Every so often, I receive a “postcard” from my friend Alan Stretton whom I have known for more than 40 years. This one took me back to Townsville, where we both grew up, and to my holidays on the Island, which is still my very favourite place today. I would like to share his postcard with you.
When Alan is not living in Canberra he is perfecting the art of slow travel; do less but experience more.
“The island referred to in the postcard is Magnetic Island off the coast from Townsville, Alan tells us. “Ever since I was a child we referred to it as ‘the Island’, to differentiate it from all the other islands in the sea.”
“Hello, Alan. How is the pizza?”
“The pizzas are delicious as always, Lucia. I was wondering if I could order the pasta with prawns, anchovies and chilli to take away?”
Silence and a look of puzzlement was not quite the response I was expecting.
“The rest of my family are leaving tomorrow but I am staying an extra day. I don’t want to cook on my last night.”
I can see Lucia’s look of puzzlement changing to one of incredulity.
“You want to take the pasta home and place it in the fridge overnight and then reheat it in the microwave tomorrow night?”
Her look makes me wish that I could just fade into the background of coconut palms and granite boulders. But I stumble on.
“I don’t want to cook on my last night on the Island. You are closed so I will have to go to Picnic Bay and the food there is not very good.”
“We do not normally do take away except for pizzas. But I will do it for you. But it will not taste very good. Are you sure you want it?”
I feel as if I am 14 again, at school, being grilled by the Deputy Head Mistress and all my seemingly innocent answers are clearly not cutting the mustard. And this from the normally charming Lucia who makes customers feel that she and Alberto opened their Caffè dell’Isola just so that they could serve you.
After another uncomfortable silence, a hint of possibility lightens Lucia’s face.
“Can you come here tomorrow just before we close at 3 o’clock?”
“Good. If you come then I will cook dinner for you. It will be closer to the time you eat the pasta and I will use meat rather than seafood so it will reheat better.”
Lucia’s generosity means that honour is restored and we smile broadly again. Relieved, I return to my pasta and a large glass of wine.
The next afternoon I return to Caffè dell’Isola and Lucia cooks macaroni with Italian sausage, zucchini and feta for me to take away. She refuses to accept any payment. Luckily I had thought to take a decent bottle of wine to give Lucia and Alfredo as a farewell gift. They are trying to sell the cafe so may not be here when we next return to the Island. “Follow us on Facebook. We will be somewhere.”
With my dinner in the bag I walk across the road and the 50 or so metres of wet sand left by the low tide until I am standing in calf deep water watching many rays gliding at surprising speed and five or six small black tipped reef shark looking for small fish. When I stand still, they come within two metres.
I am glad to report that life in paradise is as good as they say.