We were in something of a celebratory mood, so, being in London for the day, went for lunch at one of our favourite Italian restaurants, in Bloomsbury. “Let’s go there,” I said to H. “Last time we were there, the manager promised to get a bottle of Strega in.”
I like a glass of Strega after a meal. I like its golden colour, its fragrance of mint and fennel, its sweet, aromatic flavour. I also like drinking a liqueur that lends its name to Italy’s most prestigious literary prize. Whenever I go to an Italian restaurant in Britain, before ordering, I ask if they have Strega. If they do, I forego the wine with my meal, saving my very low alcohol tolerance for a drop of that magical nectar. Sadly, very, very few restaurants serve it.
Perhaps predictably, when we arrived at the Bloomsbury restaurant, the manager was different and, sadly, no Strega in stock.
Directly behind us, sat a middle-aged American couple that were engaging in conversation with two Scottish women at the adjacent table. The American man was telling a joke.
We didn’t get the joke entirely but began to eavesdrop on the conversation and enjoying the general good humour and joviality behind us.
As we tucked into our scrumptious food – in my case pasta with courgette flowers – there was a roll of thunder and the skies broke open and sheets of rain teemed onto the street. I heard someone – not sure who – comment that “it always pours in England”. A remark that, after years of teaching English as a Foreign Language I am, frankly, sick and tired of hearing. “Ever tried Milan or Brussels?” I snapped, swinging around.
The American woman, who was sitting back to back with me, also turned round, and asked about Brussels. I told her it could be very, very grey, so it wasn’t fair that England should, alone, carry the reputation for miserable weather.
We got talking. It turned out the Americans were lawyers, as well as film lovers and wine connoisseurs.
Suddenly, the man asked out right, “How are you all voting in the European Referendum?”
Silence. Dense, palpable silence.
He looked at the adjacent table. One of the Scottish women was looking absent-mindedly at the table cloth. The other replied with a grave tone, “This is a very personal question.”
Feeling merry and particularly loquacious as a result of having drunk half a glass of Nero d’Avola – twice my usual amount of alcohol intake – I was only too happy to open my mouth wide and unleash all my opinions about how I felt about this topic, allowing them to gallop freely, like a wild mustang over sun kissed mountains. H. joined in and, after a while, the Scottish women also dipped their toes in the debate. There were crusaders, devil’s advocates, apologists and fence-dwellers, each of us taking turns to assume these roles. The course of the discussion inevitably veered to the US Presidential elections. More dense, palpable silences, dissent phrased as questions, and – when it came down to it, a shared wish for a better world and a peaceful world.
The American man ordered a bottle of Amarone and six glasses. “The grapes are left to wilt in the sun first,” he said, “which gives the wine its intense flavour.”
We all stood up from our tables, dropped our napkins on the tables and, with them, all our political differences, and clinked glasses in the uniting pleasure that an unexpectedly stimulating conversation with a new acquaintance can bring.
The red wine glided down, smooth, rich, warm. As warm as, a little later, the goodbye handshakes, exchange of business cards, and hugs, while the tall-stemmed wine glasses gleamed in the afternoon sun.
Oh for the days of friendly discussion about current events and politics. Hats off to the whole international group agreeing and disagreeing over some delicious wine.
Of course, now, there is much political disagreement in the UK… and, trust me, there’s nothing amiable about it.
It was heartening to read your essay and to know that people can talk about politics in a civil, adult manner. From my vantage point on this side of the Pond, Donald Trump is a huge embarrassment. I’ve been intensely curious about whether the UK will vote for a Brexit. PBS covered the arguments pro and con in a series of stories last week. Of course, a few minutes on a nightly news program cannot do the topic justice. I do feel thankful and relieved that adults from different countries, including my own, can have an intelligent discussion and clink glasses afterward. There is so much vitriol and simple-mindedness in politics right now. It can be very distressing.
Re Referendum: I am anxiously holding my breath.
Still I could not figure out whether you are for or against Brexit. But unfortunately, this is a very personal question))
You can’t figure out whether I am for or against Brexit? I grew up between Italy, France and England. I come from a mixed cultural background. I am a literary translator. What do you think I believe?.. 😄
What a wonderful lunch! New friends, great wine, yummy food. And a peaceful world for all.
Amen to a peaceful world for all.
Well done. I have no clue what an “Amarone” is – I will look it up – but I have a very clear opinion about UK and US politics. It is fairly simple: UK remain. US: The lesser of two evils – Mrs. Clinton. Cheers!
Agree in both cases.
Lovely! I must try Strega one day. I have no tolerance to alcohol so it will have to be close by!!