The Cooking Lesson
By Gita Smith
“It’s missing something.”
Marti hands me back the tasting spoon and surveys my spice collection. Deciding it’s thyme and garlic that my spaghetti sauce needs, she chops the ingredients that I’d gathered earlier from the hothouse.
We are sipping Bolla Valpolicella, bumping into each other the way friends do in a galley-sized kitchen and not minding at all. I turn up the flame under a pot of water for the pasta. This is Sunday afternoon at its best, with Corinne Bailey Rae on the stereo and nothing to do but cook comfort food.
“So,” I begin, embarking on the topic we both knew would eventually come up, “have you decided what you want to do about Fabio yet?”
Everyone in Marti’s circle has been following the Fabio chronicles for months, agog. This man, the clear winner of the World-Series-of-Courtship, has been pursuing Marti across two continents. His romantic overtures are swoon-inducing and unparalleled. Every time she hesitates, he ups the ante. He has given her diamond earrings, a Maltese puppy, tickets to see Tosca at La Scala (and the air fare to fly to Milan where he met her at the airport and swept her into a waiting Lamborghini Reventon).
“Why are you so lukewarm?” and “What’s not to love?” her friends keep asking.
Marti gazes at me frankly over the rim of her wineglass.
“I’m being badgered.”
I stir the sauce because I don’t know what to say. Marti pressured is Marti clamped up, shut down, backed off. I check the garlic level with a new tasting spoon. It’s just shy of overwhelming. But the sauce still needs something.
“I’m not badgering you, Hon,” I say.
“Not you. Fabio.”
“Well, all you have to do is say ‘thanks, but no thanks.’ La ringrazio, ma no. And if you want to be a mensch while you’re at it, tell him why.”
Marti’s look is suddenly, deeply sad, and I realize that my favorite drama queen has not told me the whole story.
This man, whom she met by chance at a Jackson Pollack retrospective at the Hirshhorn Museum three months earlier, is cultured, educated, wealthy and head-over-heels in love with her. He calls her every morning from Italy to wish her a wonderful day. When he arrives in the USA on business, he visits her and graciously includes her family and friends in all invitations to dine out or go to the theater. I met him one evening at Cirque de Soleil, and I was charmed by his beautifully accented English.
Our spaghetti carbonara and insalata verde are ready. Marti and I seat ourselves at my dining room table, top off our wine and tuck into the rich, hot food. As if I’d just asked the question, she suddenly starts talking.
“Fabio is everything you see, but also much you don’t see,” she says. “His money isn’t just dirty. It’s filthy dirty. If I married him, I would be living on blood money.”
“Before you say anything, let me show you,” Marti says, pulling up her sleeve to reveal a bracelet.
The quality of the diamonds is, to my naked eye, fantastic. The stones are brilliant, clear and exquisitely cut. I’m fairly sure that a loupe would confirm what I suspect: Fabio has given her the best of the best.
“Sierra Leone diamonds. That’s how he makes his money,” she whispers.
“Oh, no, honey!” is all I can say. “Maybe you’re wrong?”
Marti shakes her head and pulls down her sleeve.
Aside from the deBeers family, Fabio owns the largest diamond share in the world, she says.
“Botswana wouldn’t let him in because that country nationalized its diamond mines and pays the workers fair wages. Fabio backed the corrupt and brutal regime in Sierra Leone in order to control the mines there.”
She shakes her head slowly.
“The worst part of all? He told me the truth about his business because he assumed I would approve. I’ve been wrong to accept anything from him. I’m giving the jewelry back tomorrow when he flies in, and I’m breaking up. I don’t want any part of it.”
We sit quietly for a bit, and I understand that, to her credit, Marti has been grappling with her decision while the rest of us have been fantasizing enviously about her great luck at meeting the man.
I poke at my spaghetti, and when I look up, Marti’s smiling.
“What?” I ask.
“Fabio’s like your cooking,” she says, the old mischief returning to her eyes.
“They both look good and tempting. They’re both hot at first. But when you get down to it, they’re both missing a key ingredient.”