suggesting I remove the sheet and he would get to work. I held tight to the loosely covered sheet wrapped around my body and asked him what he was doing in my room and that I was waiting for Daniela. He explained he was Daniele. Shocked, and scared I did as told. Never will I forget to put the proper vowel ending on a name. I soon learned in Italian you must pronounce all the vowels, even the last vowel. Ricardo never told me it would be a man. My puritanical, Italian medieval, and catholic upbringing found it hard to allow a young buck to massage my aging body, neck to feet. But I do think with time, I might be able to adjust to it. Strangely enough my next massage with Maria, just wasn’t the same.
That night when I returned and told Ricardo, he had a great laugh. I wasn’t too happy about it but we had a drink together and when we raised our glasses, taught the Italian director of the spa who spoke English very well, a new expression, he had never heard before, “ Up Yours”. I did not teach him that maliciously, but had no idea that the meaning was not clear to him. We proceeded having a second drink and he proudly announced “ Up Yours” with each sip of wine. Months passed when one day he came over for breakfast in a rage of embarrassment and anger. I had no idea that at the international convention of spa directors and owners, the night before, following his speech in English that all understood, he would have them all join him in a toast. Showing his proficiency of the english language he used his recently acquired expression, “Up Yours”. Never would I imagine that he would use it as he did before a group of international professionals. I apologized to him with a smile and added, now we are even.
When Jorge arrived to join me in Italy, I was having trouble getting our city water connected. Franco, my wonderful neighbor who was always there to solve my problems, suggested that I go to city hall and inform them that we can tentatively connect to his water line until we solve the problem. I considered it a good idea to send my husband off to city hall. Maybe if he became more involved in life in Italy he might learn to like the art of living Italian style. I was wrong. The meeting of two hours was not very helpful. He had to argue with the city planners since they said Franco did not have a house near us. My husband insisted being that he had just had coffee there that morning, A wink from one of the employees made him end the discussion. He returned to Franco for an explanation. Franco answered,“Oh, I forgot, I never did get permits when I build it. You can’t do that anymore, so sorry.”. Jorge looked at me and made no comment. He then went outside and looking up at the sky, with outstretched arms and cried out, “what am I doing here? Why Me God?”
Late one evening Franco came over shortly after Jorge had arrived in Tuscany asking for medical assistance with his bimbo. Bimbo in Italian refers to a young child. Franco kept pleading for assistance with “Dottore, Dottore mio Bimbo”, and being that I had spoken so highly of him, Jorge naturally went to his assistance. Four hours later, at 2 AM in the morning, I heard Jorge coming up the stairs to our bedroom, mumbling to himself. “What happened?” I asked. There was no immediate response. I felt sorry for him, exhausted and needless to say, showing signs of discuss with his wife who wanted to live in Italy. When I questioned, “Well how was your first Italian house call.?” He surprised me with his quiet and subdued voice as he explained how he just operated on his first horse. “Horse”? I asked, “Yes, that is his bimbo ( kid),” he explained. I had to turn my head on my pillow so that he would not see my giggling face. As he lied down on his back, hands outstretched to the ceiling, he repeated that often heard phrase,” Why Me God? “
A week before Thanksgiving I prepared small Cornish game hens for each of our 20 guests. As I removed the golden crusted small birds from the hot oven, one of our guests in the kitchen called to the others announcing they should come quickly to see the beautiful baby Italian turkeys. She turned to me and said that she never saw such small turkeys and asked, if I had been able to stuff them. ( I could not make this up)
The meat on the barbecue was perfectly cooked when Jorge received a call from a patient he did that morning. He almost forgot and left the meat to overcook when telling our guests, about the call. The patience asked him “ Dr, how cold should the cold compresses be? (how cold is ice?)
After performing a rhinoplasty, nose job, Jorge returned home to greet some guests laughing at what had occurred during surgery. He explained that as he hammered away to break the patient’s nasal bone, under anesthesia she answered every thump of his hammer with “” come in “ come in”.
Teaching how good ingredients are more important than measurements accept for some desserts, following a fruit tart class, I explained that any fruit could be used, depending on the sweetness of the fruit. That would determine the amount of sugar. A week later a woman called to ask why her lemon pie did not come out well, She cut the lemons just as I did the fruit and added lots of extra sugar. ( Guess I shouldn’t generalize)
Sweet butter is common in Europe, whereas in America, butter is usually salty for longer shelf life. For breakfast we often serve along with our sweet butter a cheese board of Italian artisan cheeses unfamiliar to most of our American guests. One morning a female guests apparently noticing my eyes focusing on her, possibly concerned at the quantity she was eating, turned to me and embarrassingly asked the name of the cheese she was devouring. I regretted to tell her, but since she asked, I informed her she had just consumed 3 ounces of butter.
Explaining to our cooking class the names of different produce at our local farmer’s market, it was hard for me to believe when explaining the popular Italian vegetable, escarole, the response from one of our attendees. “ Hard to believe how they can crawl”. My questioning look was answered when I realized she had confused escarole, the vegetable, with the slimmy, coiled shell molluscan, escargot. ( I could did not make this up.)
