Dinner for One in Ravenna
I’m sure he dined there often. I would if I lived in Ravenna, even if I was alone. It was a charming trattoria with a warm glow; white tablecloths, sparkling glasses and walls topped with large Roman tiles. There were friends at a table in one corner, a family in another and two or three absorbed couples scattered about. The aromas of sauce, browning meat, linen and lavender were pervasive. The door opened directly into the dining area, and the kitchen was prominent in the rear; muffled murmurs from the staff flowing with the aromas over the low wall.
Across the room was an elderly gentleman who was dining alone. He was dressed in a three-piece blue suit with narrow stripes. He wore a white shirt and a striped tie. His black shoes gleamed. His thinning, smoothly cut, white hair was combed straight back. He had a Roman nose and a noble chin. His thin lips were curled up at the edges with a content smile that whispered, “I am pleased.” The light made his smooth, pink face cherubic. Was he on estrogen for prostate cancer? I had no reason to think like a physician here, but years of training plagued me sometimes. I felt like a spy.
Despite a slightly used, rounded back, he sat straight. Posture was important to him. It was a statement of his place in life. He was dignified, handsome, and elegant.
He said little, and when he did, he spoke softly. The restaurateurs knew what he wanted. He nodded approvingly when they brought his food. A white napkin, tucked at the neck of his shirt, flared and hung loosely to his belt.
He started with an apperativo, Campari, which he slowly brought to his lips.
He patiently awaited his antipasto, hands folded neatly in his lap, his right hand moving only to grasp the stem of his glass with his thumb and forefinger.
He had soup, then thin pasta with a red sauce. He twirled it with his spoon and with not a strand of pasta dangling, lifted his fork to his lips, back straight, shoulders a bit rounded. He dabbed his mouth occasionally. After the pasta, He ordered veal, simply grilled with olive oil.
The staff brought him a bottle of Brunello and poured a glass. He raised it and smelled as his nose curled over the rim. He lifted the glass with three fingers, swirled the wine, watched its legs flow and tasted. The restaurant’s glow reflected off the glass. He nodded with a dip of his chin. The wine fit his meal.
Everything he did was imperial. What do his age, demeanor and dining alone have to do with any of this?
Did it mean that his life was perfect?
He intrigued me. I had questions that I wish I could have asked.
Why was he always alone?
Was he a bachelor? A widower? Maybe he was never married or, if so, never had children? If he did, where were they? And how they must love him.
If he married; was his wife lovely, mean, quiet, a partner? Perhaps she was away, in Rome maybe, watching grandchildren or great- grandchildren. Is he tempted by other women?
Who makes his coffee, and how does he like it? Does he drink cappuccino in the morning?
Was he retired? What did he do for a living? Maybe he was from nobility and did not need to work. He looked it.
A professor? How many grateful students there must be?
A physician? How many he must have helped.
A banker? He must have loaned to the needy.
A judge? How fair he must have been.
A librarian? He read every book.
What were his days like? Where did he live? Was he visiting from Rome?
Something makes him smile. Does he laugh?
Does he walk daily? For caffe’? With a walking stick and a dark cape draped over his shoulders?
Does he read? Does he play an instrument? Or, more likely, is he the Maestro of the orchestra?
Is he lonely? Would he open the door to an empty house tonight?
What I saw was an elderly, elegant man at ease, peaceful, content, and I felt sad that he had no one to speak with that evening, though he did not seem to mind. I was envious. He seemed so content, so calm, so strong, and so unencumbered.
He was alone, perhaps with thoughts of the past, dreams of the future. My worry for him became admiration. His ocean was calm, his tree steady, his life fulfilled.
He was smiling. Thoughts of the past? Do things desert an old man’s mind?
Was his past his present or his future?
Was he thinking of his mortality?
If only I had spoken with him, then perhaps everything would have been answered.
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