A Love that Dares Not Speak it's Name

Published on 22 March 2024 at 13:27

I confess to having a love affair for several years now. We meet twice a week and exchange furtive intimacies, me perusing succulent flesh, savoring the moist texture, my tongue dancing excitedly at the impending prospects. My lascivious innamorata always opens herself up to me as I approached, inviting me to explore her delights with a long, loving sense of seduction. We are totally brazen; the intimate exchange occurs in broad daylight. Lust knows no shame.

At least between me and the weekly fish truck.

This vehicle announces her presence around 11:15 Friday mornings via a loud announcement emanating from a speaker mounted on the roof. “Pesce! Pesce!” can be heard from a half a kilometer away. My ears perk up. Perhaps I even salivate. The truck arrives and maneuvers into the usual spot in the piazza, about 50 meters from our front door. With a softly audible hum, she unfolds herself. As if by magic, the side opens upward and becomes an overhead canopy. A curving glass display case smoothly slides out, cantilevering over the cobblestone pavement below. Lights flick on. The fish truck is open for business.


Within minutes, several things happen like a well-rehearsed operetta. People appear from all directions, despite none having been visible only seconds before. There is a collective dance around the display case containing all manner of foods from the sea, some so fresh they are still moving. A black and white cat appears from stage left and waits patiently, its front paws tucked neatly side by side.


I join the congregation of my neighbors, everyone craning their necks to peruse the choices available. Hours before, in the early morning darkness, the owner and one of his sons had taken the truck to one of the wholesale markets in a coastal town. There, amidst what I imagine to be lots of shouting about selections, quality, and costs, they bargain for the fish to be sold to us that day.


My neighbors and the fish merchant greet one other with a loud “Buongiorno!” With his melodic Italian accent, the middle-aged owner shouts Good Morning! to me in English, while displaying a big grin. We have met his entire family now, including his wife and their new young child. In warmer weather she sometimes sits in the truck’s cab with the toddler.

When we go to a favorite beach town in the spring and summer, we often see the fish truck family strolling through a park while we sit in a café having lunch. We suppose they live there since they are often engaged in animated conversations with other passersby. Its a bit of street theatre, as people whiz by on bicycles and mothers push their infants in oversized prams, and matrons scurry about with woven shopping baskets. When a nearby school lets out, the street scene suddenly explodes with the squealing of children eager to get home for lunch.


Back to the fish vendor. Our neighbors and I swirl around, bobbing my head, checking out the choices of the day, which always differ by season. Its kind of a delicate dance, as we all must keep in mind who arrived first, second, third, etc. We make sure that the order is correct, in order to be fair. “Prego!” We say to each other…”Its your turn!”

I can recall the era, several decades ago, when service counters in Italy were completely chaotic. A densely packed crowd would press against the counter, people yelling out their orders. There was no organization, no order. It was every person for themselves. Woe be to the visiting American who was trying to penetrate the boisterous mob.


Now, people look at each other, their facial expressions and hand motions indicating a deferential order. Thank god; the old method always had me completely flummoxed. Before, I would keep getting pushed to the rear. Now the brief wait is pleasant and allows an exchange of pleasant conversation. For me, its thrilling to inspect the fish closely at eye level and make my choice. Often, the fishmonger will suggest an item as being particularly tasty. “Molto buono!” He is never wrong.


A while back, he suggested to me a shellfish that is baffling, if not frightening, in its appearance. It resembles a large insect with a broad, hard carapace, along with feelers and huge round eyes. Not really eyes, they are actually prominent circular markings on its tail. I can’t seem to get past the seemingly blank stare. Nor the legs and feelers, still wiggling in a heap. We have had this fish in restaurants. But our attempts to cook it so far have been met without success. I don’t consider that a huge loss. There are plenty of other fine choices.


I often narrow my choices to salmon, mussels, tuna, or scampi. Sometimes I snag a flavorful white fish with a name I cannot remember. I just point to it in the bin. One cannot go wrong with any of these. As I ponder my final choice, the vendor spreads out a sheet of thick wrapping paper. He then folds the paper around my selection, weighs it on a scale, and tucks it into a small biodegradable sack. He loudly exclaims “Sconto!” (Discount!) and announces the price. I toss my euros on the counter and slip back through the clutch of waiting customers.


We usually eat the purchase within a few hours. Whatever the selection, it always results in big smiles and glowing reviews at the table.


One of these days, we will have to figure out that off-putting shellfish with the fake eyes. That will require a true act of seduction.

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