Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Don Coles blogs! Part 2

[Don Coles is the author of ten books of poetry and the novel Doctor Bloom's Story. He won the Governor General's Award for Poetry in 1993 for Forests of the Medieval World and the Trillium prize in 2000 for Kurgan. Formerly a professor at York University, he lives in Toronto. Periodically we'll post an entry by Coles taken from his 2007 book of essays and reviews, Dropped Glove in Regent Street: An Autobiography by Other Means ]

Final Firenze memory, for me the most intimate. I had been strolling about the town that morning and had ended up on the crenellated roof-deck of the Palazzo Vecchio,the old City Hall, overlooking the town. Standing there I’d fallen into conversation with an American of about my age; he was newly arrived, I was a veritable fount of information regarding what lay below us. We decided to lunch together and I led the way to the Trattoria Camillo, a family-run place on Via Santo Spirito, very near my rooms on the via de’ Bardi. I’d been there a few times without anything noteworthy having taken place, just good food at a price a grantee like me could afford.

We took our places and ordered our antipasti. Waiting for it to arrive I suddenly remembered I didn’t have a lot of lire in my wallet; I took the wallet from my back pocket and had a surreptitious look. Right, merde, I had barely enough to pay for what I’d just ordered. Not a good discovery, sitting there with somebody I hardly knew, not good at all, but so far I could cover it. I was sure nobody had noticed any of this, people had been walking about and the place was busy. Antipasti gone, the signora arrived to take our next orders. My companion ordered a pasta and a glass of red wine, I said I was fine, not hungry, a carafe of water, nothing more, grazie. I half-thought the signora gave me a second look, but I wasn’t sure and I didn’t keep thinking it.

She left, was back again in minutes with not one but two plates of pasta and two glasses of chianti. I shook my head, said I’d ordered neither of these, she seemed too busy to listen and went off. I pondered this but after she’d gone determinedly past our table a couple of times without looking, I ate my pasta and enjoyed my wine. The pasta would soon have cooled past its best, after all. The American then ordered a salad, I declined, two salads arrived. By then I had given up. Lunch ended with two desserts, I don’t remember what these were, chocolate cake was what I normally liked and still do like along with red wine; and due cappuccini. We’d finished. I asked for our bills, they arrived. I got a quick look at his, it was in order, everything he’d had was listed. My bill was for that initial antipasti. Nothing more than that, nothing after that.

The signora, in passing, gave me a quick look when we were paying the grandmother who presided over the till. She didn’t wink, but she looked. It was a placid, friendly, everyday sort of look. The American had noticed nothing. I think he and I shook hands and parted as we left and
didn’t meet again.

I went back to Camillo’s a few days later and left a tip which covered my share of that meal. The signora may have noticed this, may not. My guess is that she did but there was no way of knowing. I have no memory of nodding or smiling or giving her a small bow or a meaningful, as they say, glance. I can remember none of those things but maybe one or two of them took place, impossible to confirm or deny that now. Camillo’s still exists but it’s gone gourmet, it caters to the monied classes and has a half-dozen waiters in white livery. The family has clearly exited the premises, I hope with their pockets stuffed. I hope that the signora, who can hardly still be of this world, had as calmly assured and sharp-eyed and generous (and perhaps, trusting) a series of days until her days ended.

(from A Dropped Glove in Regent Street: An Autobiography by Other Means by Don Coles, 2007)

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