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Whoever steps into a Ristorante or Trattoria is expected to have at least a full hour's time and a three-course appetite.
—"Eating in Italy: The Sacred Canons of Gastronomy Prevail DespiteInnovations," The New York Times, March 4, 1956






Newlyweds Mr. and Mrs. Michael Messina drove down the Via Cassia from Florence, he at the wheel, she with the map. The car was brand-new, a two-tone Ford Fairlane in canary yellow and white, headlights gazing into the future, the only car of its kind in all of Italy. It was twice the size of the tiny, drab little Italian matchboxes they were passing, like an eagle amidst starlings.

A young girl bicycling home from school along the side of the road, a woman selling wild asparagus at the pullout, a man tying down grapevines who was stretching his back as they sailed past—they could do nothing but stare, mouths agape, then shake their heads. Americani. It was like they came from another planet.

It had been eleven years since the end of war in Europe. Most Italians just wanted to forget and move on. Rebuilding was well under way, yet the scars of war were still evident everywhere, in every sense, if you knew where to look. Milan, for example, had been nearly leveled, but with great practicality the Milanese had bulldozed all of the debris into a neat, enormous pile on the outskirts of the city, covered it with dirt, nicknamed it "the Little Mountain," and built a new city center. Naples distracted itself with Sophia Loren. In central Italy, the scene of much heavy fighting as the Germans reluctantly retreated up the peninsula, many chose to leave rather than rebuild, so that ghostly ruins were being slowly swallowed by nature, half an ivy-covered arch here, a fig tree growing through a cracked tile roof there, stone walls crumbling under the claws of rampant, unruly caper bushes.

"Don't you wish," the wife said, tracing her finger along the edge of the car window, "that when you met someone, you could see the story of his or her life? Fast, like a quick little movie, you know?"

"That sounds awful," said her husband, teasing. "I don't want people to see me picking my nose in fourth grade."

"No," she insisted, "it would be just the most important events, the ones that have shaped who they are. So you could really know them."

"Still not signing up," he said. They passed a dilapidated blue bus, every face inside turned to watch them, wide-eyed.

"Really? Don't you think it would help us all get along better? Understand each other better?"

"Like if I saw Stalin's childhood puppy getting run over I would have liked him better? Don't think so."

She blushed. "I guess you're right."

As the car zoomed down the road, Scottie took it all in, her eyes hungry for a new landscape, a fresh start. She reminded herself that it was better that Michael couldn't see the story of her life. He would never have married her. But she would like to see his—there was so much about him she didn't know. In fact, she really didn't know much about him at all. Where to even begin?

"Did you have your teeth straightened?" she asked.

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