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A SECRET DINNER
November 28, 2008
 
My tacchino needed a shave, more than he would have had he been an American bird: he still wore some of his feathers. Parts of them, anyway: stiff white bristles protruded from his legs, his wings, and what had once been his neck. I grabbed a long-nosed lighter, of which we must have a dozen (Africans sell them on the street here, along with little packages of facial tissue; they do this instead of begging) and began to singe the stubble off the bird, filling the kitchen with the unforgettable smell of burning feathers. Light a strand of your own hair sometime, if you are wondering what burning turkey feathers smell like.

The stench of denuding the bird was crowded out of the kitchen soon, though, by other, more wonderful smells: the smell of roasting turkey, the smell of sage and rosemary, butter and olive oil, the rich warm smell of wine when it hits the crisping skin and explodes in a hot aromatic burst of gorgeousness. People came and went all afternoon, bringing pies and apple crisp to be baked in the rectory's two ovens, borrowing the rectory's rolling pins and pie tins. Two more turkeys were roasting over in the church kitchen. At times like these, oven space is everything.

How about the tables? I asked, and learned that Mariana was setting them at that very moment. And the wine? The bread? Candles? All present, and ordered in larger quantities than is usual for the student dinners. We were expecting a crowd.

And we got one. Rank on rank of students and friends of students, friends, and friends of friends. The Florence Dance Center performed before the meal, and brought some friends and no small appetites along. And the band needed to be fed, of course, so that they could cope with the fact that a number of the young American women present liked them so much that they took to screaming after every number. The turkeys were picked clean. We had to improvise more gravy from the boiling pot of turkey stock; it may have been a mite pale, but it tasted great. A Thanksgiving moral here: a good hot gravy covers any shortage of quantity. It covers your failures with a gracious blanket of deliciousness.

There were no leftovers. The evening was a home run. Every dish and every pot in the place was dirty. We began to clean up, reviewing the evening as we worked. This was the last student dinner of the term. The students are going home. There were hugs at the door, promises to return, promises never to forget our time together.

No more dinners? Tom asked plaintively. We've had fun cooking these things, and the student volunteers have become a good team.

This was the last on the schedule until January, I said and he looked a little sad. But you know, not everyone leaves early. Some people aren't leaving until after Christmas. Maybe we should continue. On a smaller scale, you know. Informal. Actually, these dinners are already about as informal as they could possibly be.

Yeah, he said. A secret dinner.

Exactly. A secret dinner. Una cena segreda. And so the news crept out, to students who weren't leaving so soon. A secret dinner will be held this Wednesday at the church. The usual time. Be there. Put it on Facebook. Put it on MySpace. But sshhhh...Not everyone knows you can keep the love going, long after people think it's over. Not everyone will know what you mean. This is special knowledge. No matter how many know about it, each one feels in on something magical.
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The band was Petralana, an Florentine ensemble combining elements of Tuscan folk music, jazz and rock. You can hear them at MySpace.
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