Taking the Afternoon Off

Babilonia in Taormina, Sicily

Starting a new language is mentally exhausting. Even when you are just hanging out with people chatting, seemingly doing nothing, your brain is in overdrive trying to process the language. It’s not so bad once you get used to the language and don’t have to think so hard to produce a coherent sentence, but Italian is still quite new to me.

At first I thought I would just treat myself to a nice lunch, fish instead of all the pasta and pizza I’ve been eating, and start the book Anita gave me. She fell in love with the book “My Sister’s Keeper” by Jodi Picoult which she had read in English for an English conversation class that she was taking in Switzerland and just happened to find a copy of it, also in English, in the room she is staying in here in Taormina. She brought it to me the other day, just to read a little, to find out what I thought of the writing as a native English speaker. So I started this book at lunch. It really was a lovely afternoon. I was sitting outside on a little side street off of corso Umberto.

The waiter talked me into a fish baked in salt. I’ve had the dish before and he was right, it does keep the meat super moist. I started with the octopus salad, simply prepared with celery, garlic and olive oil. The octopus was much more tender than the one we tried to grill. The fish, spigolo (branzino), was as I said baked in a mound of salt and served with a side of grilled eggplant, zucchini and potato also simply prepared and excellent.

The only down side to this perfect afternoon lunch was that the owner/waiter only spoke to me in English. I kept answering in Italian but he just continued on in English. He thinks if he speaks English he will attract more business and for most of his clients he is right. As I was enjoying my lunch, a Japanese woman with her mother sat down as well as a British couple, none of whom made the slightest attempt to speak any Italian. However, I’ve noticed that some owners feel out your language skills and speak to you in the language you prefer to speak in, even if they do speak English. They may slow down their Italian and speak more clearly, but their clients leave happy knowing that they were able to speak the language successfully. I’ve tried in the past to tell people that I prefer to practice Italian, French or whatever and it never really goes well. Either they are kind enough to get the hint by my continuation in the local language or not.

I ended the meal slowly finishing my wine and becoming ever more entrenched in the book. The waiter recommended a cannolo for dessert – which I’ve been meaning to try – a Sicilian pastry in the shape of a more rounded taco shell filled with a sweet ricotta. Can’t say it’s my favorite. The pastry shell was deep fried and the ricotta sweeter than I like. He served it with a small glass of Moscata, a dessert wine, on the house.

When the check came he had taken 15% off the bill, gave me a business card and told me to come back with my friends from Babiliona. A very kind gesture, but why would I bring language students to a restaurant where they don’t speak to you in Italian?

I left thoroughly satisfied with the meal and in no mood to study ANKI vocabulary, the number of cards due growing completely out of control. Plus I was now totally engaged in the book. I told myself a few more hours won’t matter and kept reading. By dinner I had only a hundred pages left and was finished by bedtime. Tomorrow I’ll pick up the Italian again.

My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult

I enjoyed the author’s writing. In every chapter she changes who is telling the story as well as frequently changing the point in time from which the story is being told. In a sense telling at the same time, the story of what is happening now and how they got to this point in the first place. The story is about a family with a daughter who was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia at age two. Their elder son wasn’t a donor match so they decided to have a third child and genetically choose the embryo to ensure a perfect match. This daughter becomes her elder sister’s donor. At age thirteen she decides to go to a lawyer to become medically emancipated from her parents. The book raises a lot of interesting ethical questions and is also a real tear jerker. I highly recommend it.

For links to all the posts in this series see the Taormina, Sicily page.