A warm early spring day finds Claudia and I looking for the most exciting things in Isola Del Liri (maybe it should have been Isole but that is another argument), destroyed by Napoleon, bombed mercilessly by the Allies in WW2 and still recovering.

Yet the task of finding those exciting things in Isola del Liri became easier as the day progressed and, after an impromptu lunch time performance, we have an elegant sufficiency and any more would be a superfluity (look for the Guide by Discoverplaces).

We followed the recommendation of our Pro Loco host and selected the Scala della Cascata, beside the Liri river just below the cascades, for our quiet lunch and chat, and elected to sample the carpaccio trout, an excellent choice from this family run restaurant with five generations of experience.

Settling with local water and a quarter of ‘vino da tavola’ – the host’s recommendation of a fresh cool white. Letting our gazes wander with the first sips, the signs on the glass front door beamed at us – 5 or 6 Michelin Guide plates from the last years, enough to make me check the menu again, fortunately discovering that the fare was still quite fair in price.

We were not alone, there were three other tables, a couple and their teenage son, three friends from out of town discussing history of Isola del Liri, and two men of that indeterminate age, each garbed in semi-professional clothes and dark glasses, sitting in the sunlit portion of the room, the far front corner, maybe arguing or just disputing.

It was more difficult to ascertain the details of their conversation, but it was history. The man on the right presented an image similar to Jack Nicholson but for this story he must become a Walter Matthau typecast and his partner, whose voice was a couple of keys higher, was grey-haired and of leaner build – maybe Jack Lemmon.

While we were sampling and sharing secondi: a vegan ‘mista’ for one and a Fini-fini pasta with mountain spinach called ‘Good Henry’ and tomato for the other. It occurred to me that these two men were an unusual couple to be sharing lunch with such vigorous conversation – and the image settled in my mind – two grumpy old men make an odd couple. Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon.

The rest of the repast I consumed with a new pleasure paying not sufficient attention to the gustation but being wrapped in the type play being cast in the corner.

Eventually they rose and headed towards the door, at which point Claudia, attracted their attention and a repartee began.

One, an architect from Arpino, and the other a medical biologist, played their roles to perfection, the second stepping in to the void as the first finished conducting a point on the history of the areas around Rome and the dominant role Agrippina had in emperor creation.

Their act could not have been produced or directed better – maybe they did this professionally – one would conclude and depart the stage towards their car while the other, as if with a second thought, re-entered the restaurant to make a new counter-argument.

The argument reached its climax and challenge for the audience both with the display of an image of Leonardo anthropology on the biologist’s car resting attentively just outside the front door and with the forceful presentation of the value of Nautilus mathematics (the logarithmic or Fibonacci spiral that is so often related to the natural Nautilus shell found on the tops of the Alps) to the creation of the Acropolis of Alatri and hence to our society.

Maybe this scene from the one act play by these friends, these “grumpy old men”, occupied half an hour, but it certainly left me ready to applaud their final exit, and trust that they will be there once again the next time we stroll below the cascades of Isola del Liri for a lesson in the role of mathematics in the creation of our culture.

Gavin Tulloch

Scienziato e poeta. Ama la chimica, il vino, le donne e l’opera, ma non sappiamo in quale ordine