Pizza and Conversation

Sorry you didn’t hear from me yesterday. But I have a good excuse. We came home from Church at mid-day, opened our front door, and were nearly bowled over by the heavy scent of gasoline emanating from our apartment. I took a deep gulp of fresh outside air and dashed heroically into the house to see if I had left the gas stove on. I hadn’t, and we don’t really have any other ways to leak gas into our house. So we went upstairs to talk to our landlord. He was not at home, but when his wife phoned him, he confessed that he had indeed spilled gasoline that morning as he was filling up his car in the garage. Not only does our apartment share a wall with said garage, but it also has a row of six lovely frosted windows looking into it, which are not exactly hermetically sealed. To top it all off, our internet cable comes in through a rather large hole drilled into one of those window-frames.

We opened all the windows and doors to let the gasoline fumes escape. Unfortunately, just at that moment our neighbor across the street decided to start burning her rubbish. The thick, acrid smoke immediately began pouring into our house through all those open doors and windows. So yes, even though it was cold and slightly drizzling, we decided to take an impromptu afternoon walk rather than the cozy warm nap we had originally planned, while we let our apartment air out. I dressed everyone in three or four layers of warm clothing, and we set out. It turned out to be quite a nice walk in spite of everything, but when we returned our house remained uninhabitably gassy and smoky.

Fortunately, at church that morning we had received an invitation to pizza at the Branch President’s house. So we piled into the car and set off for a delightful evening. President made nine pizzas, all of different types, and all delicious. I always see tuna pizza on restaurant menus here, and think it sounds awful. But it was actually quite tasty mixed with some carmelized onions. And the roasted pepper, green olive and prosciutto pizza was delectable.

What we really enjoyed, though, was the company. I looked around at one point during the evening and realized what an an eclectic group we were. There was Presidente Pepe from Argentina with his wife, who is from Chile. Carlos, himself a son of Argentine immigrants, although he grew up in Italy, was there with his delightful new Swiss wife, Naike. President’s in-laws were there from Chile as well, and then there was our family, the Americans. We had not one bona fide Italian among us, although we were all jabbering away at each other more or less in Italian. I say more or less, because the Chilean grandparents spoke only Spanish, which is also in common daily use among the South American Italians present. Tony and I spoke a fair amount of English with Carlos and the President’s son. And there were various discussions of what this or that word meant in English, Spanish, Italian, or Chilean Spanish.

Naike had made a delicious flourless cake with chestnuts and swiss chocolate. And I got to try a persimmon, which lately I see hanging orange and incongruous on bare trees everywhere. I had been under the impression that they were inedible without being boiled for hours. But the raw one that was given to me melted in my mouth like an exotic orange jelly. The 81-year-old Chilean grandfather kept insistently trying to feed Tony fork-fulls of his pizza. The Chilean grandmother was delighted that I remembered from my time in Chile the sweet tamale-like humitas, the cheese empanadas, and above all, the porotos (the peculiarly Chilean word for beans). She told me about the many years she had lived in Argentina, but how angry it always made her during those years for people to insinuate that she was Argentine. One of her anecdotes involved her indignantly retorting to someone that she was “more Chilean than the porotos,” which charmed me because I remembered it as the ultimate expression of Chilean pride. My favorite story, though, was the one where she was on the bus and someone said she had an Argentine accent. Her eyes flashed as she told me (dramatically acting it out as she said it) how she took the ice cream cone she was eating and squashed it right onto his forehead.

A good time was had by all, including our children, who speak the languages of Italian pizza and Swiss chocolate equally well. It just reminded me how fun and rewarding it is to share food, experiences, and conversation with people from different parts of the world. These days this famous Augustine quote pops up everywhere: “The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.” It’s true. But having other people read your their own pages can sometimes be almost as good as reading the book yourself. (Isn’t that why you like to travel vicariously through me? I know it’s why I love reading travel blogs and travelogues.)

Oh, and if you’re wondering, our house smelled much better when we returned. We had the children sleep in our room as a precaution, since they normally sleep right up against the offending wall. However, as of today the gasoline spill is officially all cleaned up, and things are back to normal. As normal as things ever get around here, at any rate.