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The Magic Mushroom
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Chapter 2 - Mushrooms in the parks of Quebec

 
The restaurant was virtually empty and the only sign of business was only one table with an older man. He was well dressed in a pure white suite and a deep black trench coat. He kept his trench coat on although the restaurant was warm.

Vittorio approached his table and he could feel the temperature dropping as he got closer and closer to the table.

He approached to take his order. Vittorio had goose bumps on his skin. He pulled out his pad and pen with difficulty for his hands were cold. The man's breathing was like a fog that could be seen brushing the flowers on the table and moving away like a cloud in a windy sky.

"Your menu Sir. The special of the day is written on the black board. Would you like something to drink," he asked in a shaky voice.

"Yes. I will have a Manhatan on the rocks, just three rocks. And bring me an ashtray."

"You can't smoke here Sir. It's a city law here in Ottawa."

"Just get me the Manhatan boy. Oh, and tell Marisia Borteli that I would like an ashtray."

"And may I tell her who you are?"

"Vagabondo."

"Very well Sir," said Vittorio as he moved away from the coldness surrounding the Vagabondo's table.

He went to the bar and prepared the man's drink. Then he went to the kitchen to find his boss.

"Sinora Borteli," he called.

"Here. At the back Vittorio."

She was at the far back on the pasta table spreading the magic dough that made the tender noodles the restaurant was famous for.

She rolled it out quickly and fast working it wile it was still warm.

Then she would pass it through an old fashioned manual machine. Dough in one side; Fettuccini out the other. She would wind the lever with one hand and collect the golden noodles with the other. It would be sprinkled of flower and placed in a roll like a birds nest ready for eggs.

"There is costumer here that wants and ashtray to smoke."

"Well tell him he can't smoke here. He can be fined and so will I. Who does he think he is?"

"He said to tell you Vagabondo."

His boss stopped winding the pasta machine. She just stared at it. On one side a big chunk of dough and the other fettuccini no longer than four inches awaiting its tail to exit.

"Give him an ashtray," she finally said in a depressive tone of voice.

"Are you alright Sinora Borteli?"

"Yes. Now go do your work and let me do mine," she replied angry. Vittorio just froze. He had never seen his boss angry.

"Vittorio. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to scream at you. Just give the man his ashtray, and don't ask me why."

Vittorio turned and made his way out without saying another word. Just as he was leaving the kitchen he heard her mumble some words.

"Mio Dio qui vita dura."

He grabbed an ashtray from under the bar and made his way to the cold table. On his tray he carried a Manhatan in an old fashion glass.

"There you go Sinor. Your Manhatan and," he took a deep breath so the remaining words would come out. "An ashtray. Have you decide on your meal. Our Polo alla Fiorentina special is delicious. It includes a nice zuppa di spinafro, a coffee and creme allo caramelo for dessert..."

"I asked you for three rocks in my Manhatan. There is only one. You expect me to take your suggestion on the special of the day?"

I'm sorry Sir. I'll put two more in for you," he said as he stretched to grab the glass from the table. The man lifted one hand in a gesture for Vittorio not to take the glass away, wile holding the glass with his other hand in a further unreachable position.

"Never mind. It's too late now. I'll have the Fettuccini Pomodoro, but bring me an Antipasto to start," he ordered upset.

"May I suggest a glass of our house red wine for your meal Sir?"

No, I will have a bottle of the red Amaroni classico. And you can bring me another Manhatan with three rocks this time," he demanded in a deep dark voice as he pulled out a cigar from the inside pocket of his trench coat.

"Yes Sinor. Allow me to light your cigar," he pulled out the matches out of his vest that he usually uses to light the candles.

"I can light my own cigar," and he flicked away at his old fashion lighter. Vittorio could not help but to observe. Five strokes it took to finally light up.

"What are you waiting for? I'm hungry. Now get going."

"Excuse me Sinor. Just that I found your light very interesting."

"I've had this lighter since the Second World War and it never failed me. Contrary to you who forgets the number of ice cubes in costumers drinks."

