Elena was and remained inconsolable, so Raffa decided not to continue the trip to the Netherlands, or at least to postpone it. She visibly brightened up, and because Matthieu and i had to go back, she wanted to have a little farewell party.
Matthieu decided that a nice meal was part of it, and offered to arrange it. As i wrote before, he was a great cook, regularly asked by snobbish acquaintances to liven up their parties with his Caribbean-based food crafts.
He regularly cooked with game, which is why i once ate rabbit, wild boar and pheasant. I wouldn't have done that so quickly on my own, and i have to say: they weren't my favorite dishes.
Why he had to buy half a pig this time, i don't remember. He said that was common. I had no fucking clue, and still don't, about what's common in all sorts of situations. It always gives me problems again and again.
Anyway, the halved pig. There seemed to be a butcher in a village further on, and since it was supposed to be a surprise for Elena and Raffa, we had to go and get it ourselves. Without a car. In the blazing sun. I wondered how such a thing could be done.
At the butcher we could choose what we wanted. The butcher took a frozen, half, pig out of the cold store. There was some hand-clapping, another thing i don't understand, and Matthieu shouldered half the corpse. He was having a hard time.
He knew i couldn't handle it, firstly having to carry a corpse, secondly i could never have held the weight of that corpse. He didn't make too much of a fuss about it, except for scolding me along the way that i could never do anything either. Inwardly i thought: dude, leave me then, pls. (but that in the then common expressions).
When Elena arrived, the corpse was strung on a large rotisserie skewer and we smeared it with spicy marinade. After a while the fire was lit, and the halved beast was slowly roasted. That took quite a while. In the meantime, some guests had settled down, and there appeared to be some activity in the shed behind the courtyard. Elena took us inside.
There sat the landlord, in what turned out to be a winery. There were a number of large barrels, and from 1 barrel he tasted a glass.
“Molto bene, molto bene!” and invited us to have a drink too. At the same time he filled some bottles from the different barrels.
After many glasses it was time for pig. Everyone agreed that i should eat a leg, that would be the best part damn it. So i sat with a pig's leg in front of me, i took a few bites but was so horrified that i soon gave up and focused on the salad and the baguette. And the vernaccia, because there was no other choice.
After about 10 minutes of commenting on my eating behaviors, everyone went back to their own pig parts.
During one of the trips with Elena and Raffa, we were also invited to a fisherman, where they were sorting the catch of the day. There was a big bucket with some kind of small cockles, one of the women rinsed a part with clean water with some vinegar in it, and i was offered one of those raw things. All that encouragement again, and i tried it and swallowed it, i didn't dare bite it. I thought it was so gross, i'm not a hero with dead animals. So while everyone around me was slurping and sucking, i had to endure the multiple wrath of the butchers again. I endured it resignedly.
Years later i could always really enjoy it, when i was asked during yet another staff outing and dinner why i didn't eat meat. Which was also never true, because sometimes i do eat it. And some periods more, and then again not at all for a while. But i was always asked this question just as the others started poking their dead animals, and i was more than happy with a vegetarian option.
And every time they were touched when i gave the simple answer that i didn't feel like eating dead animals.
Sometime around the 32nd time i was asked that, and almost the entire party was nibbling on cute little lambs, i responded with a variant, according the opportunity.
“I don't like dead lambs.”
The forks fell silent.
“Nah… Hannah! You wouldn't say that! ”
“Okay, thanks, Hannah, now I've lost my appetite…”
And so forth.
It never took long, by the way; within five minutes everyone was already happily cutting the corpses.
I have eaten quite a lot of meat, but i always preferred to eat the more unrecognizable types. Chicken fillet, meatball, sausage, burgers, and in the accompanying photo i once ventured into squid rings. Because i had a very good squid ring salad in Sardinia, i thought it would taste the same here in the Netherlands.
Here i am with a group of colleagues in a restaurant that belonged to the husband of one of those colleagues. The mountain of fried squid rings i was served was huge. In fact, that alone made me lose the desire to eat. Bravely i set to work. With a lot of sauce and fries and wine i could get through it, but i had to leave a large part. A shame about all those brave squids…
Some time after this pleasant get-together, the owner shot and killed an acquaintance of his in the very same restaurant. It was closed, and he was sentenced to 12 years in prison.
Another reminder of squid, in edible form. Or rather: inedible form. Eating out with a friend in a nearby coastal village. The restaurant was popular, but it was a weeknight and not completely full. There were some people with whining kids, a few couples, and two people sitting with notice boards. They were quite attentive, and we joked that they must have been some reviewers.
Once again i had opted for squid, a salad, with a view to the dish i once liked so much.
However, what i was served now was far from a salad.
I got a plate topped with lamb's lettuce. A number of completely intact squids had been placed on it. They were probably cooked, but it looked awful. I couldn't handle it, and couldn't eat it, and chose something else with embarrassment. I still wonder how the chef came up with that bizarre idea.
Anyway, a few weeks later there was a review in the Volkskrant, in which the nagging children were indeed not really appreciated, and we were labeled as hip customers, for which i thank you.
Back to the Italian adventure.
With a strong hangover we left for the Netherlands, Raffa took us to the boat, and from Genoa we traveled to Milan, from where we traveled back by international train. We had no sleeping places, so i lay in the aisle under a folding chair that we alternated between so that the other could sleep under it. Impossible, of course, because people with large backpacks walked by all the time.
Raffa came to the Netherlands months later. Soon he missed his life in Italy, the weather, his girlfriend, his children (he never spoke of his wife). And Elena had threatened to throw herself off a cliff if he didn't come back. After a few weeks he went back.
Previously published in this series:
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Topfun, A thousand suns and Butterflies.