Our summer trip to Italy….When my brothers and I were little, every three years we would go to our home town in Italy called Monte Di Proscida, to visit my father’s mother and his sisters. Why every three years, because my two uncles living here in the States and my father would take turns going to Italy, so that every summer, my grandmother would have one of his sons with her. Our trips to Italy were always an event. We would pack candy and chocolate to hand out to our cousins and relatives. I can remember my suitcase smelling of Fruit Stripe gum.
I can remember one trip in particular. It was 1972 and my father had decided that he was going to retire to Italy that year, to take care of his mother. I was four years old at the time and a very hyper kid and was very excited to start such an adventure. In my mind, I imagined a fantasy land with gladiators and chariots. Since I was only a year old on our prior trip I didn’t remember anything, so this was all new to me. In June of that year, right after school let out, we packed all our belongings and boarded the SS Michaelangelo in New York City, for a 9 day trip across the Atlantic to Rome. As I said, I was a very rambunctious boy and was a handful for my mother. To complicate matters, my mother was 5 months pregnant with my brother Vinny and couldn’t chase me. She was also unhappy, because she wanted to her baby to be born in the States and wanted to postpone the trip till after the birth. So she was uncomfortable and unhappy. So controlling me was left up to my father and since he was also trying to make my mother happy, I became his project.
You know it’s funny how as adults, when left with a person of authority, we just do what we are told and usually things are run very quiet and smooth. You are told what to do, you do it, and everyone is happy. Try doing that with a four year with more energy than the Energizer Bunny, who runs around like chicken with his hair on fire. Four year olds question everything and don’t take kindly to being told what they can’t do. It was the perfect storm brewing and my father had no idea what was coming.
Needless to say, the boat trip did not fit my personality very well. It was a long, and sometimes boring trip. Ships in 1972 were a lot different than ships today. There was no water slide or movie theater. There weren’t really any children’s activities. In an effort to keep me busy, my father would drop me at the “evil” day care center every morning. So, knowing my mother’s condition, and the fact that my older brothers were sea sick, I was left with just one obstacle for freedom, my father.
The first day at day care, I was fine. It was new and I really wasn’t too bored. However, there were no kids my age. The second was different. After about an hour, I had to get out of there. I began to plot my escape. The next day, day 3, my father dropped me off. It was time to make my move. As soon as he rounded the corner, out I went. I was so fast that no one could catch me. I became quite adept at getting free. If you ever saw those old WW2 movies where the prisoners of war would escape, that was me. I would go to the bathroom and never come back. Or I would say I see my father in the door window and dart out the door when their guard was down. I have to say that toward the end of the trip, they didn’t quite mind when I escaped. After every escape, my father would run around the ship looking for me. Every day, I would hear my name over the loud speakers in an effort to stop me. I can remember running around the ship darting into closed restaurants and other people’s rooms. Riding the elevators up and down. I can also remember being cornered and slipping through their arms when they lunged for me and missed. It was the Italian version of “Home Alone” mixed with “the Great Escape”. Every afternoon, I would finally be caught and brought back to the evil day care center where I would persecute my captors. I can still picture those poor room mothers. For some reason, their hair was always messed up and they always looked tired.
Every morning, my father would ask me if I planned on escaping. I would always answer no. He would then ask me to be good. And I would always answer that I would. I can honestly say I remember feeling that I would be good to make my father happy. However, once he left, I couldn’t help myself. I had to run.
Every evening, after another long day of escaping and running, we would get dressed up for dinner with a jacket and tie. I have a picture of all of us at a table with the captain. My brothers are all sitting there nicely. I have this wild look in my eyes and I can see that my feet are dangling off the chair and kicking. My father had his arm around me and the captain is looking right at me. I always sat next to my father so he could try to control me. My poor parents. They had no idea what to do with me.
At dinner, Mom would always order the equivalent of the kids meal for me. It almost always was a hamburger with fries. I remember one time my father order Filet of Sole Frances. It was one of those father and son moments. I remember him taking a bite then feeding me a bite. Back and forth we went with the whole dinner. He had his arm around me and I was almost sitting on his lap. I remember I was so close to him, I could smell his Old Spice after shave. He had on a black suit, white shirt and a red tie. His hair was thinning but he had a little loop of hair on the top of his head. He had a big smile on his face. Mom had a big smile also as she watched Pop and I share dinner. It was probably the nicest and only nice moment of our trip across the Atlantic.
The next day, I went back to plotting my next escape and persecuting my captors. When we finally arrived in Rome, everyone knew who Luigi Coppola was and all were happy to see us disembark. So while you laugh at the stories of my memories with my father and as you reminisce about your own, enjoy this recipe of Filet of Sole Francese. Buon Appetito!
Filet of Sole Frances
For the Fish:
4 6 – 8 ounce filets of Sole or Flounder
pinch pepper 4 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup flour for dredging
4 eggs, beaten
For the Lemon Butter Sauce:
1 teaspoon garlic, minced
1 teaspoon shallots, minced
2 lemons, juiced
4 – 6 ounces white wine
3 ounces chilled sweet butter in cubes
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped