The trattoria was a small family affair, tucked away in the shade of a narrow lane in the old Jewish quarter. I sat down at a table on the pavement and ordered pasta with clams. The padrone brought me a carafe of white wine. For the second course I ordered frittura, little baby octopus fried in batter. Afterwards he brought me a lemon sorbet, followed by coffee and a grappa.
“Inglese,” he said.
I continued to nod, as he began to chat away. In the end he brought out a pack of cards. It was a Neapolitan deck.
“Giochi?” he said. “Do you play?”
He began to explain the rules, spreading out the denari, the money cards before me.
“These,” he said, “are the jollies. The jokers in the pack.”
I nodded; he dealt two hands.
The padrone kept dealing and I kept drinking his grappa and nodding.After a while, it was clear I would keep losing my jollies. I asked the padrone for the bill.
The padrone stuck up his fingers.
One was missing.
“Nove,” I said. “Nine.”
“Well, he said, “you can’t play cards. At least, you know how to count.”
It was four o’clock in the afternoon. I had lost track of time.
If that episode sticks in my mind, I like to think of it as the first of those half days stretching into the summer nights where the business of the day was forgotten in a round of carnival pleasures.