“What’s this?” Edgar Frick held up a pink cube of some kind of comestible.
His better half, Marilyn, glanced over. “I’m pink, therefore I’m ham.”
Maury, who – as often – was bustling about setting up the food for this month’s Words, Wines, and Whatever tasting, stopped long enough to say “Mortadella.” Then he continued setting foodstuffs out.
“Baloney,” Edgar said, and popped it into his mouth.
“Not exactly,” said Maury over his shoulder as he bustled about. “Bologna – or baloney – is an American version of mortadella, but this is the real thing. From Bologna. The city.”
“No,” said Edgar, “mortadella is a great big pink slice. Like this.” He gestured with his hands. “In fact, an end of a mortadella looks pretty much like –” he reached over towards his better half, in particular a rounder part of her anatomy, but she swatted his hand away. “Hm!” he said. “Cruella!”
“It’ll be the morta della you,” she said, more leering than indignant. Then, to Maury, “Isn’t that what mortadella means? ‘Death of the’? Death of the what? Do they know?” She looked skeptically at the white stuff dotting the pink mass.
“That would be morte della,” I volunteered. “Or morte dello, or del, or delle, or degli, or dei.”
“Well, I’m still wondering what fell into the sausage grinder,” she said, impaling the cube on an inch-long vampire-red little fingernail. She waggled it at Edgar and then ate it as though she were doing a community theatre version of Tom Jones.
“The white lumps are pork fat,” Maury said from partway across the room. “It is also seasoned with black pepper and myrtle.”
“Myrtle!” Marilyn exclaimed. “That was my aunt’s name. I always wondered what happened to her…”
“So it’s myrtle-della,” Edgar said, and found it not beneath him to eat another cube.
Maury’s orbit drew him nearer again. “It’s thought that the name mortadella comes from Latin murtatum, meaning ‘seasoned with myrtle berries’, and a diminutive ending ella.”
“Ella was my other aunt,” Marilyn said. “Her ending was not diminutive. If you think mine is something to see…” She edged her leather-cased rotund end towards Maury, who quickly jumped over to the next table.
“Perhaps this is morte di Ella,” I suggested, spearing a cube with a toothpick.
“It has also, on the other hand,” Maury said, “been long held that the name comes from mortaio, referring to the mortar in which the meat was pounded.”
Marilyn cocked her head at Maury and raised a leering eyebrow. Maury sighed, realizing his unintended double entendre, and drew further away.
“It’s a big-sounding word,” I said, trying unsuccessfully to divert the conversation from its downward trend. “I mean, four syllables, that rather big back round effect on ‘mort’, uh… Della could be a name of someone big, though it could also be small…”
“But really,” Edgar said, eating yet another cube, “mort a deli ever serve it this way?”
“In the orbit of Bologna,” Maury said, trying to remain in the conversation without getting too close to Marilyn’s centre of gravity, “it is often served this way at the beginning of a meal, with rustic bread.”
“So where’s the bread?” I asked.
“I was just about to bring it out,” he said.
Marilyn stepped forward and reached her hands towards Maury, rolling the fingers in the air in her best vampirella fashion. Impaled on her nails were the last ten cubes of the mortadella. “Just bring your buns here, dear boy,” she purred.
Maury stepped back. “You will be the death of me,” he croaked, and disappeared into the kitchen.
Marilyn shrugged and proffered her digits to me and Edgar. “Finger food?”