My secondary heroine from The Serpent and the Pearl proved to be a bit hard to track down . . . in fact, I had to run her to earth in her kitchens, where she’s up to her elbows in a bowl of flour.
Her: Look, I don’t know about this interview business. I have a dinner for twenty to get on the table.
Me: Just a few lines for the readers? Your name, what it is that you do?
Her: My name is Carmelina Mangano, and I’m the best cook in Rome.
Me: You are?
Carmelina: Yes. They say a woman can’t be maestro di cucina, not professionally, but I was hired to cook for the household of Giulia Farnese, the Pope’s mistress. I’ve fed the Pope Himself, and half the illustrious people of Rome–I’ve carved my own place in the world with nothing more than the skill in my hands, and I’m proud of it. Hand me that bowl, will you?
Me: What are you making?
Carmelina: Elderflower fritters. Giulia Farnese eats them by the basketful; she’s a cook’s dream to feed. Loves food, eats everything, pays on time.
Me: Any bad parts about working for the Borgias?
Carmelina: That little bodyguard Cesare Borgia hired for Madonna Giulia. Leonello. He’s a devil.
Me: Because he’s a dwarf?
Carmelina: No, because he’s dangerous. And because he asks too many questions.
Me: Questions about what?
Carmelina (glowers): Hand me the butter, will you? These fritters need to go into the frying pan.
Me: Of course. Now, I have to ask–maybe it’s one of those things you don’t want to talk about, but what is that horrible shriveled up thing on the spice rack?
Carmelina: It’s a holy relic. The hand of my patron saint, the most blessed Santa Marta.
Me: You keep a mummified hand in your kitchen?
Carmelina: Of course. Santa Marta is the patron saint of all cooks. She prepared a meal for Our Lord while Mary and all the apostles were busy sitting at the feet of Christ.
Me: And for that she got made the patron saint of cooks?
Carmelina: Why not? Maybe Our Lord was happy to get a home-cooked meal for once, rather than everybody just looking at Him to provide all the food by transforming loaves and fishes. Besides, somebody had to get dinner going while everybody else sat around worshipping at His feet. I’ll bet not one of those apostles helped Santa Marta with the dishes, either.
Me: You know, I think you’re probably right.
Carmelina: Of course I’m right, I’m the best cook in Rome. Now, not to throw you out of my kitchen, but I’ve got to pay attention while these fritters fry. And if I burn them up because I’m answering questions, I’ll fry up your gizzard in white wine and coriander, and serve that to Madonna Giulia instead.
Me: I’m going, I’m going!