It’s interesting how hunger jogs the memory. I’m hungry now, and thinking of Tina Porcari, not through any cannibalistic intent but because she was one the of the finest and most generous cooks I’ve ever come across. American hospitality is rightly famed, and I was fortunate in that one year to be ‘imbedded’ in America – far less dangerous than the alternative of being ‘imbedded’ in the US Military or any other military force, and far more comfortable.
I want to mention names rather than generalise because it is only through naming that meaningful gratitude is expressed – and there are many names – too many to incorporate in just one post but which may come later.
Tina worked at St Agnes and invited me to her family’s Thanksgiving Dinner. I made my own way to College Point by bus, and with 45 minutes to kill, whetted my appetite in a nearby bar before locating her house and knocking the door.
I thought I had whetted my appetite. I hadn’t. Clearly her family knew something I didn’t. From 3.pm to 8pm we sat in the front room drinking tall glasses of Tom Collins – diluted but in a never ending stream - punctuated by small hot plates of Italian delicacies straight from the kitchen.
In Britain we have a ‘starter’. At Tina’s we had an entire afternoon of ‘starters’ before the main Thanksgiving meal which hit the table at eight. I have never eaten so much in my life – which is saying a lot – and rolled home at about 10 pm, feeling like a force-fed Tweedledum.
Joanne Kirk was the face of St Agnes, usually the first person you saw as you went in, or heard when you phoned. She had a huge smile and a warm, rasping drawl that smothered you in goodwill.
She, too, invited me for dinner, and since it was Saturday May 22nd and my stomach had at last recovered from Tina’s Thanksgiving (never mind Christmas in Seattle) I accepted with alacrity. (alacrity came along for the ride) Her son Leo picked me up outside a bar in Flushing, and there followed another fabulous meal prepared by another wonderful cook. I remember her sister, Mary who had served in Warrington – presumably the giant USAF base at Burtonwood. There she’d known a ‘Father John Daley’ who I’d like to think is the John Daley we know, because from such one-in-fourteen million odds, lottery fortunes are won. Later, Leo took me to a party in the Bronx and at 4 a.m. I ended up in a Diner, with no recollection of how, or why I was there.
On my final weekend in New York - Saturday June 26th - I tried once again to thank Tom Saxon and Bob Lindberg for their immense generosity throughout the year. It was an impulse thing, and met with much the same success as a previous experiment with impulse - the one involving Tripe.
I was in the liquor store facing the Argentinean owner with my fake American persona. I saw three bottles of Greek Retsina on offer, and immediately thoughts of a hot summer’s afternoon and a shady garden, olives, goats cheese and fresh bread came to mind. I didn’t share these thoughts with someone we had just gone to war with, but instead grunted, pointed, and handed over the money with a courteous, American smile.
Tom and Bob joined me later that afternoon. The table was artistically arranged, the sky a faultless blue, but by then I realised why the Retsina was on offer. It tasted like alcoholic aspirin. There was nothing wrong with it. Retsina is supposed to taste like that. It’s marketed as ‘refreshingly astringent’ only I’d never tasted it before, and so learnt, too late, what ‘astringent’ can mean.
Tom raised his glass, and I saw his top lip quiver, his nostrils contract as the Retsina approached. He sipped without comment and made for an olive. Bob’s reaction was slightly different. “Oh…my…God, Michael; what are you trying to do – poison us?” His dry, nasal, New York rasp reverberated through the garden. I imagined windows opening, curious faces, and sighed with relief when Bob made a positive suggestion. ‘Michael, would you be offended if we brought some whisky down?’
I nodded gratefully.