Lunch with Mussolini

1 February 2012

a rhapsody in four courses
Rome, some time after 1930

 
 

I should have tales about the politics we speak,
recount how the Great Man sees Fascism’s

future in the world but instead I recall how,
at first touch of silverware, the spatchcock melts

from the bone! How sublime the pasta – taglietelle
con sugo di porcini e crema. I have to taste that

fabulous infusion again (merest touch of tarragon?)
Benito is launched on a favourite theme – how hard

the Germans are, their total lack of gaiety or humour,
essentially barbarians still. Between mouthfuls

I nod accord. I hope he doesn’t think me rude
for interrupting, asking if the palazzo chef might

furnish me the recipe – I’m desperate
to add it to my files. Then filleto, processionally

from the kitchen. Maitre d’ at the head, cloched
silver salver aloft, next junior waiters in train

with vegetables (austerity be damned – six separate
covered platters!). At the rear the largest silver gravy boat

I’ve seen. It’s performance, as only Italians can,
theatre for an audience of two – Il Duce and me.

The beef in all its glory is revealed, monarch of the meal.
A flourish and neat bow by the Maitre d’. He carves

succulent slices for our plates. The fineness of the meat
almost finishes me. I could drown in the delicious

delicacy of the jus – butter, wine, caramelised filleto
juice, with perhaps a hint of stock. Semifreddo

for dessert – creamy confection to roll around the tongue,
relish the welcome bite of raspberry. To cut the cream.

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