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SHAMELESS- SVERGOGNATO by Michele Rivers

Darkness drops early in winter but familiar winding paths lead the Signora quickly to the Piazza San Marco. Hair the color of roasted chestnuts; swept back in an elegant chignon. Cheeks flushed with exertion and the bitter chill of Venice. Dark eyes dancing with adventure and anticipation, Signora Sofia crosses the threshold.

Colored paper streamers, remnants of carnevale, twist and twirl as the Signora moves into candlelight and the glow of red tablecloths. Her radiant smile and her stature in the purple Escarda coat cause heads to turn as she threads her way between tables. She is a fusion of mystery, excitement and glamour as she settles onto a glossy blue chair at her favorite corner table.

Sofia always enjoys the efficient playfulness of Carina and Lucia, the women who expertly navigate the busy trattoria. She marvels at how many supper plates they manage to balance up their arms while joking with patrons or arguing with the chef. This evening they’re serving platters of tortellini, creamy cannelloni and lobster-stuffed ravioli. Fragrant currents swirl throughout the trattoria—oregano, basil, fennel and, momentarily, a hint of the ocean fills the air. Grilled Adriatic fish nestled on a bed of steaming blue fettuccini are presented to Signor Morelli, the bearded man in a dark gray suit. His black waistcoat can almost be heard sighing in anticipation as it stretches over his softly rounded belly.

From the moment Sofia whirls into the restaurant with smiles and greetings, Signor Morelli has eyes only for her. He notes how one after the other, Carlo the owner, two handsome gondoliers and a fashionable woman wearing Armani­ make their way to the Signora’s table. Each receives a hug or a kiss from the curvaceous woman.

Everything about her is… luscious,” Signor Morreli mumbles to himself.

Extravagant beauty,” he says quite loudly, vaguely hoping to be heard as he reaches for his wine. He knows it’s a futile task. The trattoria is noisy with the bustle of dinner and happy patrons.

After admiring the Signora’s décolletage from the exceptional vantage point of his table, Signor Morelli’s attention returns to his dining. He finishes the delicious glass of local Vulcaia Fume—a unique barrel-fermented Sauvignon Blanc. Involuntarily, he licks his lips as he inspects the Teglia di pesce spada – the marinated swordfish. Dotted with capers and served with small bowls of olive oil and lemon juice, the fish steaks are grilled to perfection. Slowly, he presses his fork into the forgiving white flesh. The swordfish is both succulent and sublime. The fettuccini is perfectly al-dente and the wine abundant. Signor Morelli’s epicurean passion is a distraction until he purposefully catches the Signora’s attention with his smile. Across the room there is a visual encounter as he suggestively wipes oil from his lips. The white napkin returns to his lap. It is now the Signora’s turn to smile. An errant sliver of fish is caught in Signor Morelli’s silver whiskers.

Meanwhile across the icy expanse of the piazza–hidden from both world and wind–two young lovers embrace in a corner of the Merceri. A nervous Cardinal coughs, pulls his red scarf tighter and quickly heads west to the Accademia. High above the square the ancient winged San Marco lion silently watches a gray cat stalking his prey. A swirl of feathers erupts into the night. The pigeon hangs softly limp, head wobbling comically as the triumphant hunter struggles home with supper.

Inside the cozy trattoria, the guitarist strums a dramatic chord and the dining

room turns unusually silent. A table of four Neapolitans about to leave return to their seats. Wine glasses sit abandoned. Conversations conclude. All heads turn as Carina and Lucia hover at Signora Sophia’s corner table.

Chef Mario enters from the kitchen, regally carrying a huge silver tray before him upon which sits Sicilian lemon tart covered in a snowdrift of sweet meringue and toasted almonds, a glass dish of fresh apricot gelato adorned with juicy peaches and a whirl of pastel colored pastries piled high, each oozing thick vanilla cream. Carlo himself brings the finale—un cuore ha modellato la mousse di cioccolata e caramel—a heart shaped chocolate and caramel mousse accompanied by a Murano crystal glass of delicate vin santo. Each delicious dish is perfectly presented to Sofia. All is ready.

The Signora’s eyes dance toward Signore Morelli; her full red lips curve into a delighted smile of appreciation. He watches as with one red-tipped finger she slightly repositions each plate. Patrons press forward in expectation. Sofia is captivated as she makes a slow visual exploration across the cloth.

Her eyes widen as she studies the decedent sweet feast set before her. She reaches. A silver fork is lifted. It hovers for a moment. She presses the fork into the creamy lemon dessert. She pauses to appreciate the silky texture, turning the fork in the subtle light from the candle. And finally, the yellow filling quivers towards her eager mouth. Her generous lips part and the lush tart is deliciously and unhurriedly enjoyed. Her eyelids lower to contain the rapture within. Her lips purse slightly, she swallows, then slowly a pink tip slips out to capture a stray sugary grain. A sensual smile builds to a huge, enchanted grin as the Signora reaches for the crystal glass and raises the vin santo to the bearded man in the black waistcoat.

Molto buon—very good. Magnifico. Grazie,” Sofia’s voice is barely audible, as she sighs toward him, then, above her glass, she blows him a kiss.

Favoloso—fabulous, fantastico,” Signor Morelli replies; clapping his hands in a gentle, steady, slow, rhythm.

Chair legs scrape on terra-cotta tiles, breaking the intimate spell. Waiters applaud. Patrons raise their glasses. “Salute,” they toast. The guitarist now holds an accordion and plays the opening bars of the tarantella. Sofia laughs and waves her silver fork in tribute, not shamed at having desserts for dinner.

When the bearded man finishes his supper and approaches the Signora’s table, she is well pleased. Silently, they survey the remnants of the decedent feast. Sofia arches her eyebrows coquettishly. Between the man and the woman an invitation is delivered and accepted. Signor Morelli helps the Signora with her coat and then offers her his arm. The playful red, white and green paper streamers twist and twirl as the couple moves from candlelight into the chill of Venezia.

Silently Signor Morelli guides Signora Sofia toward the Ponti di Rialto. Together they navigate the network of ribbon canals and narrow streets, passing the noisy shadows of strangers and the bustle of Campo San Polo.

Before the moon has lost her evening luster, the Rialto Bridge leads them across the serpentine Canal Grande. A three-story mango-colored house overlooks the misty waterway. The brass key bites into the lock. Arm in arm they cross another threshold into the Venetian home they have shared for thirty-eight years.

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English Renaissance woman: writer, artist, photographer and teacher. Michele Rivers has written several books including: Time For Tea – Tea and Conversations with Thirteen English Women published by Crown Publishing, New York. For five years Michele hosted a radio show: Community Teas with Michele Rivers on KWMR. She produced and hosted a Ch 26 five series, television show – Time For Tea. She has a passion for anything Italian and owns a ruin in the foothills of the Italian Alps. She is currently writing Venus – Sensual Adventures in Italy – a collection of fourteen short stories.

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