"I'm sorry Sinor. It shall not happen again. Excuse me." He left to the bar. Three rocks into another old fashion to cool off the equal quantities of vermouth and rye. Then to the kitchen to place the order.

"One Antipasto and a Fettuccini Pomodoro," he called out his order.

"Don't call out so loud. I have a headache," said his boss

"Sinora Borteli, what's going on? Who is the Vagabondo?"

"He is my creditor. He was very generous at the beginning and seemed like an angel from heaven when I bought this place from him. The price was good, but the bank didn't finance me. He offered to finance me just with five percent down. When I was late one day with my first payment I realised he was lo ango di la morti. He came in, ordered a Manhatan with two rocks and charged me double the interest."

"He asked me for a Manhatan with three rocks and he got disappointed because I only put one."

"He asked for three rocks in his Manhatan?"

"Yes, You seem surprised?"

"I'm three days late on the loan payment and I'm worried not surprised. He's going to charge me triple the interest and he doesn't intend to pay for the meal either."

"Is that how he works? Hum. We'll see about that.!"

"Don't do anything stupid Vittorio. This is my problem."

"Your an honest Italian, I'm an honest Italian! We're family."

"Just tell him to come back tomorrow. I will have his money ready."

Vittorio left the kitchen furious at the exploitation. This man cannot be Italian," he said on his way out.

"Your drink Sir. You asked for me to put three rocks and I did. Now," started Vittorio as he introduced his hand in the drink pulling out two ice cubes. "It has just one. What you think of that?"

"I think you're a very stupid waiter," said the man very relaxed sucking away at his cigar.

"I'm an excellent waiter and not stupid at all in martial arts. Just one little life transformation National Defence has taught me when I did my service. And smoking is bad for you," he grabbed the cigar right off his mouth and submerged it in the Manhatan. "Your old and you should look after your health."

The man sat back calm and relaxed. He pulled out another cigar, but didn't light it.

"What's your name young man?"

"I live right up stairs from the restaurant, and the name is Vittorio Capelo. Don't forget it because it comes from an honest family."

"Oh yes. You're the Capelo boy. Tell me didn't your parents die in a tragic car accident."

"My family are not of your concern, they rest with the angels now."

"Yes. I remember now. You have a temper just like your father. Too bad they didn't have a mortgage and life insurance with the bank on their beautiful home. At least the house would have been paid off. Your grand mother had such a hard time to raise you all alone with out knowing the language of this country. Did you know she use to clean my house. I'm sorry about her death. She was a very attractive woman for her age."

"Listen you, you piece of shit," Vittorio got closer to the man. "Would you like me to light your cigar outside right now?"

"Your very kind," said the Vagabondo as he got up from his chair. "I... I think I my lighter will not let me down."

"Allow me to show you the door."

"Gratcia tanto, but I think I can find my way," he said as he made his way out. Just when he got to the door he turned around and said. "Oh... tell Marisia Borteli that I will be back tomorrow You tell her to have a Manhatan ready for five o'clock with one rock, but it better be the last time."

"No problem. She'll have your drink ready on time..."

The man left and his boss came running out of the kitchen and clanged Vittorio in a very tight hug. Vittorio hugged her back closing his eyes to release the tension.

When he opened his eyes he was holding on tight to his teddy bears and on his bed. The stuffed animals were a gift from his grandmother when his parents died and although he was in his late twenties he always held them dear.

He looked at his alarm clock and it was five to five in the morning.

"Oh my God I'm going to be late for Josseppi," he said as he got up out of his bed.

He quickly got dressed, made his bed with grace as usually. He placed the teddy bears on the bed, to sleep till night, for during the night they stayed awake in protection of evil spirits he thought.

"Grandmother stories" he said out loud as he rushed to the kitchen.

He lived just over the restaurant on a very small one-bedroom apartment. It was crowded with fine Italian antiques his parents and grandmother had collected through the years. His plants did not like the place and some had already died. He always dreamt of having a huge house with plenty of windows and his plants would have all the light and space needed to grow and be happy.

He grabbed a few pieces of fresh fruit and the sandwiches he had made the night before. He threw it all into a cloth bag, his grandmother had left him, together with a bottle of vino.

