When I was a child, eating at the restaurant was no very common. Even when money had not been an issue, in the few golden years my parents had before plunging into debts, restaurants was a luxury reserved for family celebrations. Marriages, christening, communion or confirmation, were the only reasons to waste money on eating out. Few were exceptions and strictly in cheap places only. And those occasions I loved the most.
These oddities were always in summer, when the weather was an invitation to stroll outside and eat out. I remember that it was usually in occasion of what my parents called Festa dell’Unità, which I thought it meant unity festival. Only when I grew up I understood that the event had something to do with the now defunct newspaper l’Unità. It took place once a year, and it had the feeling of a village festival, full of stands, food, lucky dip and lots of people. I looked at the stands with curiosity, running in front of my parents to discover the next one before them, so I could shout back to come and see. The truth was that not many had things for children, they were mostly books and leaflets which were far above my literacy and interest. Sometimes they had postcards, or laced tops, in white with some other colours. The location of such events was always a public park and my brother and I, sometimes joined by a cousin, would run and jump all around. It was a feast for us. And then, sometime between a stand and a jump, there was dinner. In a stand which seemed huge to my child eyes there were rows and rows of wooden banks and tables. The tables were covered with a plastic tablecloth, in my recalling it was a checkered pattern, white and blue or white and red. My father would go to the casher and buy a ticket, which proved he had paid, and he could collect our food while my mother and us children would sit at a table. It there was not enough space, my mother would ask those already seated to move closer to together, to accommodate our group. And there he was, my father bringing back first some drinks, wine for them, soft drinks for us, a real treat for me as there were none circulating at home. Then he brought the food: grilled meat, grilled potatos in their aluminium tray, some vegetables. I still remember the smell coming from the open air grill, expanding well beyond the food court, and the size of the pork ribs, which could have been as long as my father’s two hands with his fingers spread open. Still today the smell of grilled meat makes my heart sing and brings me back to the delight I felt when biting into the long and succulent pork rib, which had but a tiny layer on the thick bone. Once my parents allowed to take a small gulp of wine. I still remember the name: Sangre de Toro, bull blood.
My life has been very different from the one my parents had and eating out, or taking out food is as common, or sometimes even more common, than taking a walk in a park. Eating out still retains a certain thrill, but it only has a vague resemblance to the magic of those sporadic, open-air dinners with my parents. The memories though are as intoxicating as that first gulp of wine.
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