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Tuscan Mushroom

Daisy does not say ahead of time what she will play. This is her one incontrovertible condition for accepting an engagement. She decides on the spot. She plays mostly in the evening and begins to feel the music only when darkness begins to fall and she finds herself in the space of the music before it is played and also learns a little about her audience. She requires only the broadest of explanations, such as the one this evening’s enoteca owner gave to her, “Today we celebrated the chestnut and tonight we are celebrating the mushroom. The famous food critic Marco Marciello will be there in the evening. He loves the music of Shubert. ”
Italians seem to do more with chestnuts than Americans, even Americans of Italian descent. Gertrude used to roast her chestnuts. I would cut fissures about three quarters of the way through then she would roast them. Chestnuts are warm, meaty, consoling. Mushrooms are a different story.
This enoteca, like most Italian restaurants, has a front room and a back room. From the front room you cannot see who is dining in the back room, and vice-versa. Daisy and I arrive about a half hour before her start time. Compared to Americans, Italians eat late, beginning around 8 pm with aperatifs and, in Italy, as I have written in JOHN DANTE’S INFERNO, dinner is a cultural event, orgiastic, often lasting deep into the night. I carry Daisy’s second viola case, place it gently on a secure empty chair, set up her music stand, microphone if needed and organize our table with music charts, timer, chin rests, bows, bottled water. I make sure her viola cases and our outer clothing are safely put away. We are given a small table to the right of the kitchen and critic Marco Marciello’s table is about fifteen feet to the right of ours, facing the kitchen. The kitchen staff will be able to monitor the celebrated food critic’s expressions upon tastings, his eyes, his mouth, and will be at the ready for any requests for bis (second helpings). The place begins to fill up, mainly middle-age couples. The town’s electrician, physician, notaio and their families. The notaio comes over and introduces himself. “I am Marzio, il notaio..” Daisy glances at him while continuing to warm up. “Sono Antonino, and I am not completely in the dark regarding your type of work,” I say in Italian, running interference for Daisy, one of my tasks. “North Americans have no such species as your notaio, our lawyers do pretty much what notaios do—we can get a document “notarized” in a pharmacy for very little money and we don’t leave pharmacists in the lurch--are your lawyers left in the lurch?” “Well, no--” And then I shake my head slowly and a smile begins to break, like a new day’s sunrise, and upon the golden horizon of this memory sits a veiled woman, a cloistered nun, the outline of her head and shoulders having retained a modicum of her youth, and feintly through the interstices of her veil you could discern the bone structure of her pale nose & chin of her once beautiful face, the most beautiful in all of Buenos Aires during the reign of Juan Peron. “How did you see her?” asks the notaio of Abbadia S. Lorenzo. I elaborate very softly, beneath Daisy’s scales. “I did not see her. For decades she was alone with her God except for the mother superior. No one knew whether her beauty had withered, like a Greta Garbo. Until Coco, the notaio, that is.” Coco and I go out after a fantastic asado at his kinta and he’s pointing out buildings which purchases he facilitated, some legal, some not; notaios were necessary even for illegal shenanigans, and then, suddenly, Coco stops. We were on a circular path along a mountain ridge and the sun had gone down. He says, “This building--” I turned toward an attached, dark, stone building, iron bars on the windows, “is a monastery for cloistered nuns. One of them, once the most beautiful woman in all of Buenos Aires, was left a large sum of money in probate and her signature was needed in order for her to receive and then donate the money. I was the notaio.” “You saw her?” “Yes.” More than his words it was the way he described seeing her, his speech slowing, deliberating on each passing syllable, voice lowered to a whisper, memory of her still in awe. “She sat behind a latticed screen, kind of like in a confessional except that we faced each other, and she was veiled, but I could make out her contours, and, faintly, her features, full cheeks accentuated by her habit, wide shoulders beneath the drop of her veil.”
The trattoria is like most Italian businesses: family owned and operated, tonight the parents in the kitchen, sons out front, one a waiter, the other a good-for-nothing with a Mohawk working his cell phone at a set empty table. Every once in a while the father comes out and berates this son to get moving, he gets up for a few minutes then returns to his nothing. “He’s coming, he’s at the door,” this son says and picks up a hammer and crowbar and goes out and unhinges the front door so that the food critic, weighing in at about 400 pounds, can pass through the door. Both brothers move the tables closer to the wall then they usher him to his table which is about nine feet to the right of ours. What a jovial man, dressed in a yellow v-neck cashmere sweater over a green shirt, fair thinning hair and a ruddy complexion. Smiles on his cherubic, jowly face. He’s accompanied by a fellow two of whom could easily fit into him. Marco the critic slides in and arranges himself against the wall facing the kitchen. He orders a dark beer and his friend orders a glass of wine. His smiling expectant face does not change. Strewn on the tables are those cocktail umbrellas made out of paper and toothpicks, ours green-blue and placed around our large plate, same in Marco’s plate. In walks the mother in a white apron & tall chef hat carrying two plates in each of which is one solitary gigantic Portobello mushroom. They are the largest Portobella mushrooms any of us has ever seen. She slides one then the other in the center or our plates. “Attenzione,” she says, they are still hot. Daisy stares at our Portobello for some time. She picks up and twirls one of the paper umbrellas. Her fork slices off a section, like butter. She tastes, as does Marco and his friend. I follow suit. “How do you make this?” to the Mother-chef, who says: “Al forno. Bake it.”
“Do you get it?” Daisy directs to me. I look at her quizzically. She twirls a paper umbrella which is shaped like a mushroom’s flat head. Umbrellas-Celebrating the Mushroom—get it? “Start Doo-dloo-doo-doo-doo-- ” she instructs. “What about the Shubert?” “Not appropriate now. “Doo-dloo-doo-doo-doo—“ and she breaks into the first strains of Singin in the Rain, nods to me and I start, “I’m singin in the rain, just singin in the rain, what a glorious feeling, I’m happy again, I’m laughing at the clouds,” and the whole place, including the critic, chimes in, “--the sun's in my heart and I’m ready for love--”
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