Diva Lucrezia Leonana Pepperoni was due at our casa. She wanted to pay Max and me a visit while performing in our city.
I walked onto the terraza and asked Max, “How long since we’ve seen Diva Pepperoni?”
Max centered the vase with pink roses in the middle of the round table set for brunch by the pool. He tilted his head, checking details. “At least five years.” Max sank into a chair like a deflated balloon and sighed. “I fear she’s going to ask me to cater.”
Max sank into a chair like a deflated balloon and sighed. “I fear she’s going to ask me to cater.”
“She hasn’t mentioned it, so don’t worry.”
We heard a knock. “Here we go,” Max said trudging to the front door. I followed. He unlatched the door and there stood Diva Pepperoni with smiles, flowing finery, and sparkling jewelry. She enveloped Max in a hug, kissing him on both cheeks.
“Max, bambino mio,” she cried. “It’s been molti anni!”
“Diva Pepperoni!” he said, taking her hands in his and bowing. “Still lovely as ever.”
She blushed. “Mio amore!”
“Lucky us!” Max looked from me to her. “Here you are, Diva Pepperoni!”
“Noooooooooooo,” she said, wagging her finger at us. “Remember? You agreed to call me Pepper, like my best friends.”
She breezed past him and enveloped me in her big, fleshy arms. “Sylvia, cara!”
Releasing me, she said. “I often think about you both, my buoni amici!”
We led her to the pool. She clasped her hands when she saw the table. “Pink roses! You remembered! My favorites. Che bello!”
Max pulled a chair out for her. He turned to the champagne bucket and lifted a flute. “Veuve Cliquot?”
She unfurled a fan and held up a finger. “I have a performance tonight but one bitty glass wouldn’t hurt.”
I pointed to the chafing dish. “We’re having Apples Sylvia for brunch.”
She closed her eyes and breathed in. “Adoro Apples Sylvia! The crisp apples, sweet pudding, caramelized nuts, whipped cream!” She kissed her fingertips. “Delizioso! But first I need to speak.”
Then she was silent, deep in thought.
I looked at Max. His eyes stared at the ceiling. I remembered Max telling me he could eat a sandwich between her thoughts.
Finally, she exhaled a deep sigh. “I know I’m a tyrant. A diva. An artist. Very demanding of others. I demand the same for myself, to give the best performance.” She turned to Max. “You know this Max. You are a great artist with food.”
I watched Max out of the corner of my eye, not wanting to make contact. Of course, he thought she was demanding.
Max cleared his throat and nodded. “I understand a consummate professional like you, Pepper, demands the best in every situation.”
She twisted her bracelets and played with her rings. She twirled her champagne glass, her cheeks flushed. “I feel a change in my voice, less power, although I’m lucky no one notices.” Her eyes filled with tears. “I’m feeling a weakness in my voice.” She wiped her eyes. “My voice is my treasure. If it goes, I have nothing.” She signed again. “When I was a child, we were poor and ate pizza only with tomatoes and cheese. When Papa had a little money, he would buy pepperoni for the pizza. Pepperoni meant success and money to me. That’s why I took it for my stage name.”
I looked at Max. He seemed as stunned as I. What trust Pepper must have in us to tell us such intimacies!
She continued. “Lately, I’ve been feeling like the uncertain girl I used to be – my confidence faded. What would I do without my voice? When I found out you lived here, I was so happy. I want to confide in you because you are my angels.”
Max’s face reddened. He looked at me sheepishly knowing how he had talked about her.
I felt her despair but the most we could do was listen.
Max said, “You’re still a great talent. Everyone goes through doubt about their abilities, especially as time passes. I feel it, too.”
I took her hand in mine and asked, “Do you still love to sing?”
“It’s my life!”
“Then sing! Be who you are, a great singer!”
She leaned in and gave me a kiss. “I know. I needed to hear this from you and Max.”
She sat back and took a sip of champagne. The air around her seemed lighter.
“Shall we eat the Apples Sylvia?” I asked. “I think we could use some comfort food.”
“Che bello!” she said and chuckled. “I tell you another little secret. I grew up in Brooklyn. I never spoke a word of Italian until I sang in “ ‘Tosca.’ “
We savored the brunch. When she got up to leave she presented us with two tickets. “Front row, center – in the orchestra!”
That night her performance was extraordinary, her confidence back, her voice strong. Three standing ovations proved it. ……………. Brava, Pepper!
“Who’s Afraid of the Big, Bad Wolf?” ….. Aren’t we all? As I wrote this journal entry, I thought of a quotation by Ian Maclaren “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” I also thought that Pepper’s eccentricity of sprinkling Italian words into her vocabulary added flavor to her persona. So what that it wasn’t her native tongue! As my friend Lucia says, “Be whatever you want to be, but for heaven’s sake, darling, don’t be boring!” — Dear Readers – I hope you enjoyed this week’s journal entry and will pass on the good news of www.sylviasaltwater.com to friends, family and anyone who will listen! I thank you in advance!