• Vol. 08
  • Chapter 09

Sprinkle Some Salt Over Your Left Shoulder and See Your Demons Flee

Sea Water
‘I’m not climbing in one of those.’ Nonna sniffed and continued smoothing down the pristine but faded gingham tablecloth. Lumps of sand formed tiny mountain ranges, against which she rested bowls of bright-red tomatoes, gob-stopping olives and a magnificent floating island of mozzarella.

Occasionally, she would glance up from her preparations and see our pedalos bobbing on the horizon, bright blue and yellow plastic dots in the distance.

We ate the lunch like it was our first, and last, meal. No need for table manners here. No table. Oil dripping from my chin, I begged Nonna, again, to join me in my plastic adventures after lunch.

‘I told you, no water for me. Nine days we were in that ship coming over here. Nine days, I tell you. Nine days of sickness. So, no! Not even nine minutes on the sea.’

‘But that was so many years ago, Nonna. You might find you liked it, now.’ This was a dance we did every time we came to the beach. I’d cajole. She’d pretend to be cross and it would end with her dipping a chunk of ciabatta in oil and pushing it into my mouth. Sometimes, I’d chew it. Sometimes, I’d spit it out, laughing.


Sprinkle Some Salt Over Your Left Shoulder and See Your Demons Flee

Mamma spooned arrabiata over the mound of pasta. Nonna picked up the salt bowl.

‘Ey!’ Mamma frowned and reached across the cloth, sending the salt flying. ‘At least try it first before you dismiss it as tasteless.’

Another sniff from Nonna and a quick sprinkle of salt over her left shoulder, hoping to hit her own devil in the eye. She forked a miniscule taste of the sauce into her mouth, as if she were Claudius’ food taster and Mamma was Agrippina, staring on. Nonna’s eyes filled with tears.

‘Too much chilli?’ Mamma’s voice was heavy with disappointment. ‘I really thought I’d got it right this time. I found Mamma Lucia’s recipe in that pile of papers you were throwing out and copied it to the letter.’

Nonna spoke softly through her tears, ‘It’s exactly like my Mamma Lucia used to make.’

‘You must really miss home, Nonna.’ I put my arms around my wonderful stress-ball of a grandmother.

Again, a sniff. ‘Miss home? This,’ her arms wide, encompassing the beach, her family, her country, ‘this is my home. Not some poverty-stricken city I happened to be born in. Not somewhere that had no wide-screen TVs, no picnics on the beach, no pedaloes, no little boys who should know better than to cheek their aged nonna.’ She smiled, pulling a great white cotton handkerchief from her sleeve. She blew her nose violently and looked at Mamma. ‘As for the arrabiata, Mamma Lucia was a rotten cook and always added too much chilli.’ Nonna winked at me. ‘When we get home,’ her stress on the word was clear, ‘I’ll teach you both how to make the perfect arrabiata. Nothing like Mamma used to make!’