**Disclaimer: The names of the people have been changed for the protection of their privacy, and for a bit of comedic effect.
A month before Kelly arrived, I was dining at my pizzeria when I saw a face I thought I recognized. It was the old boyfriend of my Italian girlfriend Maria, who lived above the pizzeria—you know, the one who shared the wild boar with Guglielmo and me before the wedding.
His name was also Gianni like my ex. New Gianni walked in with a group of gentlemen. It seemed like a working dinner. He acknowledged that he also recognized me.
Midway through my dinner, he came over.
“Ti ricordi di me?”—Do you remember me? He asked.
“Si, sei Gianni.” I said as I pointed up to indicate the flat above.
“Non sono più insieme a Maria. Com’è la vita coniugale?”—I’m no longer seeing Maria. How’s married life? He asked, noting I was alone.
I told him an abbreviated version of the truth. He asked for my phone number, and I gave him the office number. I was rarely at home and didn’t have an answering machine.
Unlike the Italian men I had dated in the past, Gianni took many days to call. Sabina and I had a secretary named Elena, mostly because I now spoke Italian pretty well but didn’t write in the language as well. She was from Monza and worked half days. She commuted by bus. Elena answered the office phone when Gianni finally called, and she put him on hold.
“Maggy, e’ è un certo Gianni al telefono che chiede di te.”—There’s a Gianni on the phone asking for you.
“Chiedigli ne nuovo che è”—Ask him again who he is.
I thought I would pretend I didn’t remember him because he had made me wait for so long to hear from him. Elena finally put him through.
“Vuoi vernire a cena con me stasera?”—Would you like to join me for dinner tonight? He asked.
I gave him my address so he could pick me up.
After work, he arrived in his Mini Clubman, and we drove to the country just outside Milan to dine in a courtyard of a trattoria famous for their risotto al salto. The courtyard was paved in small pebbles that made it difficult to walk in my stilettos. My heels kept plunging into and drowning in those pebbles. The sounds and views were as if there wasn’t even a city nearby. It seemed strange there would be more of the Italian patchwork farmland a mere ten-minute drive out of the city’s center.
Milanese—al salto—rice was much like the risotto I had tried in Venice, but the Milanese added saffron, which made the rice a bright yellow color. I was told saffron stems are the dried stamens of the crocus flower, which blooms only for a short time in early spring. The stamens are picked by hand. Saffron is quite expensive because it is harvested this way. They made the rice the same way they did in Venice but then fried it in a pan to make it into a pancake of sorts. It was browned and crunchy on the outside, and the rice was creamy on the inside. It became a favorite of mine.
I hadn’t been out of the center of Milan to dine before. It seemed like we were in another world—so peaceful and far from the noise of the big city.