Marsha Mehran Chats with Mrs. Estelle Delmonico
Marsha Mehran spent a leisurely afternoon in Estelle Delmonico’s periwinkle- and daffodil-colored kitchen. A grand ﬁre snapped in the stone hearth while through the window Croagh Patrick could be seen shrouded in its usual misty, incandescent veil. Over a pot of bergamot tea and bowls of minestrone soup–sided by warm barbari bread and feta cheese with mint–a lively chat ensued....
Marsha Mehran: I have to say, Mrs. Delmonico, this is the best bowl of minestrone I have ever had. Is that dill powder you’ve got in there, or is it fennel? I can’t decide.
Estelle Delmonico: Call me Estelle, darling. And thank you. I do think my minestrone is special, yes.
MM: And please, call me Marsha. So . . . Estelle. The powder, your secret ingredient? I don’t think it’s angelica. It’s dill, isn’t it?
ED: (laughs) Ah! That I cannot tell. Only one person in this world will get that knowledge.
MM: Marjan Aminpour.
ED: Yes, that is right. Marjan will get my minestrone recipe and all its special secrets. But that is only after I am lying beside my Luigi again.
MM: I can understand why you decided to give Marjan the recipe. She’s very talented.
ED: Talented, beautiful, and so strong. My goodness. She doesn’t even know how strong she is.
MM: Why do you say that?
ED: Well, because she is only beginning to see her strength, her power. All the hard times are for her in the past. Now that she is on good ground, terra ﬁrma, she is ready to blossom.
MM: Like your rosebush.
ED: (smiles) Yes, that is exactly right. Like my Luigi’s rosebush.
MM: Estelle, I’d like to ask you about Teresa.
ED: Another young woman who is beginning to see her strength.
MM: I think some readers were surprised by your response. To her situation, I mean. Being Catholic, and all.
ED: I am sorry, darling. I don’t understand what your question is. What does it mean “being Catholic”?
MM: Well... that is a good question. (Blushes.) I guess what I mean is that there are strict rules about what Teresa was trying to do. Rules that are there to protect the sanctity of life. Some might see your helping her as going against all that.
ED: But of course that is what I should do. To help. What is this life we have if we do not see the pain in others, that we do not walk with their pain and open the heart to help them? We must always open the heart to love, yes? That is the only way to the center. To everything that is good in this world.
MM: And to God.
ED: ( pats Marsha on the arm) Exactly, sweetheart.
MM: It’s been nearly two weeks since Teresa has left your house. Do you plan on visiting her anytime soon?
ED: Of course! Dara O’Cleirigh, he is the postal man. He is taking me to Inishrose in two days. That is when the showers stop again. I will have tea with Teresa and her papa. He is very special, too. Like his daughter.
MM: Yes, I hear you got along really well with Sean McNully.
ED: (giggles) Only friends, Marsha. Only friends. My heart belongs to one man only.
MM: Have you given any more thought to the healing you received from Teresa? Have you spoken to her about it at all?
ED: No. And maybe I will not. I think it is very good to have mystery for my life. Some things–who can say why some things happen, yes? There is so much magic in this world, so much wonderful signs. They show us that we are part of–how do you say–La Divina.
MM: The Divine.
ED: Exactly. We are all part of the Divine.
MM: And the Divine is part of us.
ED: Brava, Marsha!
MM: It was divine inspiration to have Fiﬁ O’Shea sit in for Teresa. I would have loved to be there to see the faces on those guards. It would have been priceless.
ED: Ah, but you were there, Marsha. We all were.
MM: (smiles) I suppose you are right, Estelle.
ED: (claps her hands) Okay! Now I ask you something.
MM: Of course. Go right ahead.
ED: I know two, three things about you. I know you love to write, but also that you love to cook.
MM: Yes, that’s right. Some of my earliest memories have to do with being in a kitchen, watching my parents prepare these intricate, beautifully perfumed dishes for the café they owned in Argentina. I think I associated love with food. From that early on.
ED: What good luck! What an education to get when so young. I am also ﬁlled with memories of my mama and my grandmama Luciana in the kitchen, in Napoli. Always arguing but loving each other, sharing this recipe and that. I remember when they made cacciucco, always on my birthdays, but on Fridays also. Ah, cacciucco! Soft, buttery ﬁsh with mussels, chilies, and red wine. The smell of the ocean and the smell of the land, together in one pot.
MM: Stop, Estelle. I am about to faint, it sounds so fantastic.
ED: (laughs) I know what you mean, darling. But that is what cooking does, yes? Makes us love life. Makes us build a home.
MM: Well, that’s exactly right. Wherever my parents went, whether it was Buenos Aires, Miami, or Australia, the one thing that really kept us aﬂoat, that reminded them of the good days in Iran, was food. No matter where we were, if we could return to the sofreh, we were going to be okay. I think that is why I knew Marjan and the girls would be just ﬁne here in this little Irish village. I wasn’t worried about them at all.
ED: I am so glad you brought them here. This is their home now. I tell you something also, Marsha: even if I have this terrible arthritis, even if it rains every day for the rest of my life, I will never leave Ballinacroagh. You know why? Because this is where I let my love grow. Where Luigi and I became one. Where I became a woman.
MM: That is beautiful, Estelle.
ED: Thank you, darling. It is from my heart. (Sighs contentedly, then looks up suddenly with a spark in her eyes.) Okay! (Gets slowly up from the kitchen table.) It is time!
MM: What’s happening?
ED: You see, over there at the mountain. Ten more minutes and another rain will come. Let’s go! Andiamo!
MM: But where are we going?
ED: To the center, Marsha. To my garden, where you will see the peace I am saying to you. To the Divine. We will walk and walk until we feel it shine in us. Come!
MM: (drains her tea and gets up, smiling) Can’t wait, Estelle. Thought you would never ask.