Italy: The Spell of the Anemone
By Melissa Anderson
The ricci is still alive when Carlo
slices it in half. The spiny black anemone pulses
in his hand, a slimy, briny heartbeat. With a quick
motion, he scoops out its insides and spreads them
over slabs of baguette.
“It’s an aphrodisiac,” Georgio says,
pushing the tray toward us. “Va bene! It will make
you fall in love.”
We reluctantly accept the bread,
like sinners taking communion. I am not in love. It
tastes like very fishy sushi. I am just thankful it
does not make me vomit on our hosts.
It is 3 a.m., and the day leading
up to this is the climax of a string of happy accidents.
We are staying in a posh villa in
Castro, at the heel of the boot that is Puglia, Italy.
A group of swank gourmets had booked the villa for
a week of culinary instruction. An illness derailed
the trip a week before it was to occur, and after
a flurry of telephone calls, eight virtual strangers
arrived to take their place.
The whitewashed villa is huge. When
we arrived, we ran through its seven bedrooms like
reality show contestants who have just been introduced
to their stylish digs. “How did this happen to us?”
we kept saying.
We heard that Armani stayed here
just before us, and we ravenously devoured a bag of
potato chips the designer presumably left behind.
The Armani chips only whet our appetite, so we ventured
into the bustling town square of crumbling stone buildings
in search of pizza. It was well after midnight, and
the Italians sitting at various patios were just digging
into their first courses.
The Italians, with their Mediterranean
skin and late business hours, did not know what to
make of the pale California girls who visit the gelato
stand every two hours, asking repeatedly for an ATM.
The only other foreign tourists are Italians from
Word traveled that we are staying
in the Silvestrini villa at the end of the road, and
by 2 a.m., a group of teenage Castro boys had slipped
onto the grounds, eager for a peek at reclining American
beauties. What they got was terrified, shrieking girls
who ran barefoot to the local bar where their companions
were learning the finer points of limoncello shots
Half of the locals in the tiny bar
ran with us to rescue them. Our posse chased away
the teens, and some of the locals stayed to keep us
After an hour of laughter and several
bottles of wine, we are back to 3 a.m., and the quivering
aphrodisiac in Carlo’s hand. Carlo has braved the
black Adriatic Sea in these chill predawn hours to
scoop this ricci from the sea floor. The Italian man’s
ardor for the easy charms of American women may seem
clichéd, but his effort is undeniably impressive.
A year later it is apparent the
ricci may have had some latent effect. One of the
girls has dedicated herself to Italian lessons and
writes to one of our bar rescuers who is serving in
A faint scar on my ankle forever
seals the memory of riding on the back of a motorcycle
to the top of the city, where Castro intersects with
the sky and the ruins of a church. None can banish
the memory of the aquamarine blue of the Adriatic,
the whitewashed stone buildings, the fresh peach gelato,
or even the omnipresent ricci that seems to replenish
itself despite frantic harvesting for the annual festival.
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