Palma di Montechiaro, 1890
John and Rodney were on the last leg of their two-month European vacation. They had decided to bypass the larger cities of Greece, France, and Italy, and the other usual destinations for wealthy Americans in favor of smaller towns, and attractions off the beaten path.
It had taken no time at all to find willing and reliable tour guides in each of the countries; guides that came with recommendations, and who knew their countries intimately. That skill had come in handy in several tiny villages where no accommodations existed. Their guides had had to talk more than a few farmers into allowing them to bed down for the night.
The last three days John and Rodney had been staying in a room off the kitchen of a small neat house situated near the beach. The room had belonged to Lena and Giancarlo Notte’s youngest son, who had married last year. Their guide, Marco, had been given his choice of rolling out his blankets on the kitchen floor, or the flat roof.
The Notte’s were generous hosts, and Lena an excellent cook, who adored Rodney for his appetite and cajoled John to eat more at every meal. She packed them delicious lunches to take to the beach, and kissed them affectionately every time she saw them. She was already mourning the fact that they would be leaving in two days time.
There was unusual activity in the kitchen this morning that roused John from a deep sleep. Voices speaking in low murmurs had invaded his dreams, and it wasn’t until he awoke that he became aware of the delicious aromas emanating from the kitchen. Garlic, onion, and sauce all combined to rouse his appetite.
Checking on Rodney, who was still snuffing softly, he put his robe on, and went to see what was going on. He entered the normally warmly welcoming kitchen to find Marco wearily helping Lena. Several enormous pots were simmering on the stove, and five large baking pans lined the kitchen table.
Marco was interrupted from his labors and looked up at John gratefully. Before he could ask what was going on, Lena shoved a wooden spoon in his hand, leading him over to the stove where she pantomimed stirring.
John was a man who knew not to get between a woman on a cooking frenzy, so he slowly stirred the pot Lena had indicated. “Uh, Marco? Care to tell me what’s going on?”
“Apparently, there’s a wedding tonight. The second richest man in town is getting married, and the rest of the town will be celebrating in the town square,” Marco answered around a yawn.
“I see,” John said, not really understanding at all.
A short burst of Italian followed. “Pietro Cacciatore is marrying Gina Malatesta. Pietro’s father owns the largest winery in this part of Sicily, and is providing the entire town with wine. People from all over are coming,” Marco explained.
A longer burst of Italian from Signora Notte was followed by a shy look in his direction. Marco looking sheepish, commented briefly back in Italian. Lena, obviously scolding him, waved her hands and then waited, her foot tapping impatiently.
“Ah, you and Signore McKay are invited to the party. Honestly, John, I don’t think you’ll be able to get out of it,” Marco started.
He glanced back at Lena who was still tapping her foot. “She wants me to tell you that it has always been her fondest wish to dance with two handsome Americans and that she is making a lasagna that will make Rodney weep with joy,” he finished, laughing.
Grinning, John said, “Sure, it sounds like fun.” He turned back to his pot, stirring with enthusiasm and humming.
Signora Notte made five lasagnas with John and Marco’s help, and a very small one in order for John and Rodney to taste. Each member of the small group carried one of the large, well-wrapped and still warm trays on the short walk to the village square.
A number of fires were burning and large candles lined the perimeter of the square. Tables filled with food, dishes, cutlery, glasses, and bottles of wine were scattered throughout. A platform had been built and the musicians were already playing, with others to take their place when they tired. Rodney could see accordions, tambourines, guitars, mandolins, and a flute or two. The middle of the square was already filled with dancers, as others ate, drank, and gossiped on the sidelines.
The staccato sound of the rapid fire Sicilian language filled the air. It was spoken with joy and enthusiasm, sounding almost guttural when compared to the Italian Rodney spoke, but he loved it. It represented the people - - robust, earthy, and generous.
Everyone in Palma di Montechiaro as well as the neighboring villages had seen or heard of the two American tourists, and women pressing food on them and men filling their wine glasses soon surrounded John and Rodney. They were given time to eat, and pressed to name the better cooks.
As soon as it became clear that neither man could possibly eat another bite, the men dragged them off to sample they wines they had not yet tasted. The men, knowing their women, kept them long enough to digest their meal. They were then dragged off to the dance floor.
When it seemed every woman and quite a few of the men had danced with John and Rodney, including Signora and Signore Notte, they were able to dance with each other. It didn’t matter that they didn’t know the steps; the lively folk music encouraged wild swirling dancing and all that mattered was that one was up and moving.
Even when he had been dancing with others, John’s eyes had sought out his lover. Seeing him carefree and happy as he danced and laughed added to John’s own enjoyment. In the circles they traveled in the United States, they never would have been able to dance with each other. John felt a wave of affection for these Italians, who had welcomed them so warmly.
On the way back to the Notte’s home, John giggled at his inebriated lover, who was dancing his way back home. When he peered drunkenly at the full moon, he broke out in song.
When the moon hits your eye
Like a big pizza pie, that's amore
When the world seems to shine
Like you've had too much wine, that's amore
When the stars make you drool
Just like pasta fazool, that's amore
When you dance down the street
With a cloud at your feet, you're in love
When you walk in a dream
But you know, you're not dreaming, signore
Scuzza me, but you see
Back in old Napoli, that's amore
John, laughing, was glad their hosts didn’t speak any English. Marco, also drunk, was nodding his head when he caught the words. He’d spent the night making eyes at one of the overly protected local girls.
When the small group finally stumbled home, John put his lover to bed, accepting a sloppy kiss. Rodney fell asleep singing, and John fell in love all over again.