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Tonight I had Zach, a friend from home and his fiance Melissa in town on a trip and I met them for drinks in the center. We talked about the last time we saw each other, and it wasn’t “home” but in Ascoli Piceno, where we met. He didn’t study there the same year I did, but the year after. I had a close friend in the program and wanted to visit her. So I maxed out my credit card, booked a flight over spring break, and headed back to my Italy.

It was one night during that trip in my new friend Zach’s apartment that I remember more clearly than the rest. We had come in from the bars at three in the morning. Drunk off a night of wine through dinner and drinks at the bar in Piazza Popolo (vodka Redbull – because it was the easiest thing to order over the roar of the music in the tiny place), we climbed the marble echoing staircase just as I had done hundreds of times the year before. We burst through Zach’s door and all slumped on the one couch in the modern-looking apartment. Bare walls and uncomfortable furniture with right angles. My friend, me, Zach and his friend from Ascoli, Daniele. We had been to the soccer game, then up to Daniele’s house to eat. He kept boar in the backyard. We walked out to see them with flashlights. They skittered away from us in the dark. The night was cool in the early spring. I looked out over Ascoli again for another time, wondering if that would be the last. We’d come back into the city then, drinking at the bars that had special nights for students, and then had finally reached the apartment.

Zach stood up and wandered over to the refrigerator. He pulled out a plastic container, leftover pasta with tomato sauce, and held it over his shoulder to the rest of us.

“Anyone want any?”

We all waved it off, but as he started for the microwave, the Italian in the corner burst forth with a stoic fury I couldn’t imagine from the Daniele I had known for the past 24 hours. He calmly rose from his seat, as if to be crowned, and walked the few steps across the narrow living room/kitchen, raising one arm out, taking the container out Zach’s hands as if it were a bomb. He walked over to the sink, opened the cabinet below, and violently threw the entire thing in the trashcan underneath. He turned around, looked at all of us, pointed a finger and leaned in to make it mean more but was still absolutely straight-faced, “…NO.”

He turned, pointed to Zach, then to the empty space on the couch beside us.

“Sit.”

Then with the elegance I’ve only seen from an Italian in a kitchen, Daniele turned back to the sink and silently started opening cabinets, stockpiling ingredients on the counter, putting water to boil on the stove, grabbing this spice, turning around every so often as the rest of us sat, now four in the morning, and shaking his head. When he found out there weren’t even four forks in the entire apartment, he almost lost it. We sat and watched, a bunch of kids from UNH where our late night food options normally were a slice of pizza that was worth a dollar or a number of fried things in wraps with a lot of cheese and toppings all in white styrofoam containers. Yet here we were in Italy, getting absolutely schooled. In record time, we were delivered plates of steaming hot, perfectly cooked plate of pasta with a tomato sauce you wanted to lick off the plate.

This is pasta.” Daniele motioned rapidly to the plates in front of us as he stood in the center of the room. “That,” he pointed back at the trash can under the sink, “is shit.” We cackled with laughter because, after tasting that meal, we absolutely knew it was true. It is true. It’s always true. He was right. Italians respect food, as they should. As we all should. Most of us are just lazy. And that night I learned that leftover pasta even at 4 AM is NOT OK.

We thanked him profusely through mouthfuls and agreed. He sat happily with his plate. Smiling smugly at all of us. Eight years later, Zach has just seen Daniele last week – he owns a restaurant, of course –  and now tonight Zach was with me and Melissa (and Luna, of course), roaming the center of Florence. talking about that night, and what crazy twists and turns our lives have been through since then. But with Zach, the first memory will always be that night with the 4am plate of pasta.