Five years ago, I met my husband under a blood red moon while on a classic car rally in Sicily. We were both there as guests of people who owned vintage cars. Neither of us really fit in. We were the strangers who came not knowing anyone other than the friends who invited us. Still, what an adventure.
We spent a week together with 50 or so other people, toodling around hill towns and rugged beaches, meeting up only for meals and parties. Not until the last day did we actually talk to each other.
At Catania Airport, or Aeroporto I should say, Henry and I had our first proper conversation. The ice breaker was of a sartorial nature. He was wearing a stripy blue jacket with white chinos as was I. His was paired with brown suede loafers and mine with red patent leather ballet slippers that criss-crossed and buckled around my tan ankles. We were like a his and hers page in a J. Crew catalogue.
It was there at the curb while checking luggage that Henry and I realized we had a really good rapport. Sadly, he lived in London and I in L.A. so we both quit flirting parce que what was the point and said our good-byes. Neither of us thought we’d ever see the other again. But life is funny and we knew nothing of what the future held.
When I got back to Los Angeles the customs officer asked if I had anything to declare. “Boredom, vice, and poverty,” I said. I thought I was still nursing a grand-daddy of a hangover I felt so bad. My sickness turned out to be food poisoning from something I ate on the plane. Once at home, I crawled into bed and stayed there for a week.
My friend who invited me on the trip forwarded me an email. It was a humorous account of the first breakfast in Sicily that Henry had written for the London Review of Breakfasts. I enjoyed it so much and immediately wrote to him. He responded by telling me how pleased he was I was the first person from the rally to comment on it.
From that day forward we were in correspondence. Daily. I sent him parcels full of candy, Nat Sherman cigarettes, and CDs. He sent me books with endearing inscriptions inside. The day Geoff Dyer’s “Jeff in Venice Death in Varanasi” arrived along with some Owl and the Pussycat vanilla biscuits, I knew I had to go to him.
I flew to London for a ten day visit and there at Heathrow we had our first kiss. I remember holding his hand the whole of our train ride to Paddington and then the entire cab ride to Bethnal Green. I remember looking at him and hearing Lord Tanamo’s “I’m in the Mood for Love” on a loop in my head. Life was full of magic.
Henry took me for lunch at one of his favorite restaurants, 32 Great Queen Street, where we’d later have a dinner party belatedly celebrating our marriage the following spring. I remember potted shrimp and smoked mackerel and Bandol rosé, but what I remember most about that meal came after we left the restaurant.
As we walked outside and down the street all wrapped up in each other like new lovers do, an old man in a wheel chair outside a pub raised a tremulous arm and pointed to us. “Love,” he said. And it was. So novelistically so.
At the end of those ten days, I never went home. Instead, Henry and I survived a car crash in the South of France and he asked me to marry him on the Eurostar back to London. A few days later he presented me with a diamond ring so I wouldn’t doubt the sincerity of his proposal. The rest is history.
Tomorrow, we’ll be back in Sicily for the first time in five years. Just the two of us. No classic cars, no naughty toddler, no distractions. Just the owl and the pussycat and a pea green boat. Maybe a little Nino Rota on the iPod to keep us company. And why not? This is the sweet life. Sweet and refreshing as any good frappato.
When I return I’ll inundate you with pictures of rugged coastlines and cannoli. Until then, I’ll leave you with this. My recipe for Swarthy Sicilian Chicken for Magical Realists. Life is magical. Sometimes it just takes a blood red moon and a distance of 5,437 miles to illuminate it for you.