Married Author Almost Falls in Love in a Southern Italian Pizzeria

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People in a pizzaria
Getty ImagesNot the woman described herein.
I'm in southern Italy for a month, doing research for my book. One evening, I walk into a pizzeria intent on ordering in Italian, pretending I'm local. The woman behind the counter -- early 30s, light brown hair pulled back off a friendly, open face-- asks me what I'd like. I scan the glass case and point to a rectangular slice of thick-crusted pizza.

"Quello," I say, that one.

She responds. Uh-oh. I don't catch a word. So I guess that she's asked if I'd like it heated. Intent on staying undercover, I say, Si.

She looks at me as if I've just teased her, and I'm caught off guard by her lovely, playful smile. She slowly repeats what she said with a touch of attitude. In fact, she's not asked me a yes or no question. Instead, she asked, Are you eating here or taking out? My cover is blown. I close my eyes and shake my head; then I smile back.

At that moment, the looks we exchange are what make Italy so universally beloved by travelers. There is a kindness and playfulness in the simplest of encounters. Her eyes say it all. You're not from here. You can't speak Italian. But you're giving it a shot and you've made me laugh. I'm glad you came in. At least, that's what I read in her eyes -- every time she stole a glance at me with another smile.

Now listen, I just talked with my wife long distance and each of my daughters; I'm entirely devoted to them. And yet, I feel like I'm falling in love. Right there in the pizzeria with the woman with the light brown hair.

I want to lean across the counter and speak Italian like Al Pacino in Godfather III –- brooding softly and confidently. I am an American writer here to research the life of a saint, my cousin, of course. Perhaps you've heard of him, San Gaetano Catanoso? We should meet later for a glass of wine. I know a great little place on the Corso.

Naturally, whatever Italian I've learned cannot be recalled. I watch silently as she wraps the pizza in paper, tapes the package closed and asks if I'd like a bag (she holds one up, which is how I know what she said).

Si, I say. At least I remember that.

She smiles one more time, her eyes as lovely as stars, and hands me the package. I resist telling her that I love her. My wife would be proud of me.

Justin Catanoso, the author of My Cousin the Saint, A Story of Love, Miracles, and an Italian Family Reunited (Harper Perennial), is director of journalism at Wake Forest University.
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