Strange Rain #2:
Partly Cloudy, With A Chance Of Rats
known for sub-par Parmesan disguised as super-par
brands, and for rats so numerous that they tumble
from roofs. In Chez Borgias, the mood is
reporters talked about our improved cheese-making,
not the rat avalanches, gripes Paolo.
You should tour our cheese factory."
prospect of going outside and being pelted by
rats deters not only me but the other patrons,
who all read their beer residue like tea leaves
and see only lives filled with disappointment and
money, I could start millinery store, sell wide-brimmed
hats," coos Franchesca, a black-shawled, doe-eyed
wisp. "I'm couldhow you saymake
a killing? Then have enough money to open hat
store." Her hand slips under the shawl.
"You rich American?"
outside distracts us. Another tourist has
wandered into the district and is fleeing through
the biting, hairy rain.
As the sound
fades, alderman Lago Musolini stomps in, shaking
off rats. He greets me like a brother: every
reporter who comes to Palermo becomes an instant
friend, and everyone who has an enemy. Brimming
with forced hope he orders two beers and a
sampler plate of Parmesan cheese.
"Last night I had an idea: why not have a
running of the rats, like Pamplona and their
bulls? Exciting and fun, but no morons trampled."
He leans back, smug. A sweating, shirtless man
with large swelling buboes nestled in his armpits
enters. Iago frowns.
shouldn't you be at the tannery?" Marco
shrugs painfully and shambles out.
keep cute little pet rats, right?" Lago
continues. "Why not tell them it's adorable,
like showers of gerbils, or sprinkles of hamsters?"
Our order arrives. Fifteen minutes of silence
ensue as I try to think of something positive to
ask. Finally: "I hear your cheese is getting
to," he sobs. "Our cheese is a national
joke. You know how tourists throw coins into
fountains? Well, they think its funny to
throw our cheese onto roofs. Now we have this rat
problem. All your fault, you damned foreigners."
The door opens
again and a man guides a rennet-filled
wheelbarrow to a booth. He sits, and even before
the beer comes he is talking volubly about his
work, much to the annoyance of everyone,
all day to gather these, what with herders
chasing me with sticks. They say cows go off
giving milk when I'm near, but what can I do?
Yanking rennets is all I know." His coaster
falls to the floor. "Mind getting that?"
When I bend over the room erupts in laughter, as
if Im the butt of some joke.
approaches. "I come to your place for
interview?" I back away, mutter false
promises to Lago, and I am out the door, dodging
I duck into a
cheese shop. Soon I'm back outside, hurling local
cheese to roofs echoing with happy squeaks.