The village of Supino looks as sleepy as the opening shot of an old black and white Fellini film. At the newspaper office, Bianca stumbles into a job meant for someone else and a new advice column, Ask Minerva, is born. Soon everyone is engaged in trying to discover the mystery columnist’s identity as well as the identity of her correspondents.
Seven years have passed since Rosa’s husband’s disappearance and now he’s been declared legally dead. And her secret lover (that all the villagers know about) wants to marry her. Bravo! Except Rosa is uncertain and when she’s uncertain she tends to run away. That’s why she’s taken her son Carlito to Venice for a week. As Rosa’s relationship unravels, Carlito does some unraveling of his own and inches closer to uncovering the mystery of his father’s identity. Back in the village, Rosa’s best friend Assunta is lonely. Perhaps that’s why Assunta falls so quickly and naively for Enzo, the smooth-talking bottle cap salesman.
Every villager, from the hairdresser to the barman and each one in between, has an opinion on Bianca’s column, Ask Minerva! The young hairdresser’s assistant has trouble with her marriage to a man with a wandering eye, not to mention other body parts, and at the Kennedy Bar, the men gather to laugh over the columnist, Ask Minerva’s advice until they begin to realize that it’s their wives who are requesting the advice.
“Warm with wit and shining with insights into the human heart, this sunny tour of lives and loves in the Italian town of Supino is so captivating, you may never want to come home.”
—Barbara Kyle, author of the Thornleigh Saga novels
“The lives of the villagers of Supino intertwine in this delightful book that tickles your sense of nostalgia and humour to a time where everyone knows or thinks they know everything about their neighbours’ business. The village bar is a favourite hangout, filled with the latest news, advice, and opinions of everyone from the coffin maker and the electrician, to the hairdresser and the woman secretly behind the “Ask Minerva!” advice column. Snappy dialogue, spirited characters, and the idyllic Italian setting make this new book by Maria Coletta McLean—like her previous ones: My Father Came From Italy and Summers in Supino—molto simpatico!”
—Rosanna Micelotta Battigelli, award-winning author of La Brigantessa and Pigeon Soup & Other Stories www.rosannabattigelli.com
“Coletta McLean’s story takes place over nine months and she delivers a bundle of joy. Walking the streets of Supino with her characters makes you believe in second chances and long for a time when Facebook was looking out your window and Google searches were love potions and curses from the herb store.”
—Carrie-Ann Smith, Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21
“I LOVE THIS BOOK! The quaint village of Supino, with it’s sienna-coloured hill-side architecture and weekly festivals celebrating the seasons and saints, is one of those picturesque villages in Italy that you drive past on the highway and say, “My God, I’d love to stop and visit a place like that some day.” But of course, Supino is inhabited by people called human beings – and they know all the business of each person in their village. Renowned author Maria Coletta McLean is an expert in the patterns of life in Supino. Beautifully written and full of fascinating personalities, she takes us on a dreamy Italian vacation as we step inside and breathe in the aromas of the local homes, restaurants, bakeries and bars. Between indulgent meals of twirled spaghetti, bites of rosemary chicken and sips of espresso, McLean weaves stories of deceit, affairs, question, triumph, happiness and love. Reading this book, makes me wish that I was Italian. Everyone has secrets. But in Supino, as everywhere… it’s never good to keep secrets – because everyone finds out in the end. Especially if it’s Maria Coletta McLeans’s Supino.”
—John Ota, author of The Kitchen
From Chapter 8: The Intima Shop
As soon as I came into the bar, Pietro dumped out the coffee grounds in anticipation of my usual cappuccino order. “Buongiorno, signorina,” he said.
I said, “I need a double espresso. Double quick.” “Certainly.”
I listened to Pietro as he tapped the coffee firmly but when he stopped, I heard more tapping. I was drumming my fingernails on the counter.
“Just a minute,” Pietro assured me. “I hear Nino and Elena are back from their honeymoon.”
“Yes, Carlito saw them for a few minutes yesterday. We’re going tonight.”
“And Assunta?” he asked. “What about Assunta?”
“I’m sure it’s nothing, Rosa, but I thought I saw Assunta in a restaurant in Ferentino and I thought she saw me too. And left.”
“ — who was she with?”
“No one. I thought we could have lunch together. Assunta was a little lonely when you were in Venezia and Nino was on his honeymoon. I don’t know. She’s excited about the new house but she’s unhappy at the same time. And I thought a table for one would make her even sadder but she just turned and disappeared before I had a chance to …”
“ — Do you know the bottle cap salesman?” I asked.
“I wouldn’t say I know him. He stops in for coffee once in a while, but we’re talking about Assunta, remember?”
“Is he seeing anyone?”
“Who?” asked Pietro.
“The bottle cap salesman.”
“How would I know?”