A horn of a car startled him. Three long beeps followed by two short ones. It was Josseppi.

He rushed out of the door and down the stairs in fear Josseppi would take off with out him. He didn't want to miss an exciting day in the forest in plain fall season, but most of all the opportunity to go mushroom picking with an expert on the subject.

"Bonjourno Josseppi," he said when he got in the car.

"It's three past five. And where is your bucket and knife for the mushroom?"

"I have no bucket. I thought I would put them into yours. And I do have a small knife on my corkscrew. You see, I decided to bring a couple of sandwiches and a bottle of Vino."

"Here, this is a gift for you," Josseppi handed him a small pocket-knife with a marfin exterior.

"Wow... It's beautiful. But I cannot accept it."

"Why not? It's just a small gift to thank you for the good service last night. My Ma was very happy."

"It's that I recently saw a film entitled (un home permit du lion) and it showed images of poachers slaying elephants for their margin and I decided never to touch any product made from it."

"This knife was given to me by my father on the first day we went mushroom picking together. It's an imitation of marfin and just as beautiful. That day my father talked to me about the same dilemma and how we must keep a balance with nature. I like your character. My father would be proud of me to have you as a friend. Last night you said you never had the chance to go mushroom picking with your father..."

"I never had a chance to do many things with my father."

"So accept this knife it has the energy of a father who did many things with his son."

"It's of sentimental value to you. I can not."

"It's only symbolic. The sentimental value is all the moments I spent with him and that is in my heart. Besides I have another he gave to me on our first fishing trip together. Now take the knife we're wasting time and I have mushroom rush in my blood."

"Thank you. Your very kind." Vittorio felt an attachment to this man. Not as strong as for his teddy bears, but strong.

They drove north through the busy urban look of the magnificent Outaouais, in direction to the enchanting forest of the Gatineau Parks of Quebec.

That year the snow had not come yet and although mid October, it was a warm day.

The urban surroundings were now behind then and the environment of Canadian mixed forests in full autumn colours was captivating for the soul and mind.

"In the old days this highway didn't exist," said Josseppi as they rolled north on highway five. "We use to take the old road one o five through Wakefield and it is much nicer."

"Why did you not take it today. We have all day."

"Because this way is faster and I'm in a rush. It rained allot this week and it's perfect for the porcini mushroom. Like me, there are other Italians and even Germans, who know of the secrete spots. You know the old saying; the early bird gets the worm. Today is the first clear day after the rain. It's also a full moon and, to top things up, it's a Saturday. There will be other early birds for sure. We can take the old scenic way on the way back. Maybe we can stop in Wakefield, I have an old friend there that I have been logging to see."

"The colours are spectacular. They're so alive. Who dared to call this season the fall. It should be called Gods Rainbow. True that the leaves fall, but they nurture the earth. The colours are easier to remember than the naked trees. Even children would learn the name of the season allot faster."

"Gods Rainbow is already taken. The Apostle John used it to describe the background of God's Throne."

"Then these trees with these colours should be in heaven. They are divine and peaceful."

"Unfortunately they are not. And like many other forests in the world, mankind will one day cut them down in the endless search for the Creator through evolution and progress."

"Progress is not bad. Look at yourself; your taking the highway just to get to one of your life's little pleasure. Others want huge houses, planes and space discovery."

"True, but we could all do a more balanced life on the way. We are also making some amends, like this Park. It was reserved by the Government as a National Park so the forest can life on and be protected."

"And in return the forest gives us an amazing show of colours for our eyes content."

"And excellent porcini mushrooms for my delicious pasta dishes."

"You like food eh Josseppi?"

"Yes, but I love to cook, especially for others."

"I like to cook, but I love to eat."

"That is because you think with your stomach and not with your soul."

"Think with my soul?"

"You said you find the colours of the God's Rainbow spectacular?"

"Eating is a body's need, but often a pleasure. It's also one of humanity's enemies in terms of obesity. The enchanting colours of these parks are a clue of the beauty of creation, the place where our souls come from. The enjoyment we feel when admiring such celestial colours comes from deep inside our soul. Our body does not understand such things, but our soul has its ways for using our senses to indulge in nostalgia of the heavens."

