Ten euros. Are you in? I’m too tired to debate whether or not I actually want to go, so just hand over the money and collapse onto the table. Natasha laughs at me. That isn’t his name, but he did such a convincing rendition of a female character called Natasha in class that it’s stuck. I rest my head on my forearms and let the live music wash over me. Chiara’s singing and she’s good. The girls go for a dance while the boys watch. It’s the same old Friday night – comforting in its lack of unusualness.
Saturday morning dawns bright and sunny. I’m still exhausted and not really up for a day in the mountains with a lot of people that I don’t know, but Emma rattles me out of torpor and bullies me into the car. C’mon! Woo! We’re all heading up the mountain to somebody’s weekend house. I’m not sure whose, but it doesn’t matter. Emma and I follow Marco’s car as he heads out of town. I feel my mood begin to lift and we turn the music up. Ten minutes later we’ve stopped in a supermarket car park. I have no idea what’s going on, but it eventually transpires that Carmelo and Beppe are inside getting supplies. The ten euros that I handed over last night are being put towards food and wine. This is a far better way to organise a barbecue than the English way of telling everyone to bring something with them. This way we end up with delicious spicy sausages from the butcher; with little bready balls stuffed with n’duja and olives; with copious bottles of cheap but good wine; with tangy rounds of cheese; with fat, red tomatoes; with steaks. Not forgetting the fresh bread and coffee for after. This is going to be a feast and a half.
Arriving at the house, there already seem to be hundreds of people inside. In fact, there are only about fifteen of us, but a small crowd of Italians can make enough noise for fifty. Sara shrieks with joy to see everyone. She lives in Rome and doesn’t see this group very often. Antonello grins, wild curly hair springing all over the place. Beppe has downed a bottle of wine already and is on to the next one. The girls are a hive of activity in the kitchen, chopping tomatoes and slicing mozzarella, all the while keeping up a flurry of top-volume conversation and refusing offers of help. At first I’m shy, knowing little Italian and even less dialect, but wine soon loosens everyone’s inhibitions. The fire has been lit in the room next to the kitchen, and the sausages are being grilled over it. I don’t think I’ve ever been to an indoor barbecue before, but it works. People drift in and out of the room, shouting out of windows to those smoking outside, pouring more wine as they pass through the kitchen, laughing, joking, enjoying each other’s company. Italians at home are a very different beast from when they’re out in town. Sara, Cristina and Anna appear on different balconies with headscarves wrapped around their heads, pastiching their mothers and grandmothers. It’s time to eat! Why aren’t you ready? Get inside now! Beppe throws a basket of magazines out of the window, laughing uproariously. In retaliation, as he walks under the same window five minutes later, someone (no-one is quite sure who) drops a raw steak onto Beppe’s bald head. It drapes over one eye, a comedy meat wig. No-one can stop laughing. Coffees are poured as people slump on sofas, dozing on each other’s shoulders with smiles on their faces. The sun is setting, turning the sky vivid, deep orange and purple. Emma takes endless photos of people jumping in the road, playing football. There’s time for one more coffee in the bar before getting into our cars to head back down to town. Ci vediamo dopo? Sì! Food, wine and friends. A perfect day.