Bequina Cafarella

I had to put my book down. In just a few days, I’ve unconsciously raced to the last few chapters. I’m not mentally prepared for the story to end, and finding my next English book will be impossible on this island.

As I refocused out of my imaginary land-of-the-book, I noticed two twin grandmas frantically galloping along the shore. The wind today was blasphemous against the sun, ripping up stones and tormenting the sea. I thought I was the only one willing to confront the elements out of vain ambition to get a tan. These senior sisters must’ve had the same plan.

The ladies wore matching visors and frilly one-pieces that clutched their plump, wrinkled bodies. They were stumbling along the rocks at an unexpected speed for their age, pointing toward the water while shouting Italian gibberish at each other.

I peered out to see an electric pink sandal being swallowed by the vicious waves of the Tyrrhenian Sea, rapidly descending further and further from the shore. I felt inspired to be these identical grandmas’ foreign hero — savior of the sandal. I didn’t plan on swimming given the conditions, but someone needed to deliver this woman’s naked foot from the wretched, stony coast.

I dove into the waves as they wrapped around my limbs with intentional fury. I could hear the twins cheering me on as I wrestled my way toward the shoe. The salty blue water was thirsty for pink. My superhuman arm stretched to twice its length, reeling in the sandal.

I couldn’t understand what the grandmas were saying as I approached them, holding out their rescued shoe. I’m sure they wished their savior was a handsome, bronzed, Italian man with throbbing muscles both exposed and covered by a tiny speedo. Instead, I’m a lean, lanky, American girl, rambling incomprehensible words at them, while ignoring whatever message they were attempting to communicate. As I handed over their precious pink sandal, I heard grazie mixed in with some other sounds. Prego, I replied, with a big, idiotic, American grin.

I can’t help but suspect my glorious benevolence is a consequence of karma; karma in reverse. Just last night, I was adopted into the Cafarella family. No legal documents were involved, but, I believe adoption is simply a matter of consent when you’re over the age of 18.

I arrived in Lipari, one of the Aeolian Islands off the coast of Sicily, over a week ago now. It’s baffled my mind how socially fortunate I’ve been so far. I booked an airbnb, at the peak of this volcanic island, with no wifi, during off-season for tourism. This had potential to be almost painfully isolating. Instead, by day one, I was dining with the three Cafarella brothers, exchanging travel tales and learning proper dinner etiquette (don’t dip your bread in the pasta sauce, it’s insulting).

The Cafarellas own the villa I booked, and their home was adjacent to mine. Claudio, Paulo, Pippo, and their black lab, Sam, almost instantaneously became kindred friends. I ate most lunches and dinners with the family, I took day trips with Claudio and Paulo to beaches, I helped out with small tasks like dishes and folding laundry. I was the temporary little sister these brothers never had.

Sunset and beers with Claudio.

They called me Bequina, meaning Little Becca. Claudio told me that he and his brothers would often chat about my unofficial placement within the family, as it became obvious I had transcended galaxies beyond guest-status. But like most Italian families, any decision needs the approval and blessing of Mamma.

The weekend Mamma visited was my last weekend in Pianoconte. I met her on a Friday morning, while she was already diligently prepping dinner. She rolled shiny, raw beef into a mix of oiled breadcrumbs, butter, and every kind of mouth-watering seasoning. We could barely communicate since she spoke no English, but Claudio would translate my chatter into eloquent Italian sentences. Claudio told me she was happy to meet me, and extended her invitation to join their feast later that evening.

I would call this a feast, but any real Sicilian would call it dinner.

The Italians eat late. I’ve learned to adapt to the 10pm dinners, but that night I felt particularly impatient. The nearly 12-hour anticipation for this meal had me fantasizing. This was bound to be the best dinner of my 26 years of life; an induction into a cult of culinary perfection, an indulgence endowed without consequence only to God-fearing, Sicilian Catholics. Mamma Cafarella granted me permission to devour divinity incarnated on a plate. I was starving and eager, anxiously awaiting my entry into heaven.

Hours later, it was finally time, the first course was served. We started off with an olive salad, a cheese plate, bruschetta, immediately followed by the breaded beef dish Mamma was preparing earlier that morning.

This was only the appetizer. The main course was a fantastic, bloody slab of steak. The raw flesh soaked deep into the formerly traumatized crevices of my soul. I’m still recovering from two and a half years of self-induced suffering as a vegetarian. I was anemic and perpetually hungry. After this meal alone, I’m an iron-efficient, nutritious goddess, full enough to fast for the rest of my stay in Italy.

The entire dining experience felt like a scene out of some authentic Italian film without subtitles. I tried desperately to grasp the conversations around me, but ultimately failed to make out the translation of words beyond capisce, buona, vino, and mangiare. Mamma mia.

After the five of us polished off three bottles of wine, Claudio finally filled me in on the family discussion, telling me Mamma accepts the adoption proposal. I’m only 25% Italian, with a pathetic vocabulary of about nine words, but Mamma concluded my charm made up for my cultural limitations. The family initiation would be complete after passing around a joint. I can be a Cafarella — a granddaughter, daughter, sister, one or all of the above.

Family portrait :)

The following day, while I sunbathed on Canneto beach, recovering from my light hangover, it was my turn to give back. The universe, or gods, or God, blessed me with a family after months of being away from my own. Every Italian grandma deserves my gratitude. The least I could do was rescue a shoe, a small act of kindness that kept a vulnerable, grandma-foot from being shredded by stones. I’m not just an American, I’m a proud citizen of the world, a Liebert and a Cafarella.