Of Ships That Pass By & Amore Segreto

“Ships that pass in the night, and speak each other in passing, Only a signal shown and a distant voice in the darkness; So on the ocean of life, we pass and speak one another, Only a look and a voice, then darkness again and a silence.”

From ‘The Tales of Wayside Inn’ by Henry Longfellow

Many have over the years much utilised Longfellow’s phrase of ‘Ships that pass in the night’ to best describe their serendipitous and ephemeral encounters with people. And often, fleeting though they might be, such forms of rendezvous turn out to be the most enriching. Once whilst waiting in the stand by line for the animated movie ‘Loving Vincent’, I ended up in a conversation with an amateur theatre actor who possibly knew everything about the Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh! Discussing on all the aspects about the painter, it was amazing to listen to how he had been influenced by Van Gogh since childhood and had poured over every piece of his writing and work. It is not everyday that you come across people with such passion and zeal; and although I don’t remember his name anymore and possibly won’t recognise him if he passes me by, that day while waiting we both were the ships and our signal was Van Gogh. Perhaps what makes these instances remarkable and memorable is that at that particular moment they make sense. Any other scenario or day, and such a connection will fail to transpire. It is as if some elements serendipitously fall into place making way for two or more people to gravitate towards each other.

And perhaps it was those elements at play again last weekend when my friend and I, while browsing several bookshops decided to head to a renowned Italian cafe in Melbourne’s city centre. The two of us had been chatting about pretending to be in some place in Europe and drinking and parlaying the way they do there. So when the famous Pellegrini’s fell on our path, we swiftly made our way in and ordered coffees and dessert. The place has been preserved like the old times, with plain white cutlery and offering the usual suspects to eat like rissotto, gnocchi and ravioli. But one sip of their coffee and my heart was won since it was the best coffee I had in Melbourne! Its fresh taste and the froth screamed for my love! And as I exclaimed ‘Molto bene’ (very good in Italian), the man who ran the place came over to us and started chatting with us.

For a while we had been observing that he was saying hello to whoever who came in and also waved them goodbye when they were done. We asked him about the history of this place and soon enough, in his hearty Italian fashion, he had whipped us a sorbet and told us how he arrived in Melbourne and the part of Italy he was originally from. Despite his age his energy was infectious, and judging from the images of his younger self at the place, we could figure at one point he must have had ladies drooling over him as well. We had already stayed longer than we intended to since his smile and conversation kept us intact on our seats. However we sensed that with us he wasn’t yet ready to say goodbye! So in addition to giving us a generous discount on the meal we ate, he invited us for dinner that night so we could have a longer conversation!

Nighthawks by Edward Hopper

Despite a long day, I realised postponing the dinner would have meant forever losing the connection and camaraderie that had developed during our conversation in the morning. And so armed with a card and bouquet of flowers, my friend and I made our way to Pellegrini’s again in the evening, and on seeing us, Sisto’s (the name of the man running the place) eyes immediately lit up. He hugged us and led us to the table. Like a father watching over two daughters, to say he indulged us would be an understatement. When we asked him why he was doing so much for us, he said some connections and friendships are felt from within and difficult to encapsulate in words. And like him, even we struggled to understand how and why we felt so enamoured by him, and wanted to keep talking to him. It was uncanny, our conversations were not very wordy or jargon filled, but our mutual affection was often signaled by way of smiles and hugs.

It is rare to meet people with such magnanimous heart, and genuine affection. He made us feel special, loved and beautiful that day. And in keeping with the times we took a selfie as well! Not only did he whip up a multitude of pastas, but we got to indulge in homemade custard caramel and pure dark chocolate. Such connections, conversations or admiration are often not easily caricatured. From love, to friendships, to religion, to immigrants, for him love and respect triumphed over all. He told us when he looked at both of us he knew it was ‘Amore Segreto’ (secret love in Italian) and said, ‘Nothing is ever scripted, it is always about love!’