By gerard oosterman
Finally, the ideas of returning to Australia had been bedded down in my mind but had to be put into action so we decided to contact Thomas Cook in Rome in order to book return tickets by boat. I think it was going to be the Flotta Lauro’s sister ship, the Roma. We wrote a few times, but true to Italian tradition at the time, our letters were not replied to or acknowledged. By that time summer had reached its peak and August had announced itself. The thunderstorms were increasing in intensity and at time there were electrical black-outs as well. In the meantime the news from Holland included that my ex chess-master uncle had died suddenly, and that my aunt was coming over to stay in our part of Italy together with a far away distant niece or cousin. They had managed to get accommodation in a large farm house or ‘gasthof’ within walking distance of our chalet.
It seems that for poor uncle, neither the chilli sambal nor the speculaas biscuit were of any help, death stalked him mercilessly, without anyone even having the generosity of giving a dying man a chess game win. I wondered if he kept blaming his ex-wife until the very end.
One afternoon, we decided to follow Frau Johnson’s advice and look for mushrooms. The mushroom season apparently had arrived and none too soon. The pancakes cooked on lard with the occasional diversion into boiled potatoes with some mince patties was getting to me. Bernard was somewhat indifferent towards mushrooms. I loved them, especially the kind that was growing wild in that part of the mountains. They were Funghi Canterelli; you know those mushrooms, they were yellow ochre coloured and had serrated edges with a rather tall and thin stem. With garlic and Italian tomatoes they would be perfect at any time.
We climbed up the mountain behind the chalet and soon found buckets of them growing like confetti underneath the umbrella of birch and pine trees. It was a hike up that was tiring and exhilarating at the same time. We came home just before another thunder storm. The flies were in frenzy, banging head long into the glass windows and spinning wildly on the floor in their suicidal death throes. The storm was the most spectacular I had ever experienced. Wild flashings of lightning below us but above the now obscured village with the mountains rumbling in support of nature’s whims. Next day we ate some of the mushrooms in a spicy soup and I decided to dry the rest on newspapers outside in the sun.