Peculiar Souvenirs From Pescara

A Short story

 

2 min read

Angelo (left) and his brother (right) at Mercato Michelle Muzii, Pescara, Abruzzo, Italy

Angelo (left) and his brother (right) at Mercato Michelle Muzii, Pescara, Abruzzo, Italy

Angelo is a ladymonger and a fishmonger. He’s a loud, outspoken romantic who has been working with fish ever since he was old enough to hold a Swiss Army and gut a pesce. And in the poor, kids-run-wild, Italian streets in the ’50s, that age was five.

Angelo is seventy-seven years old now. He and his brother have been fish vendors for over fifty years. Their fish stand is inside Mercato Michelle Muzii, in the center of downtown Pescara, Abruzzo. I went there to look around one hot August afternoon, when Angelo grabbed my attention.

“Scusa, scusa bella! Can I help you? How about I give you my best catch of the day for free! In exchange you come back to my place to let me cook it for you. Che dici?”

Smooth, right!?

I laughed and let him know I’d love to, but had a flight to catch.

He then asked me how much I paid for my flight—and pulled out a wad of euros and offered to repay me for my ticket. “Forget your plane, stay here and live with me,” he suggested. “You see from the cash I showed you, I’ve got money. You see from this market, I’ve got a job. And down the street, I’ve got a house. Money, a job, and a house. Important things for a man to provide to a woman.”

He belts out a gravelly laugh, evidence of at least seventy-years of smoking.

I giggle with him and blush a little, because now the other people in line are looking me up and down, as if to assess if my face and body really were deserving of those compliments.

“Come ti chiami?” he asks for my name.

Before I can get out the full practiced phrase: “Mi chiamo Theresa.” He cuts me off mid-sentence in a rush to explain, “Ma bella, you are young and gorgeous. My wife died years ago…” His brother nods his head in sorrow. Italians take death very seriously, so I know this is no joke. I can no longer react with uncomfortable laughter, but must be graceful in order to smooth things over.

“…and having a new, young wife like you around is what I need. Non sto scherzando.” He insisted he wasn’t joking, and his silent brother once again nodded to reassure that Angelo was not pulling my leg. “Also, you have una faccia Abruzzese!”

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in Europe, people are just more direct about physical appearance and ya can’t take it too seriously. Many EU countries are also a bit behind the times with gender-equality conversations; independent women and feminism is more hushed. So instead of getting offended, I knew I had to quickly calculate my reaction—connect emotional IQ and limited Italian vocab like a quick game of Tetris.

First, I explain that I am sorry to hear about his wife. Angelo frowns as a gesture that perhaps represented that time may not heal all wounds. Next, I smile and explain how lovely it would be to live here. “Che bellissima questa zona!” But that my life and crazy family is in America, and he is welcome to join me in Chicago, sealing the statement with a wink.

I change the subject and finally include his brother in the conversation. We all had a nice chat about how long they’ve been fishmongers, their thoughts on tourism, and the restaurant down the street that serves their delicious Cod.

After about a half-hour, I check the time on my phone, explain that I gotta go, and promise Angelo that I’d return someday. He washes his hands, comes out in front of the Pescheria display, stands in a puddle of melted fish ice, and gives me a kiss on the cheek.

I left the market that afternoon with souvenirs from Pescara you can’t find in the store—the scent of seafood and tobacco on my cheek and a marriage proposal from a fish vendor.