The Great Lasagna Battle

A writer likes to try out some ideas with his readers. I would love your opinions on this new story.

A young, hungry couple, touring Italy, found themselves in a small village.  They were starving, and asked a well dressed, smiling stranger for the name of a good place to eat.  He laughed, and said, “Grimaldi’s, I’m headed there now. Follow me.”

It was a quaint little place, only a few tables.  It looked more like a house than a place to eat.  Portia thought this was normal, Connor wanted to know more. “So what’s the history of this place? I’m a writer, and I love a good story.”

The man roared back, and began to set a mood. Portia thought, ‘this guy’s either a storyteller, or a politician.’ The Man pointed to the two stools on the little porch.  “It doesn’t begin there, but that porch is where everything changed for the owner, and everyone around him.” He paused to add drama, and began.

Alfonso Grimaldi, was a retired postman in a little village in Italy. His small village was nestled on the top of a hill. Alfonso’s house was one of the highest ones in the town. He had always wanted to be a restauranteur, but had never had the money. 

As a young man, Alfonso had taken the best job he could find, and had been very happy. The postal job had fed his family, and they enjoyed their life. Now, his children were grown. While his grandchildren visited, he found a lot of time on his hands, ever since his wife, Alessandra, had passed the year before. 

Now his curly black hair was cotton white. His sharp blue eyes were still as blue, but regularly tired. His postal physique had seen two many cannolis, but he was still trimmer than most his age.  

Cooking was a passion for him, and he was good at it. His Grandmother, Mother, and Aunts, had taught them all their secret recipes.  This included the dish Alfonso was known for, his great great great Grandmother’s Lasagna. It was a closely guarded secret, that now only Alfonso knew.

He was not keeping the secret from his family, but they were not cooks. Neither were his son in laws and daughters in law. Alfonso knew who he would eventually give it to, his granddaughter Anna. She had just started cooking, so it would be a while.

Our story begins on another quiet afternoon. Alfonso realized, as he thought about all of this on his deck, that his little porch was perfect for a small two stool restaurant, with two tables in the yard.  

For the first time, in a year, he was excited about something. He went to work fixing it all up.  Little by little news started to spread throughout the village.

On the day of the opening, the porch was full, he had two customers. One was the Mayor of the village, an old family friend.  The other was not a friend at all.

She was Francesca Ileiria Unicalli. Alfonso described her, somewhat unkindly, “…as a fat lipped, large hipped woman, whose looks and shape had went south.” His comments were in part, because of a long standing feud, which began with a date between the two.

At one time, Francesca had been the beauty of the village. Her figure had secured three husbands, who had outlived her.  The feature that had once been her trademark. Francesca also worried about her looks. She felt her alluring smile, now had the cracks of age, and a rigidness.

Her dark hair was still dark, with the help of her Granddaughter, and McGillicuddy No 8.  She still maintained her emerald eyes, though they were now behind bifocals.  Her figure was still there, but she no longer shopped in the petite section of the store.

Alfonso would say, this matched her personality. Francesca would say it was due to the hurt she felt.  Her last husband had been also passed some time ago. Neither Alfonso nor Francesca could see the hurt the other was going through. 

The two had went on one date in high school, and Alfonso ended it early. He meant no harm, she just wasn’t his type. However, Francesca took it as a personal affront.  Especially when Alfonso married Alessandra, from whom Francesca had stolen three boyfriends previous to Alfonso and her dating.

They had only been mildly irritated at each other, until a small fair. It was then their huge feud began about twenty years before. Aside from her looks, Francesca had been known for her lasagna, people had called it the best in town. The village decided to have a food festival, and a cooking contest.  

Alessandra encouraged Alfonso to submit his lasagna. He beat Francesca, and shocked the village. Francesca did not take it well. Alfonso did not respond well.  It was considered the loudest argument the town knew for many years.

She had been furious, demanding to try his lasagna for herself, but Alfonso said no.  Had she asked, instead of commanding, he would have agreed, but he did not like bullies. Ever since she had schemed to sample his lasagna, and this day, she believed she had him.

“I am a paying customer Alfonso, you must serve me.  I will have the salad, some breadsticks, and the lasagna. Then Alfonso, then we will see.”

Anger filled his mind as he looked at the smirk from the annoying woman. Had he not been more of a gentleman now than twenty years ago, he would have told her how fat and rigid her mouth looked when she smiled, but he did not.  He only refused to serve her.

Personality affects your perspective, Francesca was still attractive, but not in Alfonso’s eyes.  He only saw anger. She was no longer the young, or middle aged beauty she had been, but there was still beauty there.