During a wedding service at the farm, in need of another potted plant to balance the aesthetics of the appetizer seafood table, I took a geranium off a window sill and put it on the table. When inviting one of the guests to the table, he took a glance and asked if we meant to serve the escargot uncooked. Glancing at the table, I noticed a family of escargot that wandered off of the geranium plant onto the linen table cloth and were about to visit the shrimp and lobster tail salads.
Our catering van being used for another event, I managed to go with one of our employees to an event we had to cater, in his old Mercedes that burned clouds of dark diesel fuel. Embarrassed of his smoking car, he parked a few houses away from our destination. As we walked to the house, apparently observed by our hostess, she approached us and asked, “how interesting, do you always do the cooking in that vehicle?” ( No she was not kidding.)
I was fixing breakfast one morning when little Joey, a house guests, came crying to me that our dog did not like him. It was hard to believe. I told him I would go out and see once I finished beating eggs for a morning frittata. Before I finished Joey went out and began to yell Va Via, Va Via. When I went out he pointed to Toto that was running away. “ See he doesn’t like me”. I then realized that Joey heard my husband yelling at Toto to go away in Italian. Joey thought it was his name. After wiping his tears and explaining that it was a command to go away and not his name a happy smile appeared on Joey’s face. Looking up at me he said, “ But Miss Lucy, how long did it take for Toto to learn Italian?”I just love kids.
Toto who understands limited english, spanish and italian
Enzo, our dashhound was unusual since he had a brown and black spotted coat. He came to live with me when I was alone in Tuscany .He played soccer, shooting the ball back to me with his nose as I would shoot one to him. But most amazing was how he would howl along with me as I would sing while working. Our guests were always amazed. It was great except when at my daughter’s wedding, Carlo Bini, our opera singer neighbor who we were honored to have sing at my daughter’s reception had to cut short his aria of Aida. Enzo began his howls that he learned to do whenever I sang. Mr Bini looked out at the guests and explained that he had experienced lots of competition in his singing career but never with a dog and reluctantly returned to his dinner table. At that time, Enzo retired to the greenbelt quietly but shortly after faced a terrible death. He was irreplaceable but we did get two other lovely dashhounds, Tara and Tito to give our black dashhound company,
Sara and Kelly, two of our wonderful summer interns with Toto, Tara and Tito.
For a week we could not find Tara in the evening. She would return every night only after our desperate calls for her as we would close the doors of the main house. We finally learned where Tara spent her time when a family shared with us this lovely picture of their beautiful little girl who wanted to sleep with Tara . Her parents allowed this until hearing our desperate calls at 11:00 when they would let Tara out of their apartment. Such a precious picture of love between a dog and a child I felt was worth sharing.
This is a dog that I wish was ours. Trained to sniff the ground in search for the most precious, expensive and culinary delicacy, the white truffle, allows truffle hunters to command a high price for their trained dogs. Out on our truffle hung he rarely fails us in our search of this high priced delicacy often referred to as the “food of the gods”.
Christmas eve, an italian tradition is to eat fish, in fact, the norm is 7 different kinds of which one was always eel. As a child I enjoyed them all, even though experiencing them in their live state. One experience carved in my memory at the age of 8, is when mom cleaned an eel and wrapped in newspaper the inedible parts for me to throw in the trash. Which I did. I panicked when seeing the trash can cover wiggle like a fish trapped in a fishermen’s net. Screaming into kitchen mom calmly explained that it was dead, just the heart about to die. As a wife and mother I continue to serve eel but it is one fish I refuse to clean.
While making breakfast one day, the dogs were going crazy barking that I sent out Francesco to quiet them down, so as not to wake up the late nighters still in bed. As the dogs became silent, I questioned Francesco, only to ascertained that they managed to kill a snake in the yard. I never experienced snakes in 25 years at the farm which if I did, might not have remained here. Francesco asked jokingly, I hope, if I wish to cook it or should he discard it? Memories of past Christmases, I now wonder, looking at the elongated, legless creature if it was really eel that mom served us. Remember she is italian, nothing goes to waste and if it doesn’t kill you, one should eat it. Thank God mom was not there. She would try to convince me as she always did, one should eat fresh, locally and healthy. Guess at age 100 it did her no harm.
Jorge insist that good surgical results should not look post surgical but the patient should look well rested. His patients returning to the States would give the usual answer to questions of their improved looks that it is our wonderful extra-virgin olive oil produced on the farm. I love it. Needless to say, it helps in my sale of our olive oil.One night with 25 people around the dinner table a call came from a friend from the States. The speaker phone was on loud since Francesco has a hearing problem. Delayed in answering, while serving dinner quests, I was shocked into silence when the party on the phone yelled out, ,” Lucy, “I know xxx had a facelift. Don’t give me that s…. about your organic olive oil. It may be good, but not that f—good. Tell Jorge I will be coming for a few gallons of your liquid gold. I want to have what shes got.
We sell lots of our organic olive oil to our guests when they return to the States and tell their friends that their glow and twinkle lines are because of our extra virgin oil. It can’t be surgery, of course not!! We have a 500 and 1500 liter tanks of our liquid gold, Lots to help all with their wrinkles, if you believe it.