Dish 89: Paccari all’Amatriciana at Melograno, Sansom between 20th and 21st
Four years ago, my parents took all of us to Florence and Rome for 2 weeks that fortuitously coincided with the FIFA World Cup Finals. (The following week we were in Paris to console the French, who, surprisingly, felt no remorse about a certain head butt and needed no consoling.) And it so happened that as we were walking down one of the alleys by the Vatican, we happened to run into one of my high school classmates, who happened to be visiting her Sicilian friends who were studying in Rome. She couldn’t stay to watch the Finals that night—she had to get back to her grandparents, who lived in Milan, but we took pictures and wished one another well at college.
Later that day, we were picking up tourist information from the train station when a petite young man smoking a cigarette looked at me, did a double take, and rushed over. “You are Michela’s friend! She is inside changing her tickets! Come with me!” My mom puffed up to the maximum size permitted by her five foot, three inches of tough mother hen and stepped between us. “Mom, how could he possibly make this up?” I asked, just as our new friend, Francesco, chimed in, “I recognize you from the pictures. The matching shirts,” pointing to the Azzurri fan tees that Brian and I both wore. She reluctantly moved aside, and Francesco and I bolted into the station.
Fast forward through the looks of shock, the review of the photos, the changing of the tickets, the exchanging of information, the making of a plan—seeing as we only had one international cell in my family—Francesco sucking down two more cigarettes, and my dad gruffly intervening “I don’t know anything about these boys”—we split for the afternoon, to reconvene that evening before the game.
My family chose a café with wood chairs and white tablecloths for a late lunch, and I ordered my new favorite, spaghetti all’amatriciana, a pungent blend of pancetta, onions, and red pepper that left bacon fat pooled in the bottom of the plate and awakened my taste buds like the first overwhelming whiff of lilies of the valley in spring.
Brian and I paced excitedly, waiting for our friends to arrive, and we heard the “BO! Bo-bo-bo-bo-BO! BO!” of Seven Nation Army chants before we heard the buzzer in the apartment. Michela and I gossiped while the Italian boys taught Brian everything he needed to know. (“This you sing. This is the other song, okay? And Cannavaro, we like him. Buffon, he –motions blocking a kick—yes, right, he blocks the goals. Good!”)
The game was a blur. We were standing in the Circus Maximus, we held our breath, we gasped, we laughed, we shouted, we cheered. And then everything was chaos, joyful, ecstatic chaos, as red, white, and green smoke bombs exploded, and people ran through the streets, singing, and the boys handed me their flag, “You wear as dress! Will be beautiful!” We shook our beers and sprayed them into the crowd, and the boys lead us through the pandemonium, “Next we swim in la Fontana Trevi!” And the cheering, the singing and chanting, the tipsy air of unbelievable achievement did not lift from the city.
Yesterday, as Chandani and I had dinner in sedate, skylit Melograno, I took deliberately slow bites of the dish so elusive in the States, in case the intensity of the flavors and the memories might leave me gripping the table for stability. The chanting, the smoke, the flags, the white tablecloth of the café—for just a moment the waiter’s face had Francesco’s thick black eyebrows. And then it was gone. I was just a girl, sitting in a restaurant, thinking about how she should really pay a visit to the Dark Horse and see how her beloved Azzurri are doing.
Tags: 2006, all'amatriciana, azzurri, cafe, dark horse, dream, fifa, florence, football, forza italia, friends, headhouse square, high school, melograno, milan, paccari, rome, sicily, soccer, white tablecloths, world cup