I have a friend whose English borders on the tragically Greek. In his defense he’s only recently picked up studying again and does so purely through dinner conversation with me. That is to say, he practices speaking English while I stuff my face with all manner of delicious Italian food. Our arrangement is a simple, albeit unspoken one: I teach him english between bites of focaccia and he picks up the tab. Today’s particular lesson is on adjectives.
“Like the pizza, Brendan?” He booms, watching me fold a slice much too big three times over and try to cram it inside my mouth.
“Mmm,” I say, savoring a chunk of mozzarella. “Fantastic!”
This seems to satisfy him. He nods and goes on eating himself before piping in again two minutes later.
“Good pizza, Brendan?”
I’m enjoying a slice of tomato now, biting into it and trying to keep the juices from running down my chin.
All is silent for a while so I focus again on the pizza which, I swear, is the best I’ve ever had.
I look up, though the plate in front of me is now empty, I’m working to dislodge a sprig of parsley which has found its way between two of my teeth.
“Pizza is nice?”
“Mmm,” I feel my tongue has almost got the renegade sprig now. “Incredible!”
There’s wine too, a primitivo the restaurant produces itself. I have barely raised the glass to my lips when I hear;
“Wine is okay, Brendan?”
I nod as I take the sip, swish it around in my mouth, and swallow.
Like a king, content to see that his taster hasn’t dropped dead yet, he takes a sip and nods in agreement.
26 seconds later.
“Alright wine, Brendan?”
“Is the wine alright?” I ask myself out loud, taking another sip as if to reevaluate.
Later we go with a group to try gelato from Caruso, possibly the best Gelateria in Polignano, thus Italy, and thus the world!
I order cioccolatto di fondente, which is understandable enough, and ricotta mascarpone, which looks and tastes like an edible Da Vinci masterpiece.
I take a bite off the top (note: I bite, not lick… can’t help it. Patience has never been my virtue). The gelato is still sliding down my throat when-
“Good taste, gelato, Brendan?”
“Is the gelato tasty?” I correct, staring contemplatively as if the answer is written between the layers of dark chocolate and ricotta. “Yes, very. It’s wonderful.”
7 bites/1 gelato/38 seconds later.
“Gelato not bad, Brendan?”
“No, it was delicious.”
It continues like this, his questions understating and my answers overstating (as if you could overstate the taste of God).
We pop in a couple hours later for a cornetto (Italian word for the French word we use, croissant- and in case you haven’t figured it out by this point, yes, I have gained weight since coming here).
I’ve barely got my lips around a piping hot cornetto slathered in baileys and nutella when he thunders:
“Acceptable cornetto, Brendan?”
I swallow the mouthful of chocolatey dough, wiping my lips with a napkin.
He grunts, nods, affirms in additional non-verbal ways, and licks his fingers before leaving.
We’re walking now, and I check my hands to make sure I don’t have a panzerotto, or a cannolo, or a bottle of cedrata in them. They’re empty.
I look up, his face wide and plump, a swollen Pillsbury Dough Boy.
“Like Italy, Brendan?”
I smile, feeling his gaze, intense, anticipating, on me.
“I love Italy. It’s beautiful.”
He nods, and we walk off in the direction of the sea. Word has it there’s a good cafe down that way.