Fictography #5 — A Romance Called “Alberto’s Gravy”

The Walk from Santa Margherita to Portofino. Italy.
The Walk from Santa Margherita to Portofino. Italy. Photo Credit: Hope Stein.

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/FICTOGRAPHY/ def. — The intersection of photography (submitted by readers) and fiction (written by me!).

This week’s stunning photograph comes from a friend I’ve known since second grade, Hope Porricelli Stein. Hope and I grew up together in two locations, in Bowie, and then in the Annapolis area (her family relocated from Bowie to Annapolis, and several years later, our family followed suit). This breathtaking image was taken when Hope, her husband, and two children, went on vacation last summer to Italy. This shot reflects the walk they took from Santa Margherita to Portofino, Italy.

As for the story, it’s a romance, borrowed a bit from something I wrote during my MFA courses. Meet Alberto and Sofia, who luckily for them, get to live here. And gravy is what Italians tend to call their red sauce.

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Fictography #5 — Alberto’s Gravy

Alberto took the walk up the hill with his bag of pasta and breads from il mercato. It was a long and leisurely walk because it was a Saturday, and he had nothing in particular to do except get ready. In fact, it was his second walk; he had already made one trip earlier to purchase the meats and cheeses. He had taken to this mode of exercise more because it was good for him; it helped him clear his head, he loved being outdoors, and he could never grow tire of the glorious scenery that made up his hometown of Santa Margherita.

When he put his key into the door, he could smell the gravy simmering on the stove. He had made his red pasta gravy, a family recipe, earlier in the morning. He was always inclined to let it simmer all day long to bring out the flavors of the basil, oregano, and garlic. His friends raved about his homemade concoction, and he would often chuckle because there really wasn’t any magic to it at all. It simply required the time to blend the pureed tomatoes with the fresh herbs and garlic. It made his friends’ mouths water; he hoped it would do the same for Sofia.

He met Sofia two weeks prior to the day. She had just relocated from Verona, and was getting acclimated to her surroundings. They had introduced themselves at Seghezzo as they waited for an espresso. They chatted, and he felt a pull to her immediately. Several nights later, they dined at La Stalla dei Frati on the hilltop, where the tantalizing views and the warm breeze factored into their evening of romance. At the end of the night, he invited her to his place on the weekend for some authentic home cooking, and she accepted.

Alberto set the table and put his nonna’s vintage gold tablecloth on his pine table. He dressed it with white plates, produced a couple of crystal wine glasses, and placed real cloth napkins at the two place settings. He lit candles, dimmed the lights, and opened the windows to expose the view of the port. It had been eighteen months since Gianna had left him, and he’d only had one date to speak of during that time. He’d met women, but he just didn’t have the desire to date. Dating had felt like too much work, and his love for Gianna seemed to have a mind of its own and lingered.

He dressed in black pants with his favorite light blue button down shirt he’d bought at Armani in Rome and splashed Aqua di Gio on his face and neck. When the doorbell rang, he opened it, and there she stood. Sofia. Her long, dark, shiny hair cascaded well past her shoulders, her almond-shaped, dark eyes sparkled, and a contagious smile ran across her face. He reached to unburden her arms, which were holding a bottle of wine and a collection of flowers.

“Isn’t the man supposed to bring the wine and flowers?” Alberto asked.

“Not if he’s the chef,” she replied.

Inside, she caught a glimpse of the twinkling dining table; next to it, on his small island with a zinc top, he had spread the antipasto across it, with two knives set up on two cutting boards.

“Care to help me in the kitchen?” he asked her. There was an odd comfort he felt in her presence. Sofia followed him, taking notice of the soft music in the background and the candles that were lit around his appartamento. It smelled warm and inviting in there, and she breathed in the smell of the gravy that was simmering on the stove.

“Grab a knife,” he said, motioning her to her cutting board. “Let’s make the antipasto together.”

They sliced the mozzarella cheese and sharp provolone and set it next to the thinly sliced prosciutto. They sliced pepperoni and placed olives in a small dish.

“Prosciutto must be cut thinly,” Alberto said, holding up a slice, examining it while making conversation. “Anything that doesn’t look like this is not acceptable.”

“Agreed,” she said, looking at it. “Perfecto.”

They mixed the red peppers with olive oil and garlic salt, and Sofia sliced the bread.

“Of course, I can’t wait to grade you on your chef talents,” she said.

“Are you not trusting of my abilities in the kitchen?” Alberto teased.

“I am not too worried, if that is what you are asking,” she said, blushing, as Alberto poured the wine. “I’ve just never had a man cook for me before.”

They picked up their wine glasses, and moved to the small patio that overlooked the sea. They clinked them together and stood nose to nose. Having not lived near water before, Sofia found the setting calming. He moved the hair away from her face, and kissed her gently on the cheek.

She could get used to this, she thought.

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