Here’s a yarn with a nice backstory so I’ll start with that. Many years ago, not long after I moved to Rome, I got a call from a couple of new friends asking if I wanted to go for a drive in the country, maybe grab some lunch. It was Sunday, obvs I agreed and off we went. We drove about 40 minutes in some direction or other (southwest as I later learned) and happened upon a little restaurant hidden in a valley surrounded by woods and agriculture. There was some sort of medieval castle next door and a load of old men playing bocce in the square. (There’s also, as it turns out, a cantina downwind selling eponymous wine, honey and pasta made from farro). Aside: I hoped to impress the non-bocce enthusiasts amongst you with some skinny on how the game is played — to me it just looks like a bunch of beardies throwing balls at another ball — but I couldn’t be bothered to read all of the millions of pages that the Interwebs devote to the subject. Suffice it to say that bocce dates back to the Ancient Romans, who played with coconuts brought back from Africa, and — this tidbit alone is worth the price of admission — according to legend, Sir Frances Drake refused to defend England against the Spanish Armada until he finished his bocce game. He proclaimed, “First we finish the game, then we’ll deal with the Armada.” Hee.
Getting back to the backstory: as I remember it, the day was perfect; dogs and cats snaked their way around the outdoor tables, searching for handouts; the food was simple and delicious; lunch lasted for hours. It was — as a colleague was to remark much later — like being in an olive oil commercial. Afterwards, I drove back to Rome with my friends and fell into my normal routine, which, believe me is nothing like being in an olive oil commercial. I thought about the restaurant often, but since none of us had paid any attention to how we got there, we had no idea how to get back.
Some years later, I was sitting in my office when a colleague rushed in, overwrought. By that time my job had moved from central Rome to Maccarese, an agricultural estate on the sea. “I have just found the most amazing restaurant,” he cried. “It’s in the middle of nowhere and it is everything you imagined Italy could be.” Another expatriate craving the perfect Italian experience, needless to say. We went there the next day and, you can probably guess what I found. Yup. It was my olive oil commercial. It hadn’t changed a bit.
The restaurant is called Trattoria da Maurizio. It’s located in a tiny town called Torrimpietra. The aforementioned castle — as I learned during subsequent visits — dates to the 13th Century. Apparently there was also once a fortress built in ye olde Roman times. Not sure why that was — the sea is close by, but not that close. Back then, my office was only a few minutes away and we went there whenever we could afford to take a nice long lunch — not an everyday thing in Italy I assure you. Usually a nice long lunch coincided with a birthday or some other occasion that was particularly worthy of note, e.g. summer.
Aside #2: In September 1943, the Germans having occupied Rome and the towns to the south, some SS forces were camping out near Palidoro — the next town over from Torrimpietra — in an old Italian military installation. I also heard a story that those guys were staying in the castle at Torrimpietra and they used to get drunk and ride their motorcycles up and down the stairs and shoot at the birds on the frescoed ceilings. Anyway, on 22 September, these knuckleheads were poking around in a box of abandoned munitions, which blew up in their faces, killing one German and wounding another two. They immediately rounded up 22 random locals and got ready to carry out the reprisals of which the Germans were so fond. They demanded the cooperation of the local branch of the military police or carabinieri, which was located at Torrimpietra and under the temporary command of 22-year old Naples-born Salvo d’Aquisito. That’s him below.
BTW, has anyone noticed how many 22s there are in this story? 22 September; 22 locals; Salvo was 22. Coincidence? Anyway, Salvo stood up to the Germans, insisting that the explosion had been an accident and trying to persuade them to let the prisoners go. The Germans roughed him up and tore his uniform, which is pretty much the worst thing you can do to a carabiniere. Especially these days when the carabinieri uniforms are designed by Valentino — true story. Next the Germans made the prisoners dig a big mass grave for themselves. Just in the nick of time, Salvo ‘confessed’ to the crime. He was executed and the prisoners were set free. Today, Salvo is celebrated as a big carabinieri icon. The young hero was posthumously awarded the Golden Medal of Military Valour. He was buried in the church of Santa Chiara in Naples, alongside the odd Neapolitan king and the brains of St. Louis of Toulouse. There have been movies, stamps and apparently Salvo just lacks a few miracles before he is named the first World War II soldier saint.
A few weeks ago the Upstairs Vegetarian suggested a day out in the country and off to Da Maurizio we went. I’d not been there in about four years. We had a lovely lunch.
So, you ask, what did come next? That would be Ms. Reina Jaymes (alt spelling, Rayna). I should preface all of this by saying that the Upstairs Vegetarian has been angsting and kvetching about getting a dog for ages. I have been in favor of the plan, mindful as I am that the Morgster could use a bit more canine company to help overcome his conviction that, much like Pinocchio, he is a real boy. Yes, I know that he spends endless hours in the dog park but most of that is spent preening around the grown ups, looking for strokes and treats. I have sent her dozens of photos and adoptions pleas over the past year culled from the many many dog shelter sites that I somehow subscribe to but she’s never paid much attention. She insisted that she was looking for a Dog of Destiny who would appear at just the right time, in just the right way, ringing the doorbell and crying “Mama.” I don’t really believe in that sort of nonsense. But then, just as our lunch was drawing to a close, we looked over at the next table and there she was. The world’s cutest tiny puppy. And she was looking for a home. Destiny Dog.
Five minutes later, the U.V. had a new puppy and Morgan had a new best friend. Finding the right name took a bit of doing. But the U.V. finally settled on Rayna Jaymes, named after the main character on her favourite TV show, Nashville. Only it’s spelled Reina, which means ‘queen’ in Spanish, so as to be maximally confusing. Rayna Jaymes, in case you don’t know, is played by the magical Ms. Connie Britton, who played Tami Taylor on Friday Night Lights and whose hair has its own blog. So there you go. Stay tuned for many doggy adventures to come.