After two months spent in Tuscany, Italy, mostly in my hometown Colle di Val d'Elsa, we finally returned to the U.S. laden not only with luggage, but full of memories, experiences, projects and emotions. The 10 days in Germany helped us appreciate family, friends, well-established customs such as coffee time with delicious cakes and pies, and a sustainable environment. Upon departing from Florence, we reflected on our journey in a region that is part of an interconnected world, where everything is linked like pieces of a puzzle, and where lives, time, and space have meanings which became even clearer to us when we returned to our house here, which was tended by friends and neighbors. The threads connecting us are never broken, well maintained by relationships that precisely transcend time and distance.
When we unpacked everything we brought back, we noticed as always that less than half of the shoes and clothes that were brought had actually been worn (I believe this is one of the weakness of many travelers and tourists). Beyond that, from our luggage there emerged flavors, scents, and memories that are difficult to forget. By returning periodically, but only for a short time, we strengthen the ties to our friends and relatives, even if for most of the year there is quite a distance in terms of space and even consciousness. The trip to Italy not only preserves the ties, but it revitalizes memories of the past, both good and bad, all of which come flowing back as one unpacks the suitcases and looks over the photos that were taken.
As you already know, in Italy, most conversation revolves around food and the table, where people meet to enjoy not only the cuisine, but also the atmosphere surrounding a ritual which goes back to the Middle Ages, according to Italian historian Massimo Montanari, who extensively researched and published on food culture. With this spirit of breaking bread together in mind, and to be closer to Mother Nature, we were invited to a dinner in the woods (cena nel bosco) organized by the local chapter of the state-recognized wild-boar hunters. The region where my hometown is located is also home to thousands and thousands of wild boars, whose population is under the control of several groups of hunters to avoid over-population and serious damage to crops, people and property. Since the hunting season is limited from November to January, in the other months of the year the group remains active by organizing many gatherings for the hunters' family and friends, including restaurant lunches and dinners and, more properly, self-organized and self-prepared events, where meat is certainly central to the menu.
Above — The dinner in the forest. Alex, Sofia, and Chiara at the gelateria with Tiziana and her boyfriend Below — Fabio only a week before she sold it.
As often in the past, this summer the dinner was served at the top of a hill, 20 minutes away from my hometown, in the middle of a dense forest. More than 150 people dined together, seated on long wooden benches, enjoying the local red and white wines. Bread soup (zuppa di pane) came after the salami (made partially from wild boar, of course), Italian ham (prosciutto crudo) and cheese (formaggio), which opened the dinner as appetizers (antipasti). The zuppa di pane (also referred to as zuppa di verdure in my article on the Sagra della Miseria earlier this summer) is prepared with various vegetables and potatoes, together with bread, which can even be a few days old and hard, since it is soaked in the broth. Handmade extra-virgin olive oil can be added, along with a raw red onion, a delicious countryside combination. As a main dish (secondo) and vegetable (contorno), we ate porchetta (see my earlier article on the Italian markets), homegrown tomatoes, and salad. Plates of extraordinarily tasty handmade cakes (dolci) were distributed at the tables together with sparkling wine (spumante), which is the Italian version of the more expensive and renowned French champagne.
The dinner certainly was a rustic alternative to the traditional restaurant setting, once again illustrating people's desire to gather around the table to chat and to simply enjoy nature, which showed us its more unpleasant side with chilly hill-top temperatures in the middle of July, when down in the valley the temperature that day had been roughly 100 F. At the end of the dinner we were so cold that we were obliged to don our sweaters and jackets. Unbelievable! For us, it was a way to spend time with family, including our beloved nonna Sandra and nonno Bruno, and friends, such as the former mayor of my hometown, who already had been made aware of a certain project that we are working on to try to link our Chautauqua region to my home region in Italy. There will be more information about this project in these pages soon as we hope to enable our community to participate in something international, extending beyond journal articles and dreams.
Speaking of dreams, one of them concluded its trajectory the exact day we returned to the U.S., namely on July 31. One of my closest friends, Tiziana, whom I befriended in day care, decided to sell her well-established and successful gelateria called Il gelataio (the ice cream maker), located in the nearby town of Poggibonsi. After seven years of realizing one of her dreams, namely to produce gelato of the highest order, she has decided to step aside from this career to pursue another (maybe someone here would like to invite her for training in how to make genuine Italian gelato?). We will miss her gelato, which was sometimes named in honor of members of her family, from Nonna Gina to Nonno Aldo, even if my favorite has always been nutella! Grazie, Tizi, for giving us such a sweet summer full of tubs of gelato!
Chiara De Santi is a professor of Italian Studies at SUNY Fredonia. Send comments on this column to email@example.com