We’re having dinner at a little trattoria in Lucca.Most of the guests are sitting on the outdoor patio, but since I forgot my sweater and I’m afraid I’ll be cold, we’ve asked to sit inside. We’ve been guided to a back room and told proudly that we’ll have it all to ourselves (which isn’t exactly what we want, since we love to people watch.)
Our server, oddly enough, is a middle-aged Scottish woman who speaks English with a heavy brogue. When we ask, she explains that she visited Lucca “on holiday” in 1986, met an Italian man, fell in love, and never went home. She tells us she loves waiting on tables at the restaurant, because she gets to speak English to the customers. At home, apparently, she lives with her dour monolingual Italian mother-in-law. The husband doesn’t seem to be in the picture any longer. Hmm. Sounds like something out of a Hitchcock film. I wonder if small amounts of poison are being added to anyone’s tea.
At that moment, as if on cue, a very vocal, happy British family consisting of three adorable children, their parents, and a grandmother, is ushered in and welcomed as old friends by the Scottish waitress. The grandmother’s very tastefully dressed and reminds me of Lynn Redgrave. The whole family’s remarkably good-looking, in fact. They settle in at the large table right next to us, which means, of course, that we can’t talk about them, especially since we speak the same language. So we have to be content with eavesdropping.
It turns out to be quite entertaining. I get a kick out of hearing small children speak in British accents—they sound so precocious! These three obviously don’t just sound precocious, they are precocious. The oldest girl, who looks about nine, is explaining to her parents in painstaking detail about how men and women go to a certain kind of doctor to improve their “sexual relationship.” They listen with a straight face, but I can’t help laughing when I hear these words, pronounced so precisely (sek-syu-al), issuing from her nine-year-old mouth. Meanwhile, the smallest boy, who’s about three and named Noah, is roaming around the room, sitting at the empty tables, dropping the silverware onto the floor and crumbling his bread into the wine glasses, as the Scottish waitress looks on with a benevolent eye.
In fact, she’s so enamored with the family (or perhaps I should say enamoured) that it’s difficult to get her attention. When we finally do, we decide to be adventurous and order the crostini with tomatoes and lard. Lard, you say? Yes, lard. Lard is big on a lot of the menus here. You can get lard with wild herbs and olive oil (just in case you didn’t get enough fat with the lard) or lard with tomatoes. I figure it’s a reasonably safe bet to order the lard with tomatoes. It’s got to be the rendered kind, right? That could actually be tasty, like bacon grease on toast with tomatoes. Artery-congealing, but tasty. No such luck. She brings us a piece of toast with several slabs of white fat on it. They’re not like chunks of lard scooped from a can, it’s more like bacon fat, except with no bacon attached. Just the fat. We sit there and look at it until she comes back and asks why we haven’t eaten it. When we demur, she starts in about how delicious it really is. She tells us all about how it’s marinated in local caves on the coast.
Come again??? Apparently they put the lard into these caves and leave it there for an unspecified amount of time, and somehow it gets seasoned. So now I’m imagining the lard caves of northern Italy. You’d better be careful when you’re spelunking or you’ll find yourself waist deep in marinating lard. I try a teensy bit and it basically tastes like uncooked bacon fat. Well, at least I tried it!
Next week: On to Cinque Terre.