“Don’t play innocent with me, Pietro. You’d hear just like you hear everything that’s going on in Supino.”
“Okay, I hear he’s romancing the young hairdresser.” “And?”
“ Lots of gifts. Little tokens…”
“ – what else?”
“I hear she’s expecting …”
“ — A baby?”
“An engagement ring.”
“He lives with his mother, Pietro. Do you think he’s the marrying kind?”
“I’m not dating him, Rosa. What’s this got to do with Assunta? Wait, surely she’s not involved with him? He’s a playboy, nothing more – surely you warned her?”
“I was in Venezia, remember? Doesn’t matter anyway. She knows now.” “Did Fortunato warn her?”
“Why would .. how would Fortunato know?”
“I told him.”
“Ahh, now I see. He told Bianca. Of course. Now it makes sense. The note. No signature. She’s a sly one.”
“What are you talking about? Just tell me that Assunta’s okay, not caught in some fairy tale idea that she could tame a playboy and hook a husband.”
“Don’t be silly. We’re talking about Assunta.”
“People can do strange things when the moon is full, when the stars are bright.”
“Seriously, Pietro? You’re telling me this? I’ve got to go. Hope it’s not too late.”
I looked behind the bar at the clock – almost ten o’clock. I walked into Claudio’s office ready to tell him every detail of my evening with Assunta and my restless night and all my thoughts.
“Why don’t we go away this weekend?” I suggested, my hand on his arm. “Just the three of us.
Claudio had been double-checking an invoice, his mind was probably full of numbers, but he looked up. “Scusa? Did you say you’re going away again?” His voice was as cool as the early October morning. “No, amore, I’m asking you if we might all go away together – for the weekend – the three of us — like a family.”
Claudio ran his hand over his freshly shaved chin and then he picked up his pencil and began to tap it on the desktop. “Napoli?” he asked.
He said the word in a way that made me think his next word would be no. And that would be his final word. No. I put away my pride along with all my worries and I put my hand on top of his; interrupted the tapping pattern, repeated my request – “The three of us. Maybe Sorrento?”
Claudio did not say yes. He slid his fingers up the length of the pencil and down again. Rubbed the eraser as if the answer might be found there. Then he asked, “What brought this on?”
“Something Bianca said.”
He dropped the pencil. “Bianca? Did you say Bianca?”
“Il tempo è l’essenza– that’s an American phrase that Bianca told me. It means, ‘Time is of the essence.’ It means I love you and want to marry you, and I want to do it right now. “
I was the first customer at Fortunato’s barbershop the next morning and after he tied the barber’s cloth around my neck, he said, “You’re growing a few nice curls back here, Nino. Sure you want to cut it short? You look younger with your hair a little longer.”
“Cut it the same as usual. I feel young enough.”
As soon as I saw the scissors moving, I spoke to Fortunato in the mirror. “What do you know about this bottle cap salesman who’s been romancing my daughter?”
“Well, well.” Fortunato put down his scissors. “Romancing Assunta? Well, that’s good. Sure, that’s good news, Nino. Have you met him?”
“I’m going to meet him, that’s for sure. Are you planning to cut my hair or just look in the mirror?”
“Scusa, scusa, Nino. I was just so surprised to know that Assunta has an amore.” “Had an amore.”
“I was just saying to Bianca that I thought Assunta was a little lonely, you know, with you on your honeymoon and Rosa away in Venezia and now boom! Here you are and you tell me she has an amore – but it’s over already? “
“It will be over when I see the two-timing snake.”
Fortunato put down the scissors again. “Scusa, Nino. A gigolo? We’ll go together and pay him a visit. Teach him a lesson he’ll never forget. Two-timing a woman like Assunta. I can’t believe it.”
“I was hoping you’d know his name, Fortunato. He sells bottle caps. I’ll ask Pietro down at the bar. I imagine he’ll know and …”
Before I could finish my sentence, Bianca’s answer came clearly down the stairs. “Lorenzo Caprara.
Also known as Enzo.”
I didn’t bother to come down to the barbershop to join in the conversation. Men. Always so full of big talk. Lots of discussion about revenge. They plan big plans, talk big talk, but in the end do nothing. I would act immediately – let Enzo feel the pain of hurting someone as sensitive (and incredibly naïve) as Assunta.
I had already twisted a piece of muslin around some lavender twigs. Wrapped an elastic tightly around one end to make the head. Drew a face and several dark curls on the head. Tied two smaller elastics to make legs. Ripped the muslin near the heart –where the heart would be if the gigolo had one. Searched through my sewing box for my hatpin – the one with the sharp point – circled the muslin until I found the spot that marked a man’s kidneys, and stabbed.
I opened the drawer where I kept the usual odds and ends: rusty razor blades, tins of burrs, bags of poison berries and a rooster’s skull, and tossed the doll in. A few lavender leaves escaped from the wound and scattered.