The dark water lapped against the rocks where Mom and I sat. Away from the piazza and the glowing yellow lampposts, our little perch was the color of ebony. The main bustle – the strolling couples, the teenagers leaning against their Vespas, the occasional stray mutt – they all kept close to the piazza where the strains of old Neapolitan crooners drifted out from the cafes that hugged the square. But Mom and I were sitting away from the crowd, in the dark, atop lichen mottled rocks that formed the jetty jutting out into Casamicciola harbor. Casamicciola is a town in Ischia, the Italian island where my father grew up. I was five years old and this was already my second trip to visit my paternal grandparents and aunt in Italy.
“Hungry?” Mom said.
Nodding vigorously, I watched as she opened the brown paper that she rested on her knees. Maybe Styrofoam hadn’t been invented yet. If it had, it hadn’t yet found its way to this small Mediterranean island. As she pulled back the paper, my stomach grumbled. In the dark, I could not see the pizza, so much as smell it. The slightly charred crust, sweet tomatoes and aromatic basil tickled my nose. Without a fork and knife, Mom tore pieces of the pizza into bits my small hands could handle. The reason we were eating our pizza with our hands and not at a table attended by white-jacketed waiters was because it cost more to sit in a café. But that was exactly what made the moment so extraordinary. As I devoured my pizza and bits of tomato stuck to my cheek, I loved sitting in the dark with Mom, watching the parade of people in the piazza. Though I didn’t know Italian, I loved the gesturing hands, the wild expressions, the girls who tossed their hair as they preened for attention from the men and young boys. It was a great and lively circus, much better than that old Ringling Brother’s stuff my parents had brought me to the year before. While many of my friends were back home, spending their summers at Girl Scout camp or attending July 4th parades, even at such a young age, I recognized that I was privy to something unique.