Mar 17, 2023, 06:31AM

Enzo’s Mango Gelato

More memories from that empty flight from Rome to New York in January, 1996.

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Giuseppe was sleeping. Giuseppe was snoring. Enzo couldn’t sit still. Although I only knew them for a plane ride, I could tell this was a regular occurrence, a routine they couldn’t shake. By mid-flight, I gathered that Giuseppe Pembrini was a moderately successful Italian genre film producer, whose films competed with the likes of Luciano Martino and even Franco Cristaldi. His hits were big and his flops were massive—through broken English and Italian I’ve since learned, I figured out that Giuseppe’s biggest hit was 1976’s Buchi invitanti della donna millepiedi, and his biggest flop 1989’s Insanotica. Enzo was involved with neither, but of course he had to hear about it, and of course he had an opinion. All of these movies would’ve been better if they had been directed by him, he said, not some idiot like Michele Massimo Tarantini or Sergio Martino, “that pig,” born with a silver spoon in his mouth and a producer for a brother—how convenient!

Even Lucio Fulci was getting recognized after decades of mockery and condescension, thanks to the help of Quentin Tarantino, who theatrically re-released almost all of Fulci’s movies in the United States throughout the late-1990s going into the 2000s—he even helped pay Fulci’s medical bills, and probably saved his life when he went into a diabetic coma just a few months after this very plane ride. But Fulci’s fairy tale final act wasn’t something Enzo ever had, at any point in his life. There were no real hits—there was Amouse Bouche and Madeline, early-1970s sexploitation films that were closer to the sex comedies that Tarantini and Nando Cicero would thrive in just a decade later. Enzo was always too early and too late. “Cicero, Tarantini, Martino, they stole me… they stole my ideas… they stole my essence… my mojo… I want my mojo… I want my mojo back… I want my mojo back…”

Isadora came back to ask if anyone wanted anything. “Mango gelato,” Enzo muttered. Isadora curtsey’d and smiled. “Ciao, bella,” Enzo muttered, sounding close to tears. Giuseppe was still asleep, but not snoring—he must’ve been dreaming. Enzo quietly lifted up the tray table and went to the bathroom. As Giuseppe slept soundlessly by the window, I poked my head up to see Isadora just behind the curtain, right by the cockpit, making this Italian Airlines specialty: mango gelato. It doesn’t sound special or exotic now, but this was the 1990s in America, when you couldn’t get a decent cup of coffee anywhere and people still drank whole milk by the glass (you people fucking disgust me). To see a stewardess preparing a tasty ice cream treaty, and a regional one at that!, on an airplane was a stunner for me, a hen, a female “chicken,” but most importantly in America, a consumer. I’ve eaten gelato ever since.

Why? Because Enzo came back from the bathroom, ate his gelato, took a 15-minute nap, and didn’t complain for the longest stretch on the entire flight: 45 minutes.

—Follow Monica Quibbits on Twitter: @MonicaQuibbits


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