Thursday, March 17, 2011

Tricolore for my Colonel

Today Italy is celebrating 150 years since the unification and the tricolor flags are slung over balconies everywhere, soaking up a good dose of Spring rain.

Since we are about three months from our departure date, I am starting to wonder if anyone will notice when we are scooped up, flown off and deposited on another soil, far from here. Living abroad, observing people is a pass-time. I'm not sure if they are aware they're being watched, studied and wondered about by a complete stranger.

One of the figures who has caught my attention is a gentleman who lives in a building adjacent to ours. I often see him passing through the gate that connects our two properties. I've always wondered about him, where he's coming from, what he does, details like who cooks for him, or whether he prepares his own meals. He looks about 85 years old, yet he's always dressed in a suit, an overcoat, a proper gentleman's hat and a touting a briefcase. Always impeccable, not a string out of place. He walks with measured steps, you could set a metronome to his gait.

He had never looked up at me, until yesterday when I encountered him with Roman as we were milling around downstairs getting some air. He fumbled for the correct key to open the gate to his building and Roman passed through before him, “broom broom-ing,” eager to explore another property with parked scooters and colorful cars. I thanked him and we passed through. As he walked towards his building I called out “buona sera” and he turned and tipped his hat at me, uttering “di nuovo, buona sera” (good evening, again) as if in his mind he had already wished me a good evening.

I imagine his apartment. A table with a place setting already laid out, a Corriere Della Sera folded just so for him to read. I imagine an old radio or record player playing something soft in the background. Maybe opera. He's not like the other old men I see all over our neighborhood. They stand in groups smoking, talking idly, loudly, never going anywhere, not moving for us to get by on the sidewalk. This man is different. Engaged somehow, yet withdrawn. Always coming or going. Alone. Polite. From another era. I keep thinking about the tip of the hat. I wonder again what he'll have for dinner.

If you want to find out something about someone in Italy, ask the portiere. I mentioned my mystery man to our doorman Alfio and he raised his eyebrows in recognition. “The Colonel,” he said. It turns out he's a retired Colonel from the Italian army and he goes to a military mess hall nearby to have his main meal every day. “He's a widow?” I ask. “No,” Alfio tells me, “he's alone.”

This man served his country and I wonder what he's thinking today and what this day means for him.

In the spirit of the tricolore, I made this radish leaf pesto and topped it with fresh bocconcini and rosy tomato slices.

Radish leaf pesto

Inspired by Chocolate and Zucchini's recipe

I used the leaves from two bunches of small, young radishes. If you get them very fresh, you can also use radish leaves in a salad of mixed greens. It feels great to find a use for something that I used to just throw away. These greens make a terrific pesto that would add a zing to pasta, pizza or spread on a sandwich. As for the quantities, you can wing it and make it just to your taste.

Wash the radish leaves well and place them in the food processor with a small garlic clove, a handful of pine nuts and whizz until processed. Drizzle in some olive oil and then stir in some freshly grated parmesan cheese.


  1. I love pesto made from greens. My favorite is pan di zucchero, a heading chicory. I'm sure they have it at your local market. I used to go to Campo dei Fiori every day for my vegetables. Sigh.

  2. so mysterious...such a gentleman. My granpa used to look exactly like how you describe this colonnello. Your story made me think of his hat, and his tipping of it when he saw una "gentildonna".
    The pesto sounds so refreshing. And auguri Italia mia!!! I miss her.

  3. J'adore ce que devient ton blog ! Les photos sont de plus en plus réussies et appétissantes et les textes sont à la fois intimes, vrais et intéressants. BravoooOOOO c'est génial.

  4. Hi, you made me cry with this description, so poetic and delicate. I really like the way you write.
    Thank you for sharing this,



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