Lunch with Lalla

July 2003

The summer of in Italy was extraordinarily hot, nearly 100 degrees every day in Tuscany. Small villas dot the hills and roads of San Quirico D’Orcia—a warm and dusty town thirty miles south of Siena where families gather in the square for lunch or an after-dinner walk.

I met Lalla early one morning in an attempt to speak with the locals using my very rudimentary Italian skills. They found it endearing, so much that many folks trotted out the few English words they knew from school days long ago.

Lalla was at her window one afternoon preparing lunch for her family. “Can I visit for a while?” I asked. "I’d like to see you making lunch.”

“Of course, okay then, come up,” she answered.

Her house was lit only with a wash of light through a window in her kitchen and dining room. No air conditioning, just a couple of fans. Lalla’s mother was sitting quietly, taken slightly aback by my presence—likely the only time she'd met a traveler from New York City. More curious and wide-eyed were Lalla’s two sons, Gabriele and Allessio. They dutifully brought plates and utensils to the table.

As we began to eat, I fumbled with my camera wondering if I could do anything with the available light. A Nikkor 50mm/1.4 lens with Fuji Provia 100f film were my tools.

Our new bond grew as we exchanged stories of family, food, and illness. Lalla’s husband had died a few years ago at 43 from a heart attack.

The meal was a staple menu of meat, some fried eggplant with lots of oil, bread, and tomatoes that Lalla’s mother cut and salted for me.

Two hours passed easily in the humid house. After dinner, they took me through rooms full of fine art—paintings, inlaid wood pieces, glass and ceramics made by family members. Hidden from the world, it seemed the odd chance for Lalla and her family to revisit these gems through the eyes of a stranger.