Nor was she bitter or unkind, with anyone other than Alfonso. Like Alfonso, she had children and grandchildren who loved her, and her cooking. An yet, neither could see any beauty in the other. Pride is a very large obstruction to your vision.

As I said, Alfonso only saw a bully. “This is my restaurant, and I will not serve you. I can do as I want in my kitchen, and my shop. Good day Francesca.”

The Mayor was watching all this intently. Francesca started to get angry, but the Mayor, Fiorella Ricci, watched the corners of her mouth turn from downward to upward. She rose slowly, and said, “We shall see Alfonso, we shall see.”

The Mayor, a plain looking man, gray hair, gray eyes, and a forgettable face. Because of the common nature of his looks, the politician depended upon his clothes to give him an air of grandeur.  

He was always campaigning, this is how he got his wife of thirty years.  He dressed in his finest, and as he showed up at Siena’s door, the rain poured. Later, she said it was the pitiful look on his face that made him fall in love with her. An not the fancy clothes, with or without the rain.

Francesca went home, and was in such a hurry, she almost stepped on the cat, not seeing him. She pulled out her smartphone and called her sister, Leta. “Leta, you have to do something for me.”

She told her sister everything that had happened. Francesca insisted she go to Alfonso’s restaurant, and bring her some lasagna. Leta argued, but reluctantly agreed.

It took her a week to gather up the courage, but finally, on Monday morning, she walked to Alfonso’s. Her mind was going a thousand miles a minute, what would she say.  Francesca had told her, “I’m not asking you to lie, I know you wouldn’t do that, but you don’t have to lie. Only order, tell him nothing.”

Leta is the younger sister of Francesca. Her hair was a mixture of brown and gray, natural however. Her eyes were hazel, and kind. Although pretty, she was not the great beauty that her sister was. Maybe because of this, or the animosity between Francesca and Alfonso, he could see the kindness in Leta, which he could not see in Francesca.

Leta too had married, and had been happy. It had also been a year sine her husband had passed.  She sat on the stool, and looked at the menu.  Alfonso gave her his heartiest smile. “Kind Leta, what can I serve you?”

She liked what she saw. His noble chin, his trusting eyes, she couldn’t do it.  “Alfonso, I cannot order. My sister sent me here, for lasagna. I cannot deceive you.”

“I know she seems many things to you, but she has a good heart, even though some may see only an icy shell.” A woman’s smile has changed many a man’s heart.  Alfonso heard himself saying it, but he too, couldn’t believe it. 

“Tell Francesca to be here tomorrow, at 3:00, and not to be late.  Also, to bring a check, made out to the children’s hospital for 300. If she wants lasagna, that is the price.”

He was smitten, not stupid. If she showed, he knew she would have to admit defeat. Either way, the children’s hospital would receive 600. He had determined he would match her check.

Francesca rose early, as did Alfonso. They both began, making from scratch, each ingredient in the lasagna.  The Mayor, a frequent customer of his friends, had witnessed both visits from the sisters, and told all of the village.

At 3:00, the whole community came out to witness, The Great Lasagna Battle.  Francesca wore her prettiest dress, and so had Leta.  Alfonso, and Fiorella, were dressed in their finest also.  Every citizen looked like they were dressed for a family portrait. For this village, this was the equivalent of the World Series. 

Francesca sat down on the one stool, the Mayor already seated, sat on the other. Leta was nervous, taking a seat at one of the tables in the yard. Francesca laid two things on the counter, her check, and her lasagna. 

“I will take two pieces of lasagna, one for me, and one for the Mayor. He will be our judge, as to which is best.  Alfonso laughed, and agreed. 

He was confident in his recipe. He cut two pieces, placing them, and his check on the counter. Francesca cut two pieces of her lasagna also.

She gave one to the Mayor, and one to Alfonso.  Leta remembered thinking how cocky, both her sister and Alfonso looked. She didn’t care for the way it made either of them appear.

The Mayor was sweating. How could he choose between his best friend, and the very beautiful Francesca. Fiorella was a widower also.  Thanks to his own large mouth, the entire town was here. All of his constituents were watching, he couldn’t say no, and still win the next election. 

Fiorella agreed, and continued to sweat, until his second bite. At first, his face registered confusion, then a smile. Of course, by the time he smiled, Alfonso and Francesca’s smiles had left them.  Neither could believe what they were tasting.

Francesca’s was not better than Alfonso’s, but neither was his better than hers.  They were in shock, so much so, that they almost didn’t hear the Mayor’s speech. Luckily for them, he was a politician, as well as a friend.

