I spent Saturday afternoon driving my children around. The car is not my favorite place to be; I generally avoid having to use it, but Four has been wanting to see a good friend from last year who lives too far away to continue going to his school and Eight had been invited to a birthday party at a zipline park in, as they say here, the butt of the world, so I caved in and said okay, we’ll drop Four off, then drive to the party.
Armed with two incorrect addresses and a GPS that seems to pick the most convoluted routes, we left just after lunch. A few hours later, as Eight slept in the back and I drove and drove and drove down narrow, winding roads cradled between rows of thick plane trees, the fall light slanting just right through their browning leaves, and back again, down the same narrow, winding roads, towards where the party actually was supposed to be, then up to the top of a mountain, I may have muttered goddamnit-i-can’t-believe-this-is-my-life a handful of times. There were a million other things I would have rather done with my kids that afternoon that did not involve trying not to kill a million avid cyclists while navigating Northern Italy’s breathtaking hills.
At least both boys enjoyed themselves and were generally very pleased to spend their Saturdays thus. When Eight’s party was over it was almost beginning to get dark and the clear sky turned a brilliant shade of blue over the hills behind us. We reached the flatlands on our way to pick up Four and saw a fire in a barrel by the side of the road and a sign that said Maroni Caldi, Hot Chestnuts. “Let’s stop!” I said.
We turned around and went back for a bag of them. Two Alpini were roasting the chestnuts on another barrel, there was a table under a small tent where six or seven or eight Alpini sat peeling their chestnuts and popping them into their mouths, then washing them down with a gulp of local wine, a glass of which was yours for 50 cents. Manning the stand was a roundly, kind-faced man with shiny eyes and a medium-sized mustache that curled up at each end. All the men turned to greet us and a few dipped their hats.
“Good evening!” I said. “We have five euros,” pulling a bill out of my pocket, and the man with the mustache carefully unwrapped a red wool blanket, in which the chestnuts were kept, and ordered Eight to pick one out to try before he scooped 300 grams onto the scales.
Then we hurried back to the car with our paper bag warm in Eight’s hands, and the men at the table called out, “Goodbye, signorina!”
“Goodbye!” I called back to them, and off we went to pick up Four.
Eight peeled the chestnuts in the car for both of us, and with that to sustain us, we had retrieved Four in no time at all and were on our way home for long skinny egg noodles in beef broth, which we would eat with chopsticks, per Eight’s request.
Four, apparently, had done some thinking about the friends of his who no longer go to his school. “G not at my school anymore because he live far away,” Four explained, and Eight and I agreed. “And I think I know why A not at my school anymore either,” he said. “Maybe he grew up.”
Eight laughed and said that was impossible since Four and his friend A are growing at the same rate, but I said I kind of liked Four’s theory. It, together with the curly mustache, had made the day very much worthwhile indeed.
So this is my life, I thought again, and smiled, remembering the other magic that Saturday had given us: the fall light slanting through the plane trees, the sunset sky, the crinkle of a paper bag to accompany the scent of warm roasted chestnuts filling up the car and the homemade broth at home waiting for us.