Read, enjoy, and let me have your feedback.
Lunch With Papà
Leaving the Basilica San Vitale, Papà and Tomás retrieved the Fiat and headed back down the Fiume for a few blocks, then turned onto Via Guglielmo Oberdan. Papà turned quicker than Tomás expected and he slid over next to the window. “Where are we going, Papà?”
“You’ll see…just be patient, like I told you.”
“Are we going to see some more stones? Is that where you’re taking me now?”
“Just wait, son. Patience.”
Papà pulled the Fiat into a parking space near the Piazza Duomo and turned to Tomás. “A few more beautiful stones, then we’ll get some lunch. Would you like that?”
“I would like that Papà, but the Duomo doesn’t have any mosaics does it? I don’t remember seeing any mosaics when we went to mass here.”
Papà beamed and put his hand on Tomás’s shoulder as they walked across the street. “Smart boy. You’re right. The Duomo is beautiful, but it doesn’t have mosaics. We’re going to that smaller building around on the side—the baptistery, that’s what I want to show you. Look, there it is, right over there next to the bell tower.”
“You mean that little place. One, two, three, four…. It’s got eight sides just like San Vitale, but it’s a lot smaller.” They stopped beside a palm tree in a smaller piazza in front of the octagonal building made of bricks. Two stories tall, the baptistery had a terra cotta roof like most public buildings in Ravenna. “What does that mean, Papà? That name on the sign, Battistero Neoniano?”
“Well, a bishop named Neon commissioned this baptistery a long time ago, and they gave it his name. There was an older church right here at that time, but today’s duomo was built much later. Come on, let’s go inside.” As they headed toward the entry, Papà said, “One of the men at the shop told me this place used to be a Roman bath, before they made it a baptistery.”
“Are we gonna see some more stone mosaics?”
“Right, that is what we’ll see. They tell me this is the oldest one of Ravenna’s mosaic treasures.” He reached down and took Tomás’s hand. “I believe these stone pictures date from the late three hundreds.”
Inside the baptistery the light seemed blue because of the predominant color of the mosaics. Tall mullioned windows all around the mid-level of the walls kept it brighter than the mausoleum they’d visited earlier. Tomás stopped near the entry, then leaned back and stared up at the high domed ceiling. “Look, Papà, that man way up at the top is swimming, like Michael swims at the lido.”
Papà laughed out loud and pulled him closer. “He’s not swimming, Tomás. That’s Jesus being baptized by John the Baptist in the River Jordan.”
“Oh, yeah, I heard about that story. It’s a nice painting, isn’t it.”
“Wrong, again, Tomás. It’s not a painting. The whole ceiling and all the wall decorations in this baptistery are mosaics—every centimeter made out of tiny stones.”
“Oh, okay. I forgot. Who are all those men standing around the picture of Jesus and John the Baptist?”
“Those are the apostles, son. You know about them, don’t you?”
“I do know them. They look nice up there on the ceiling.”
Papà smiled. “They do look nice. Look at the way the little stones look almost like a painted picture. Do you like that?”
“I do like it Papà, but I still like real pictures better than stone pictures.”
Papà shook his head. “Okay, whatever. I guess you’ve had just about enough mosaics for one day, Tomásito. Look at the colors for a while, then let’s take a break and get some lunch? Are you hungry?”
“I am hungry, Papà. Where are we going for lunch?”
“We’re going to a little place I like on the other side of the main piazza. The owner’s a friend of mine—I did some work for him a few years ago.”
“Are we going back to the Fiat now?”
“No, it’s better if we walk to the restaurant—we can’t drive straight through anyway because of the restricted streets in the center of town. No cars allowed.”
From the Duomo they headed to Piazza di Popolo, crowded with shoppers and tourists, some of them sitting under umbrellas at open air restaurants. Papà pointed out the City Hall and, at the other end of the piazza, the large church, Santa Maria del Suffragio.
Tomás stopped and looked all around the busy piazza, then asked, “Does Santa Maria have any mosaics, Papà?”
“No, no mosaics there. Come on, son, we have a way to go.”
They wandered on past the Urban Center and a large market, then turned into Via Salara and continued to a trattoria called L’Oste Bacco. “Here we are, Tomás. Here’s my friend’s restaurant—he calls it The Bacchus Inn.”
Stepping inside they smiled at the rich smells of good food cooking—garlic and onions, savory spices and cheeses, all blended with the special techniques of the region. A few tables arranged along the walls were covered with red and white checkered tablecloths. Noisy patrons sat at some of the tables, gesturing passionately to emphasize their conversation. A middle-aged man wearing a long white apron tied around his fat belly rushed to greet them with a bow as soon as they entered. “Ah, Signore Bozen, buon giorno. Welcome to my restaurant. You’ve brought your figlio, as you said you would.”
“Yes, this is Tomás, my youngest son. We’ve been looking at the mosaics, so Tomás can learn how beautiful the stones can be.”
“You are right—they are beautiful.” He smiled. “Like the stones you made for the fountain in my garden.”
Papà said, “Grazie, mio amico. Tomásito, this is Signore Lucido. He owns this nice place.”
Lucido put his hands on the boy’s shoulders and kissed him on each cheek. “Piacere, Tomás. I will make a wonderful lunch for you and your papa.”
Tomás drew back slightly, then stood up straight and said, “Grazie, signore. Piacere.” Pleased to meet you.
