9. From the Nursing Home to La Cucina

The weather was miserable today, and I was thankful that the nursing home was located just four blocks from me.

Lana, the leader of the project, was a petite, sprightly woman leaning heavily toward the tail half of middle age. For 17 years, without the convenience of email, she has been coordinating the projects she credits with keeping her marriage alive.

She welcomed me with an exclamation of delight and ushered me into a meditation room, where I was introduced to one man in cufflinks and a loud tie, and a jumble of others more casually dressed. After our group had doubled in size, we rode the elevator to the sixth floor palliative care unit, which looked remarkably cheery thanks to the non-industrial carpeting.

A former ballerina and a celebrated Italian cookbook author were among the patients. Loud Tie and I were assigned the cookbook lady, and after I had introduced myself, he began reading aloud from a Marea review he had happened across last week. I decided to steer the conversation away from the butcher of her native tongue by describing my favorite Italian restaurant in town.

As it turned out, Giulia had long been anxious to try it, but her cancer – what kind, Loud Tie didn’t know – had sapped her energy before she made it to Maialino. The other volunteers nodded along as I described the perfectly chewy paste and divine sauces, but a different look had come into Giulia’s eyes.

I could sympathize with her to some extent. As everyone filed out of the room, I quietly asked her if she would skip dinner next Tuesday so I might bring her some real food. She thanked me, Grazie mille!, and quickly counted ahead on her calendar to confirm.

Now, if only the chef would help me choose the dish.

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