A few days ago (sept 2007, traduzione italiana) our bunch of friends decided to have a Chinese dinner at our home. Everyone loves Chinese cooking. This food is of course not a novelty any more even here, but since while getting better it keeps being incredibly cheap, we still eat it a lot and like it (a lot.)
Advised by the youngest of us all I therefore went to this Chinese restaurant close by, located at the end of Via Cavour, not far from Via dei Fori Imperiali. I ordered a take-away meal for 8. I had never been there before. Wow was I surprised by the place and by the people!
The restaurant was elegant enough. I admired the professionalism, dynamism and hard working style that reigned in the place, everybody being so serious and dedicated.
A big family clan, I believe, with all ages being present: male teenagers serving tables; middle-aged women organising, calculating, pinning small sheets of purple paper to the wall; young sweet-looking women serving too, clad in traditional silk dresses with fine motifs on them; a man who I think was the husband of one of the older women and apparently the boss; the eldest woman finally, white-haired, the grandmother definitely, who worked hard at the counter despite her age, so incredibly attentive to all that happened and typing the bills on the counter keys with solemn vigour.
I smiled at her and she smiled back. Romans are good-natured but they have some difficulty in understanding such closed-up and reserved people who nonetheless, when they feel one doesn’t perceive them as aliens, quickly respond. I told her I had a few friends from China and asked her what town they came from, what type of Chinese language they spoke, whether their language was Cantonese- or Mandarin-related. She said that their speech was related to none of them, that it was an entirely different language. The way she said it revealed she enjoyed answering to me even though it was not apparent (although I felt it clearly.)
She then said they all came from Wenzhou, which (I later learned) is a town in the south-eastern Zhejiang province residing “on the Ou Jiang delta, with picturesque buildings and surroundings. The port (…) very active in the 19th century (tea export) was later used for fishing only” (La Piccola Treccani). Thence the emigration to foreign countries of large portions of these active people with “a reputation for being an enterprising folk who starts restaurants, retail and wholesale businesses in their adopted countries.”
Wenzhou. Such a difficult word I remember only because the guy got close – the one I thought to be the boss – and was so pleased to write it down for me, and he asked me if I was a real Roman, and I said yes, I am a real Roman, and after a while I realised ALL of them suddenly knew this Roman had an interest in them. They sort of suddenly knew I was sympathetic.
Someone probably overhearing the said conversation and exchanging quick Chinese whispers they all were immediately aware of everything getting immediately hidden-attentive, hidden-agreeable, while two young men prayed me several times to please sit down while waiting for my package (till I finally accepted) and offered me for free this unbelievable Chinese H-bomb liquor (of which I drank three shots.)
I felt this quasi imperceptible attention, these good vibes in the air despite their not showing it much. Chinese people are delicate, steel-strong, intelligent and – I must gather – telepathic, while most of the people here consider them a totally indecipherable marble-faced folk – funnier than stone-faced, it being a joke I have with some Hong Kong IT students: I tease them, they tease me back.
Oh such a lovely lovely evening it was! My fantasy was flying high, this nitro-glycerine booze being not totally guiltless.
And then – like a sudden cool breeze coming from nowhere … I looking at the paintings around … looking at the smiling faces around – I clearly felt like the presence of a God as my sight began to blur …
At home our Chinese dinner was a success. It went on and on as only Roman dinners can go (for hours,) mixing both Chinese and Italian dishes washed down with an icy Italian white this time though, a tuscan Galestro not at all bad.
I didn’t bring any of the Chinese H-bomb though (meeting Gods too often can be a problem beyond a doubt.) I in fact know I owe that stuff a brief, intense encounter with Bacchus-Dionysus (son of Semele and Jupiter) in that Wenzhou restaurant and in the cool open air outside, a place right at the border of the ancient Roman Subura.
While actually my sight slightly blurred within the restaurant I remember I was gently given my take-away meal.
Moments later I was driving back home with my motorbike, winding and winding like a crazy birdie, fresh crisp air on my ecstatic face.
Rome, the eternal loose woman, imperial, magnificent, was smiling all around.