Lucido showed the two to the best table in the house, a quieter table away from the others. He sat them so Papà could see into the kitchen. “No menu for you, Bozen. I will make your lunch. Pasta for both of you to start?”
“No,” Papà said. “Tomás might like pasta, but not for me. Do you have some nice fish today?”
“Si, very nice swordfish. Fresh from the sea today. I will make it for you. And a special pasta for Tomás. What about drinks? I’ll bring you a good Chianti Classico I just got in. And for you, Tomás? What would you like to drink?”
“Succa di frutta, per favore…arancia.” Orange juice, please.
Lucido disappeared into the kitchen. A younger man brought the drinks a few minutes later, along with a tall bottle of water and a glass for each of them. He put a round loaf of warm yeasty-smelling bread on the table with a little tub of yellow butter.
“Well, Tomás,” Papà said. “What do you think of this place?”
“I like it—sure smells good.” He broke off a piece of the bread and spread butter on it. “What was he talking about, Papà? What kind of stones did you make for Signore Lucido’s garden?”
“I’ll show you after we have our lunch. Outside, in the back, he has a few tables in a little garden. When he opened the garden tables he asked me to make a nice fountain for him to please his guests.”
“Did you make the fountain out of stones, Papà?”
“Of course, stones. You know that’s what we do in my shop—make beautiful things out of stones. I want you to love the stones, Tomás—love them like I do. When you’re old enough to join us in the shop we’ll teach you everything you need to know about working with the stones.”
Tomás ignored that remark. He broke another piece of bread from the loaf. “Signore Lucido’s bread is almost as good as Mama’s. You should try it.”
Their food arrived before Papà could bring the conversation back around to stone works. Signore Lucido himself carried a large tray to the table with great flourish, and the younger waiter followed to help him with the service. They served Tomás first: a large plate containing a sea of black pasta with pink prawns swimming in it. Lucido said, “Ink pasta from the squid for you, my boy. Would you like cheese?”
Tomás nodded and said, “Si, grazie, molto formaggio.”
The waiter grated a lot of fresh parmigiano onto Tomás’s pasta while Lucido made a big show of serving Papà’s plate: poached swordfish in a light tomato-cream sauce. “This fish will melt in your mouth, Signore Bozen—I guarantee it.” He stood near the table with raised eyebrows, waiting for each of them to taste the food he’d prepared.
They each took a single taste then looked up at Lucido. Papà said, “Molto bueno, mio amico.”
Tomás grinned and said, “Meglio della cucina di mia mamma.”
With a bow, Signore Lucido laughed and said, “Many thanks, but I doubt it’s better than your mama’s cooking. Enjoy your lunch, both of you. Let me know when you’re ready for dessert. I have something special for you today.”
The two did enjoy their lunch and, as soon as they finished, the keen-eyed Lucido rushed over to take away their plates and serve small bowls of fresh strawberries with a dash of grappa and a sprinkle of coarse sugar. He poured another glass of wine for Papà and refilled Tomás’s juice.
After the berries Lucido brought a plate of the local soft cheese, squaquarone, with crisp toasts for spreading with the cheese. The waiter served an espresso for Papà and a caffé latte for Tomás. Finally finished, Papà took Tomás into the garden room for a look at the stone fountain his shop had created.
“Here it is, son. I am very proud of this creation from my shop.” The fountain, at one side of the garden, was an small oval pond within a white marble retaining wall which had a row of short columns of the same marble all along the top. At the back of the pond was a pedestal with a statue of Neptune standing between a pair of miniature dolphins. Water gushing from the mouth of each dolphin fell into the pond, making soft tinkling music that echoed through the entire garden. A few orange and black koi swam slowly among the water plants gracing the pond.
“This is beautiful, Papà. You made the whole thing in your shop?”
“Well, we did get the Neptune and the dolphins from Sienna, but we made the rest of it and we built the whole thing right here in this garden.”
Over Signore Lucido’s protests, Papà insisted upon paying for the lunch and the two of them left the trattoria to head back to the Duomo and the Fiat. Tomás stayed quiet while they drove home—quiet and thinking about the mosaics. Not about the stones, but how he’d like to turn them into painted pictures. He wanted the same depictions, but painted, not made of stones.
Papà pulled the Fiat into the shed beside their two story stone house. He had built the house with its terra cotta roof on the south side of town off Via Cesarea long before Tomás was born. All their neighbors admired the house, especially the two pine trees Papà had planted in front when he built it, both now taller than the house itself. He has chosen umbrella pines that made good shade against the western sun.
Mama had a little garden in the back yard where she grew most of the vegetables she needed for her kitchen. With their six children those two had made a happy life in the stone house, and now their youngest was growing up, only a few years from making his own way in life. None of their sons had followed Papà into the world of stone masonry, but he had great hopes for Tomás.
As soon as Papà turned off the engine, Tomás jumped out of the Fiat and ran to his room to find his painting materials. He made a few quick sketches of some of the mosaic figures he’s seen during the morning, then began to bring them alive with colors from the palate of acrylics his mother had bought for his birthday. Papà’s voice from the doorway surprised him. “What are you doing, Tomás? Did you like the mosaics we saw? Did you like the beautiful things we can do with stones?”
“Yes, Papà, I did like them, but I want to turn them into pictures. I like the pictures a lot better than the stones. They look more like real people to me, real people and real things. Look at these stars I painted, just like the ceiling of that mausoleum. I want to draw your fountain from the restaurant, but I can’t get it quite right.”