Saturday, February 25, 2006

Unlucky 13

Last Friday, the 17th, I mentioned to my fellow school teacher how superstitions in Italy are different from those in America. "For example," I said. "Friday the 17th is an unlucky day here, right?"

"Yes," she said. "And isn't the 13th unlucky for you?" I nodded that it was. She added, "For us, the number 13 is unlucky only for one thing."

"What?" I asked, interested.

"Dinners," she said. "If you have 13 people at a dinner, you should definitely invite one more person. You see, there were 13 people at the Last Supper in the Bible, making 13 people to dinner just plain bad luck."

Great, I thought. For, the day after, Antonello and I had a dinner party planned at our house. A big, Mexican fiesta dinner party. And there were going to be 13 of us. Hopefully, Saturday the 18th wasn't unlucky too.

The 11 guests we invited included our friends Cyndi and Danilo, and Cyndi's mom Steph (who is in Italy for the month visiting) from up near Ravenna, plus our Indian friends Sweety and her husband Ravin, plus their 10-year-old daughter Simi, and finally our friends Laura and Raffaella--Laura with her new boyfriend, and Raffaella with her husband, Rudi. Our 11th guest was Valentina, Antonello and my niece (Sandro's daughter), who wanted to come not just to sample the Mexican fare, but also to provide some company for her good friend Simi. I spent all afternoon preparing food, cleaning (with Antonello helping me!), and trying to rearrange our living room so that 13 of us could comfortably fit around our two tables. By 7:30 when our first guests arrived, I had made most of the dishes, but still had the mango margaritas, Spanish rice, taco meat, and flour tortilla crisps left.

Cyndi, Danilo, and Steph came early partly because I begged Cyndi to help me (okay, so I didn't really beg, but I was grateful when she offered to help!) and partly because they wanted to settle into the guestrooms a little early, since they were planning to spend the night. They came upstairs and we all greeted, happy to see each other and them grateful to have conquered five flights of stairs with their luggage in tow.

Everyone settled in, after a bit of confusion as to where the guest room was (Cyndi and Steph went straight to our bedroom to unpack, thinking it was the guest room--perhaps we had joked too much about asking Danilo to sleep on the balcony?) and then our unlucky, 13-people-at-dinner-curse came.

The bathroom window fell out.

Yes, I can joke with Corrie and Erin, of course, that instead of throwing bread out the window, we decided to just throw the WINDOW out the window, but the fact is, we didn't even know it happened. We got a buzz at the door with one our neighbors saying, "Um, we heard a noise. We think your window fell out. Or something." Antonello and Danilo hurried down to check, and, indeed, you could see our window--its large wooden frame and broken glass within--smack-dab in the middle of our first-floor-neighbors' garden. Cyndi, Steph, and I looked on in horror from the balcony of my bedroom, watching Antonello and Danilo gather around the window with our neighbor, looking at it with such awe as if an angel had fallen from heaven. After a bit, we decided maybe we shouldn't be on the balcony at all. Could it fall too? I didn't want to find out. We quickly went back inside.

After that, the evening went along quite well. Our unlucky broken window behind us, we went on cooking and setting the table, and getting things ready as the rest of the guests eventually arrived. While Steph and I manned the stove, Cyndi went ahead making delicious mango margaritas that even the kids wanted. ( Sweety, who never drinks alcohol, agreed enthusiastically to try our mango drink--apparently only realizing later that there was tequila in it!-- and she liked to so much that, as a result, she's going to teach me to make Mango Lassis!)

From Mexican cheese fondue to guacamole to cheese, onion and chile enchiladas, we ate and ate. I never know how these meals will go--some people aren't comfortable eating too many hot peppers, other people can't get enough. And sometimes Mexican food's complicated layers, taste upon taste of sauces and cheeses and crisp lettuce and spicy peppers, are too far removed from the simple elegance of a nice Italian meal, making our Italian guests less than satisfied. But that night, maybe it was the sweet start with the margaritas, everyone seemed happy and eager to try each dish that was brought out, even when it was clear that we were all full and barely capable of taking another bite. People tried things they had never tried before--avocados and jalapenos, even pickled cactus! The only unhappy soul was Raffaella's husband Rudi who, at the start of the meal, bit into a really hot jalapeno pepper--seeds and all--and almost cried. He was unwilling to look at anything spicy from then on. (I did succeed in convincing him to try an enchilada, but only after saying that it was quite similar to cannelloni!)

The evening ended with laughter, conversation and, of course, dessert: Mexican weddings cakes that Cyndi brought, Indian sweet cakes that Sweety brought, and chocolate-covered profiteroles that Raffaella brought. It was the right ending to an evening of people coming together to celebrate their differences. Rudi, ready to start anew, tried all of the desserts and, much to his relief, enjoyed them all--even timidly reaching for seconds--as he finally found something he could eat (no hot peppers in these!). All of the sweets were delicious, and we enjoyed them, and each other's company, together. The night felt perfect closing in the Italian way--letting the evening linger on until the latest hours of the night, drinking our espressos, chatting and laughing together. We said goodbye with yawns, and hugs and kisses, handing out leftovers and promising to make a habit of Mexican dinners in the future ("We'll make pasta for you," I told Rudi, before he could protest). As people went home that night and we began to clean up, I thought back on the night's events. Despite the fallen window, there had been many good things, and many good friends. In the end, the dinner party didn't feel unlucky at all.



At 9:30 AM, Blogger Cynthia Rae said...

Anytime you want to have Mango margartitas for dinner and mexican wedding cakes for breakfast, let me know! I am soooo there!

I was drooling after I read this post. The food was sooooo good! I still need to get your enchilada recipe!

Thanks for having us over! It was so much fun.
PS. What did you use for triple sec? I already forgot the name.


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