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The personality of the host or hostess
The table pad: its advantages and peculiarities

The personality of the host or hostess

I had a very poor uncle, named Brazil, who lived in Venice. He was homosexual and lived with Aunt Emilia, a woman who was the personification of one who can make do with anything, as are many Venetians. An ongoing battle would take place between the two of them, every day at lunchtime, which I would witness without fail every summer when, as a child, I was there as a pampered and paying guest, together with another aunt, Emma, who lived with us in Turin. The noisy battle, shall we say, was over quantity and quality, between tastes, intended to mean refinement, and the practicality in the placement of table settings and the meal service itself.
Brazil would insist that the table cloth and napkins had to be fine antique embroidered white linen, extremely threadbare and patched but heavily starched and smooth. Enter Aunt Emilia who would rearrange the tablecloth, challenging the glances of the other, and would cover it with an old piece of transparent plastic, grayed with age (at that time there was no plastic wrap like the one that drives us crazy in the kitchen nowadays).
Aunt Emilia had invented an even more refined technique for the napkin which was always placed correctly at the right side of each plate. There would be a surprise when it was opened, a sad, very thin paper tissue was carefully hidden in the folds, to be used while leaving the real napkin to serve only as decoration. Only Brazil would pretend not to be aware of the trick, letting the paper napkin drop on the floor, in a seemingly distracted gesture, and placing the napkin on his lap, scrunching that precious square.
Thus ends the first chapter in the story of the ongoing battle between the two of them, to which we shall return and speak about many times. In fact, better than theoretical examples, little stories like this help in introducing us to the world of refinement.