“… An so, my dear friends, it leaves me with no other recourse, than to declare a tie! In this case however, it means two winners, as you both have donated to the children’s hospital. Who will match their generosity?”

They raised five thousand dollars that day from those in attendance.  Everyone went home happy, except for four individuals. Two were very low, and the other two determined to lift them up.”

The Mayor took Francesca home, as Leta had driven her. Of course, they stopped first for ice cream and cake at another little restaurant. Leta insisted on helping Alfonso wash dishes. As she listened to his bruised ego, come to terms with what had happened.

Alfonso had the finances he needed, but he was not a rich man. His restaurant, his heritage, and that lasagna meant something very special to him. Leta listened to the story of how his ancestor had originated the recipe.

The story was not what she expected. The originator of this recipe, was not Italian, but Irish. She had married a young Italian sailor, and had moved to his little village.  She had converted her Grandmother’s potato casserole over time, to the ingredients available to her.

Like Alfonso, her recipe had become famous. Alfonso told Leta how, only one person out of the family, had been given the recipe, and that was due to blackmail. Alfonso explained that his ancestor was a good sailor, but a poor businessman.

His landlord’s wife had continually tried to get the young bride’s recipe, but she refused.  The sailor had lost money when his small fishing boat was damaged in a storm.  He could not pay the rent. The landlord made the journey to evict the sailor and his family. The landlord’s wife made the journey too.  

While he talked to the sailor, she talked to his wife. “Give me the recipe, and stay in your home. I can convince my husband to give you time. All it will cost, is your recipe.”

With a baby on the way, the sailor’s wife had no choice. Alfonso had always loved that story, the nobility of his Grandmother, and the love for family which made her sacrifice a family treasure.

Leta knew the conversation helped, but she had more work to do.  Alfonso’s story revealed more than he knew.

After drying the dishes, she explained she had to get home, but promised to return the next day.  Before she did, Leta had work to do.

The next morning, she called the Mayor.  He met her at the town’s hall of records, where they spent two hours.  Upon leaving, they arranged for Francesca to meet them at Alfonso’s.

Leta told her fifteen minutes later than when they were to arrive, they had to get there first.  As soon as they arrived, Leta sat Alfonso at the table in the yard, and began to tell him a story. 

It wasn’t about his ancestor at first, but a lonely woman, who was afraid her happiness had left her now that, as Francesca put it, “time had found her.”

Then she told him what they had searched out. Leta had heard a version of the story before, but with a few added details.  The trip to the hall of records confirmed everything.

As Let’s knew, the name of the landlord and his wife, was Unicalli. Leta and the Mayor had a third discovery. This was something Leta had not known before.

Of all the landowners during that period in the village’s history, the Unicalli’s were the only ones never to evict anyone.  According to the records, and family documents Leta had retrieved, their ancestor had strange methods, but wonderful results.

Candia Unicalli would attain something, of little monetary value from the family’s which her husband went to evict. Then, after a conversation, and sometimes a smile, other times tears, the landlord would extend mercy. It was never really about the lasagna, it was about understanding people, and having compassion.

Leta told Alfonso that Francesca was coming, and that she was prepared to tell her the same story, if he wanted her too. “My sister never listened to Grandpappa’s stories, they bored her. She will listen today.”

Before he could answer, Francesca arrived.  Alfonso jumped up, conducted Francesca to the stool at the counter, poured her coffee, and sat a piece of cheesecake in front of her.

“Who would have thought, that both of our families would arrive at the same flavor? If they can find the same balance, perhaps we should too. Francesca, I’m sorry for being more concerned about myself than being kind. I promise you, that will no longer be the case.”

Francesca, shocked, looked at her sister for a response. She raised an eyebrow to the Mayor.  He jumped into action. “I’ve lost, and won a few elections. Some of my opponents are now my close friends.”

“Let’s forget any rivalry, any lasagna battle, and embrace friendship.  We are all here, let us eat, let us laugh, let us embrace happiness.” An they did, so much so, that a double wedding occurred that spring, and yes, they served lasagna at the reception, but called it simply migliore, the best.

The man, his story concluded, sipped his coffee. Portia and Connor, their meal finished, thanked the man, and paid the bill. Turning to leave, Connor stopped, and asked the man for his name.  

He bowed from the waist, “Fiorella Ricci, Mayor of the village, husband to Francesca, and best friend of Alfonso and Leta Grimaldi. Would you like to tour the kitchen? I’m sure they’d love to meet you.”

 

Leave a Reply