"Your very poetic Josseppi."

"Doing and things for others with love, like cooking, is just a feeling that brings me great satisfaction. So I have to conclude that this feeling, because it does not bring my body pleasure, must come from my soul. In return it tells my logical side that where ever we come from must be a loving place."

"Wow, you are poetic. You must be a great cook?"

"When I had the restaurant, with my brother Angelo, may God have his soul, the children of our costumers were my best critics. They loved my food, and I tell you, children know when a meal is prepared with love."

"How do you conclude that?"

"Because children are innocent and the closest to purity of all humanity. Usually, they eat only for the need of the body and not for pleasure and because they can sense things adults have long forgotten."

"I know allot of children who eat junk and plenty of sweets."

"Yes, but look at whose cooking for them. Giant capitalistic companies, managed by greed and using powerful tools of advertisement like television, to lure the innocent little ones into excess pleasures of the body. The devils work I tell you. These children are obese, spend most of their time in sick games and missing out on the beauty of God's Rainbow."

"Your right Josseppi. When I have children I'm going to remember your words."

"So you're going to learn how to love cooking?"

"You're very convincing. You make good arguments too. I'm beginning to enjoy mushroom picking with you and we haven't even got there yet."

"We're almost there. We'll try a few spot that is common to allot of people. Than I'll decide if I'm going to shore the secrete spot of my beloved father."

"Comforting to know that I'm always going to have to compete with other early birds in common spots and forced to get early in morning. Thanks allot."

"You haven't agreed if your going to learn how to love cooking and that is the code for me to show you a secrete spot. Besides, if your going to have children you better start exercising the love of getting up early every morning."

"From the perspective of a tired waiter, who worked very late last night, had a scary dream and got up very early this morning, it does not sound poetic at all Josseppi. Besides, a part of me does like cooking and giving. Look, I even prepared us a lunch."

"Continue to practise that feeling and you'll get good at it. Then your ready to have children."

"I'll be ready for children when I find the right woman and some security."

"If your going to continue thinking like that we might as well partner up, set up a restaurant where you continue to look after the dinning room and I do the kitchen."

"You know, that would give me the security I need to have a large family. It's a great idea."

"Yes, and you would have me to put love into the cooking for your children. Maybe I can act as their grandfather too. Better yet, their God father?"

"Sure, if their triplets..."

"No, I'm serious. This way you will never have to teach your soul how to love cooking and you can concentrate on making money."

"Now you're kidding me. Let me tell you something, I feel scared, Okay? When my grandmother died I felt all alone. I was brought up with her. She was my real mother. It took allot of courage to get through school and I'm a little slow on making decisions of the heart."

"I'm sorry. I guess I don't want you to do the same mistakes I have done. You see I never gave my mother children and our family name is going to die. She had a brother and a sister. They were triplets."

"So your family name will live on in your cousins?"

"No it wont," he said with tears in his eyes.

"What do you mean?"

"I don't really want to talk about it... We've arrived. Lets go pick some mushrooms," he said with a mixture of sadness and excitement.

"Your right Josseppi. Lets enjoy this marvellous day and leave the regrets for another time," comforted Vittorio.

They parked the car on the side of the road where another car was also parked and started to walk through a shady area of the Park full of young pine trees mixed with large maples.

"You see there is other people here already," he pointed to a group of five up ahead.

"It's a couple with three children. They're going to miss all the cartoons of Saturday morning TV."

"Kids love forest adventures more than TV if they're given a opportunity. They can also find more mushrooms than an adult because of their sight is closer to ground level. The only problem is in educating them on which ones to pick. Some mushroom is deadly."

"Like this dark cactus looking one?"

"That's a Morchella Conica, they are excellent once cooked, but their best season is the spring," taught Josseppi as he bent over to pick it and clean it. "Mushrooms are surprising. Sometimes they show up in the most unexpected place, but usually they are consistent with climate, foliage and season."

