October 16, 2011
Herbs are always within reach. Last minute grabs in semi-darkness of parsley, sprigs of oregano, a handful of rosemary to pop inside a chicken – I dodge slugs, hop-scotch over rocks to get to the herb garden. I can hear guests- my dear friends – inside the house, their voices amplified by wine. Kneeling down beside rows of basil I pause. Then it happens. The Rome of my childhood returns, spinning like a filmic montage out of the star-spangled night. Basil tied with coarse twine, stacked beside armloads of rosemary, beside folds of pale white calamari and shrimp winking in the buttery Roman light. I can barely see above the wooden table, so Mama lifts me up. “See the fish’s teeth, Nikela? Its pink tongue?” I poke a finger into the soft, damp flesh of a snapper. Povarino! I refuse to eat fish for weeks afterwards. And as long as I keep up my boycott, I believe my parents will see my determination and decide not to divorce. I really believe this. I go to the open market several times a week. Sometimes, my nanny or mother makes me stand to the side, out of the way, clutching a loaf of warm bread and fistful of basil while they barter over the mussels or soft shelled crabs that just came in from Sicily. Now, as I pinch off the basil in my garden, the air is so aromatic that I become woozy. I hold up my hands and inhale. Rosemary, Oregano. Pungent.Green. The meal will be splendid, I think – the snapper will come alive on the plate, garnished with these herbs I have grown.