Sono andata a Gaeta
August 14, 2011 § 1 Comment
When I stumbled into the kitchen this morning at 6:15, early enough for a long run before the sun started beating down hard at 8 a.m., I was surprised to find nonna already awake, with a couple of whole fish in her hands by the stove. She didn’t seem surprised at all to see me though, as she seems keenly aware of all movements in her apartment, just steps from the Mediterranean Sea. I made a gesture to indicate “running” and she replied “caffe?” without skipping a beat. Si grazie.
The caffe is dark and smooth, pressing a jolt of energy into just a small tip of the pot. She heats the water over the flame of gas stove and then pours me perhaps the equivalent of three espresso shots. Sugar is provided, just for me, though I even admit it is unneeded and often opt for just a small splash of milk. Ten minutes later, I am running up the hill to the Mausoleum, and back down around the Aragonese-Angevine Castle, through the old town and along the wharf side of the peninsula. Along the way, stray cats scamper down alleys that are just a flight of stairs, an older woman with a shaggy dog more than half her size gestures at me to stop and curiously asks a question, which I do not understand and for which I have no answer. Along the water, middle-aged men gather near the edges of the parking lots, tanned and pruned from the sun. One or two people take a caffe at the nearby bars, but for the most part the town of Gaeta is barely awake, lazily tossing and turning in the rising heat.
Back home now, nonna sets out the rest of the crostata, filled with strawberry jam, that she made a few days earlier, and a bowl of fresh fruit — green figs, stringy and sweet, small, ripe pears the size of a baby’s fist, and huge, fuzzy peaches. She teaches me how to cut off the top of a fig and peel back the skin, and starts peeling all the other fruits…the peaches, the plums, the pears all become skinless in seconds in her unwavering hands. On the stovetop, brilliant red tomatoes is already roasting with garlic and basil for the lunch she will set on the table at one.
Nonna refuses help with everything but setting the table, you have to fight her to be able to clear it. Her movements in the kitchen, if slow, are deliberate. As she speaks no English, she and I get along mostly with gestures, or her granddaughters translating, though the early morning provides the time to practice the few thoughts I can string together in Italian, pertaining to how long I expect to be gone running that morning. In the afternoons she stays at home when we walk the two minutes to the beach. Long lines of pre-paid umbrellas line the white sand, and the turquoise water is filled with jumping children and guys playing water volleyball, who stop and stare. The girls laugh because they know what the guys are saying, and it usually goes something like “look, she has blond hair!”
We come home, sticky and sandy, skin crusted with salt, in the early afternoon. Lunch is a long, drawn out affair: grilled strips of eggplant folded over melted fresh mozzarella and topped with slow roasted cherry tomatoes from the garden, spaghetti with calamari and tomato sauce. The cheese as a rule, is set out on clean plates only after the rest of the table has been cleared, and then comes huge (and mandatory) slices of watermelon, which are the size of a massive, egg-shaped pumpkin. When, at long last, the table is empty, we are sent back to the beach before dinner.