Lady Luck has many ways of manifesting her formidable presence. For some, it is an unexpected slice of chance that occurs following a somewhat obscure series of events mostly of one’s own doing – this is self-made luck; for others, it is a simple set of numbers that tumble into sequence against the most improbable of mathematical odds, often a literal lottery – this is blind luck; the ultimate manifestation, however, is when an opportunity presents itself on a silver platter in a perfectly crosshaired alignment of the space/time continuum, in other words being in the right place at the right time – this is the luck of the lucky bastard.

Walking out of my hostel on the evening of my first full day in Khartoum to head to a restaurant recommended to me only that afternoon, I was following my route down a road that curved around an enormous walled compound when I suddenly but unmistakably heard the opening bars of Italian 1980s crooner Toto Cotugno’s cheesy nationalistic classic ‘L’Italiano’ being covered by a live band. In Khartoum, Sudan. Confused and amused, I recognised the omen of impending good fortune and walked quickly around the wall to the main driveway. As I had hoped and suspected, the familiar tricolore and national coat of arms confirmed that this was indeed the Italian Embassy. All right, ragazzo, I thought, how are you going to play this one?

“Buona sera!”Casual, confident and looking directly at the two uniformed guards manning the gate as I walked towards them. “Buona sera, prego Signore…” they replied, motioning me inside, into the gardens of what appeared immediately to be a luxurious estate far removed from my own $3.50/night lodgings. As I ambled towards the source of what was clearly merriment of Italian volume, I was stopped dead in my tracks by the sight of a dozen or so people in tuxedo and evening dress. Quickly assessing my own flip-flop, punk band t-shirt and safari shorts ensemble as perhaps not reaching the necessary sartorial standard, I made to turn back towards the gate only to bump into a jovial looking gentleman in tweed jacket and jeans. Having been staying in the right part of town, on the right day, and left to go to dinner at the right time, I then met exactly the right person for the mission to be successful.

As I explained my travelling background and fortuitous timing with an inhibition very unbecoming of a supposed conman backpacker attempting to blag a free feed, Taha El-Roubi, owner and head DJ of Khartoum’s only exclusively western radio station, looked at me very simply. “Are you Italian?” he asked. “Yes, I am”, I replied, telling only three quarters of a lie (bless my Sicilian grandmother, how she would have loved this). “In that case, you are home. Come inside.” Inside turned out to be a stunning two storey villa with underlit pool, marquee bar and gala dinner outside table setting with bandstand stage and dance floor, and this was a charity event for the Sudanese Diabetic Society hosted by His Excellency, the Ambassador of Italy, and sponsored by an Italian pasta producer – naturally – who had flown both food and celebrity chef over for the occasion.

It seemed as though Taha was well connected, judging by the number of people who came to greet him enthusiastically, and it wasn’t long before most of the gathering had heard the story of the wandering Italian hobo who had chanced his luck and crashed a VIP party, so much did Taha enjoy telling it. “How perfectly Italian!”, he would repeat with great gusto. “Ey, izza watta we do!” I would reply in my Ferrero Rocher advert faux-Italian English. Just as I was about to excuse myself in an attempt to get out of the spotlight, he delivered the cherry on the torta. “Fabrizio, Fabrizio! Come, there is someone I want you to meet!” As a suave and clearly Italian gentleman came over smiling, as if used to Taha’s theatrical geniality, it was clear to me where this was going.

“Gianmarco, this is Fabrizio, the Italian Ambassador in Sudan. Fabrizio, this is Gianmarco, an Italian who just gatecrashed your party.” As the story was recounted for the fiftieth time, a smile spread across the Ambassador’s face. He made polite conversation, assured me I was more than welcome, and invited me to the Italian national celebrations on June 2nd, before shaking my hand warmly. “A pleasure to meet you Gianmarco, enjoy the rest of your travels. And enjoy the food here tonight.” “Grazie mille!” I responded automatically, without immediately understanding the true implication of his sentence. Enjoy the food. The food? I had forgotten all about the Italian food!!!

As I turned to discover the buffet for the first time, there it was staring at me: an oasis of some of the world’s finest cuisine after a desert of African backpacker culinary poverty. Fearing a mirage, I pinched myself with the tiramisù tongs before ploughing giddily into too much goodness to even attempt to list, for the following two hours. “Have another Chianti!” Taha would say whenever we bumped into each other. “Va bene, Taha, iffa you saya so!” And so I ate for all the hungry backpackers in Africa, and drank for all the thirsty ex-pats in teetotal Sudan. It was the least I could do: one must share one’s good fortune, after all.

Fabrizio the Ambassador, on the right, bringing Ferrero Rocher to the masses

More Chianti and vitello tonnato, Gianmarco?

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