“It was quite the imbroglio,” said Maury, twirling his tagliatelle around his fork.
I took a sip of my wine, an engaging Aglianico from Puglia. “And how did your family become embroiled in it?” I was playing on imbroglio and embroil, which are in fact etymologically related: they both trace to French brouiller ‘confuse, scramble, blur’ (imbroglio by way of the Italian borrowing broglio ‘intrigue, confusion, entanglement’, embroil by way of French embrouiller). Brouiller in turn comes from Latin brodium ‘broth, stew, mixture’, which is also related to English broth and broil – the broil of the cooking kind.
“It was my great-something-great-uncle Giulio,” Maury said. “He wanted a guglio—”
“A what?” Maury had said it in the same anglophone style as he’d said “imbroglio,” not with the “g” pronounced (heaven forbid) but also not with the palatalized sound particular to Italian, /ˈɡuʎ.ʎo/, which tends to confound English tongues; he just said it like “ghoul, yo.”
“An obelisk. Specifically a needle-shaped one. And he wanted hieroglyphs on it. Or some fanciful imitation thereof. Plus a scene from a seraglio.” He arched an eyebrow.
I tangled some spaghetti aglio e olio on my fork. In the background, a song from the ’90s was playing: “I’m all out of faith, this is how I feel…” (I don’t require “O sole mio” or “Funiculì, funiculà” in an Italian restaurant, but perhaps a passacaglia?) “So what caused the brouhaha?” I asked. (Brouhaha is not etymologically related to imbroglio as far as anyone knows.)
“Well, the intaglio was to be done with pastiglia—”
“Pastiglia?” I said, trying to say it the Italian way on the (correct) assumption that it was another gl word.
“Low-relief gesso, yes. But instead they gave him scagliola.” I raised an eyebrow at him and sipped my Aglianico. “A kind of plaster,” he amplified.
“Which didn’t work?”
“It would seem not.” Maury nodded towards the source of the music. “‘The illusion never changed into something real,’ as Natalie Imbruglia put it.”
“And his perfect sky was torn?”
“Or anyway, his pot was cracked. Literally. He threw a piece of terraglia.” Pause. “A kind of cream-coloured earthenware.”
“Did it connect?”
“We may say it jarred the supplier’s ganglions.”
I giggled. “Well, I suppose when you’re all out of faith, this is how you feel.”
We paused the conversation for a few moments to finish our pasta. Our waiter – who was also, we had learned, a poet whose work I had read and who had won the Trillium Book Award and the Griffin Poetry Prize and had been nominated for the Governor General’s Award, but poetry doesn’t pay the bills, you know – stopped by to refill our glasses. “Are you thinking of dessert?” he asked.
“For some reason,” I said, “I have a hankering for zabaglione.”
The waiter, by the way, is someone real who served me and my friends in an Italian restaurant near where I live. Maury, as always, is fictional. All conversations really took place – in my head, and nowhere else.