I am not a thief. I have never stolen so much as an extra sticker at the dentist office. Once, I bought a binder at Walmart and got home to see that a $2 Carebear notebook was stuck inside. I went back the next day and returned it to the shelf. Despite my clean history, the other day I found myself on the fringe of robbery. What could have inspired such a conscientious young lady to commit a criminal deed? Rosemary.
If you recall, I was seated next to a girl on the plane over to Italy that I happened to know from New Hampshire. She is currently living in Torino to conduct research on organic farming in Italy. Since our arrival, we have kept in contact and coordinated a couple visits. We went to a Rice Festival a couple of weeks ago in a small town two hours east. I ate arancini for the first time and consequently decided it would definitely not be my last. Most recently, she interviewed a farmer in Bibiana, a town 4 km from Luserna. She used this work trip as an excuse to visit my neck of the woods. I accompanied her to the farm, and then brought her back to Luserna to show her my apartment. She was very impressed by the garden in the backyard. Anyone who’s anyone has a garden out here. Whether it be a couple potted plants on a balcony or a thriving fruit and vegetable enclave, people love their gardens. It’s fascinating sitting on my balcony and watching no fewer than three little old men tending their respective lots. I watch them harvest fruits and water plants with hoses extending from large buckets that collect rainwater. (I could dedicate an entire blog to the do-it-yourself irrigation systems of Luserna, but I’d like to keep you at least mildly interested in what I have to say!) Kevin and I have always been impressed by the grape, lettuce, and tomato plants that occupy our backyard. But, apparently, there is even more to our garden than we’d thought! As my farm-knowedgeable friend informed me, plants that I had dismissed as decorative bushes were actually the blooms of oregano, sage, and rosemary. And there it was. The forbidden fruit. Potatoes were on the menu for that night, and fresh rosemary was taunting me from just outside my balcony window.
After dropping my Torino pal off at the train station, I headed to my backyard to do the unthinkable; steal. And a twig of rosemary was my object of want. I casually sauntered into the backyard and readied myself for a quick loop around the garden where I planned to inconspicuously snatch a branch of the flavorful plant.
No sooner had I entered the back yard did the balcony door to the first floor apartment pop open. So much for being inconspicuous. Out came three of my building neighbors. One was a man who occupies a third floor unit. He once fixed our hot water heater and is the master gardener of this establishment. The second was a woman who also lives on the top floor, though I cannot decide if she is the man’s wife because her first name is on two different doors up there. (That’s what happens when seven names are recycled across generations in a town small enough to be a high school). Whatever her relationship to the man, it’s evident that my detective skills are as weak as my criminal ones. The third occupant of the balcony was a woman who resides on the first floor below us and watches “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” every night at 7. I know this because she blasts it loud enough for us to be a lifeline for one of the contestants without the host even reading us the question. As you probably expect from my previous posts, all three of these neighbors are in the latter portion of the age bracket. I would estimate that, in the States, the first two would be at least 15 years into their AARP memberships. Compared to their game show-watching pal, however, they looked like a pair of teenage kids!
As I turned to greet the group of onlookers, I was startled and mortified. Had they entered the scene two seconds later, they would have caught me in the midst of a criminal act! Much to my relief, the smiles from the trio confirmed that they had not suspected my intentions. Instead, they were genuinely excited by the opportunity to say hello. I think they are very happy about us being here. Our Americanism and youthfulness make us somewhat of a novelty to their little community. I regained my composure and followed up my hellos with a compliment on the beauty of the garden. They all tried to speak at once, which is extremely difficult for me seeing as I can barely understand one Italian speaker at a time. The man’s voice overpowered the other two. I focused on his words “Prende la uva”. After a pause, my brain returned the translation “Take a grape”. What an awful person I was trying to steal rosemary from a man who is offering me the most prized fruit in Italy! I declined his offer, thanking him profusely, but he insisted. And so I finally gave in, plucking a small green grape from the vine and popping it into my mouth*. “Che buono!” I exclaimed. I wasn’t just saying that to be kind… it really was delicious! Usually, I cannot eat grapes with seeds, but this grape just exploded with juice and seeds passed seamlessly by my tongue. He prompted me to take more before huddling with the other two in the group and disappearing from the balcony. A few seconds later, he joined me in the backyard, holding a large bowl. He asked me to follow him as he retrieved a pair of cutters from the shed and he showed me around the garden.
When we arrived at the grape vines, he snipped four large green clusters, and put them in the bowl. He lifted his arms to retrieve more, but I explained that it was just me and my husband up there and we would never finish all those grapes. He winked and threw one more in for good measure. And that’s when he showed me the bushes. He ran touched a twig of Rosemary and put his hand to his nose, encouraging me to do the same. I cupped the bristles in my palm and smelled the aromatic residue. And this is when I did what I should have done in the first place. I asked for a little Rosemary. He cut more than a little and added it to the bowl.
As my generous gardening neighbor and I completed our rounds, he told me about how he’s lived here 20 years. He used to work for FIAT, but is retired now. He has a son and granddaughter in Torino. I told him I would bring down the bowl in a few minutes. He said not to worry about it, waving me off with a smile and a “domani, domani”. During our excursion, the two on the balcony observed our garden stroll happily. But my smile was definitely the largest of them all. I thanked them excessively, before disappearing from view on my way to the front door.
* Yes, mom. I did not wash the grape! But, there’s no need to pick up the phone and pay the international calling rates to express your concern. I promise that it was pesticide free and therefore will not harm your unborn grandbabies.