"How about this beautiful conic one? It has such a pure white colour."

"What?" Screamed Josseppi.

"This one," said Vittorio as he pulled out the knife, that Josseppi had given him, getting ready to collect it. He felt a powerful shove leading him a good five yards way from the mushroom.

"Don't ever touch such mortal beauty," argued Josseppi while still pushing and shoving like a football player tackling and pinning Vittorio hard to the moist ground.

"All right casa nova," said Vittorio with difficulty under the massive weight of Josseppi. "It's just a mushroom... Now get off me your heavy like a rock!"

"Josseppi got off, but Vittorio remained on the ground. His thoughts were full of nostalgia from his dream and the rock in the Manhattan.

"Come on," Josseppi stretched his arm in aid. "You're going to learn the firs lesson and the most valuable one about mushrooms." Vittorio accepted the helping hand and got up on his feet ready to listen. "A lesson those three children up ahead already learned from their protective parents," he pointed to the mushroom. "This is called Amanita Virosa. Attractive pure white colour but with an invisible black cape covers it. The French call it le ange de la mort because it is poisonous and deadly."

"You felt like a rock, the mushroom is dressed in white but covered with the enchantment of darkness," mumbled Vittorio.

"What are you mumbling about? I'm sorry if I hurt you, I was only trying to protect you."

"I'm alright. It's just a silly dream I had over night. I dreamt I was serving this Mafioso. He was dressed in a white suite with a black over coat. He asked me for a Manhattan with three rocks and I only gave him one."

"Dreams sometimes are warnings for us to learn something. Maybe tonight you can dream about cooking," joked Josseppi.

"I'm going to dream about a football game where you are smaller than me. Then I'm going to dream that I tackled you hard my friend." They both laughed and proceeded in further under the pines.

"Look, around that small pine," Pointed Josseppi.

"Are they good?"

"They are the best the Parks of Quebec produce."

"What are these called?" Asked Vittorio on his knees helping Josseppi cut and clean the brown reddish looking mushrooms.

"This is the Boletus Edulis, they're known by their French name, CÚpe d'automne, but I called them Porcini."

"Is this what we're looking for?"

"Yes. And don't touch any other kind with out asking me first. Understand!"

"Yes, future God father of my future children." They laughed and picked away at the mushrooms.

Vittorio was having fun. The peace of the forest was great way to relax from the stress of his job.

The humidity of the shaded earth and the scent of the trees were like a natural perfume that only the soul recognises. These scents of creation mixed with the peace of nature in harmony and synergy.

Through the density of the pines mixed in with maples, oaks and birch trees the sun could now be seen slightly and straight over their heads.

"I'm getting hungry Josseppi. What you say we have the sandwiches I have prepared for us with a little vino?"

"Okay, but first we're going to drive to the next spot. Then we can have some vino and relax and pick some more mushrooms."

They made their way back to the car, following little red cloth ribbons others have placed on the trees to lead the way back to the road.

"Next weekend I want you and your mother to come to my apartment for supper. I'm going to cook a homemade fusili primavera just the way my grandmother taught me. Okay?"

"As long as you sautÚ some of these porcini mushrooms to go with it."

"I'm sure my grandmother wouldn't mind if I change the recipe a little. She didn't teach me cooking so I would follow her recipes, but rather so I could look after myself."

"That's because she cared for you."

"True. Vero, vero."

"I'm going to take you to my father secrete spot after all."

"Really? I hope we have better luck there because we didn't find that many mushrooms here."

"If there was some here there will be lots there. It's the best spot, but you have to promise to keep it a secrete just for you and for your family in the future."

"Josseppi, I might not developed the love for cooking yet, but respect was learned long ago."

"You're going to love it there. My father even built a stone bench table in the shade of a gigantic oak tree."

Vittorio started to realize Josseppi spoke often of his father and proudly. "I guess he misses him," thought Vittorio.

His thoughts took another turn and he started remembering his parents.

He was so young that there was not much to remember. Or was it the pain of the little boy inside him that was blocking the pain for they were too painful.

"Here we are," said Josseppi interrupting his thoughts.

They got out of the car. Josseppi carried the bucket, with some porcini's in the bottom, and Vittorio carried the lunch.

They walked on an old road covered with vegetation where the forest was slowly reclaiming its rightful territory.

After a long walk they arrived at a higher point where a huge red oak tree shaded an enormous area.

A gentle wind shook its leaves like caresses of a mother through the hair of a little girl. Every so often a leaf would fall to the ground, as if slowly making the bed to protect its roots from the cold of winter not far from orbit.

"I guess it's important to protect our roots when the heat of life is further away," he thought is analogy to the distance of Earth from the Sun in the winter season.

"I wonder if my roots are Italian or just family?" he questioned himself and wondering what he should keep warm. For Josseppi, keeping warn the memories of his father was a constant thing, but Vittorio was still young and didn't really understand life yet.

"This is it," said Josseppi excited and pointing at a pile of leaves.

"Where is the stone bench table?"

"Here." Josseppi started to remove the leaves to reveal the secrete table. "This Oak tree always hides it in the fall."

The table was the art of mason. Three long stone benches and a large triangle platform in Canadian red granite as the table. On the surface there were three skilled chisel engravings.

One read, vita dura i pura. Another, vita pura i dura and the other dura i pura vita. Vittorio's mind tried to make sense of the engraving. It was the same three words written in three different ways and they all said the same. They were all in reference to life. It didn't matter on which side you sat or how you read it. It all came to the same.

The only striking word was the word pura. Purity can so many times be over dressed in black, he thought as he remembered the white mushroom. The word dura was easier for him to understand. Loosing his family was indeed hard in his life. Such a secrete of life under such soft and colourful leaves...

"It was not hiding it. It was protecting it from the cold of winter soon to come," said Vittorio.

"Look who's being poetic now?" Laughed Josseppi.

"What you want? The forest is transforming and I feel inspired."

"And I feel hungry and curious to what kind of sandwiches you made." Josseppi sat down ready to eat.

"Here help yourself," Vittorio handed over the cloth lunch bag and concentrated on the arte of opening the bottle of wine.

Josseppi introduced his big arm in the bag and brought out the plastic cups, a couple of red mackintosh large apples and the sandwiches. Then he spread the flowery reddish cloth bag to serve as a tablecloth. It spread open covering the engravings partially.

Only the first words of every sentence were visible. Vittorio read from left to right starting on his side and it read vita vita dura. He smiled at how other combinations could me made.

"What are you looking at?" asked Josseppi when he saw Vittorio concentrated on the reading and smiling.

"You placed the bag in a way that the engraving now read another message look. Vita vita dura."

"From where I'm sitting it reads vita dura vita and it is true because you're taking for ever to open that bottle of wine. This is not the restaurant you know?"

"Unwrap your sandwich and eat. I always take my time with a bottle of wine. It's one of my soul's pleasures."

"Oh Santo Diu," said Josseppi when he unwrapped his sandwich. "This is my favourite Vittorio." He took a big bite at the fairly long sandwich. "How did you guess?" he asked with his mouth full and dropping a couple of olives form his bread, only to immediately pick them up and throw them in his mouth.

"I knew you would like it. But it's my favourite too. A toast?" said Vittorio raising his plastic cup full of red wine. "To our first mushroom picking day."

"A saluti i la familia," added Josseppi raising his cup.

There on that stone table they ate, drank and talked, just like Josseppi's father had done now it was Josseppi and Vittorio.

The wind stopped blowing and the leaves of the red oak stopped falling as if a little break to enjoy their lunch as well. The lunch of friendship over a triangle table where a people can be family even if not blood related.

Vittorio felt so close to nature that is was as if it was sitting there with them on the third bench. In the afternoon, the secrete spot revealed a more mushroom.

The sun now rested in mid afternoon position and it was time to head back to cook thanksgiving diner at Ma place.

Vittorio took one final look back at that table before leaving and promised the great red oak that he would be back again.

The wind started to blow gently again and more colourful leaves came down to hide and protect the table of family.

***

by J.C. Rodrigues