Articolo disponibile anche in: Italian
I, a city boy, spent the summer in my grandparents’ farmhouse in the country. There I passed three intense and rich months. I woke up early every day, certainly earlier than when I would wake up for school with difficulty.
Nonno’s breakfast was red and yellow peppers sliced and mixed with olive oil and a glass of red wine, sometimes two, to help him start his day. Then we said goodbye until noon.
Alone with Nonna, every morning I sucked on a hot fresh egg straight from the hen while grandma took her time with her old bread soaked in barley and milk.
In other seasons she would have been quicker and would have started a few hours earlier, but she liked to take care of her city grandson.
With her daytime housedress made of orange felt she would pinch my cheeks every morning to give me some healthy color. She came near me with her thick nearsighted glasses which gave her giant eyes.
According to her, I was always too thin and too pale. Nonna gave me mint to chew to freshen my mouth. When I was ill she gave me hot milk sweetened with honey.
If I seemed sluggish, the antidote was very bitter pappa reale served in the silver spoon with which I was weaned. I lived wild in the fields, running around all day outside, playing in the river in my underwear and chewing on sandy carrots straight from the vegetable garden when I was hungry.
We ate (especially my grandparents) with the fatigue of the day and with the thankfulness of those who had suffered hunger and with respect for the value of hard work.
At noon the meal was substantial but quick. Work in the fields had to begin as quickly as possible to take advantage of the light of day. In the evening we almost always ate in the barn yard at 7 PM on the dot.
Dinner was served on long wooden tables with a simple and spartan setting. My cousins and uncles were almost always present. I remember an enormous polenta sliced with string and outstretched hands and hungry mouths happily and noisily asking for a large portion.
Dinner often ended with songs. One of my uncles, a cave worker, had a deep voice, almost as large as his body, and everybody joined in chorus for the refrain.
Even though I was already big, my grandmother told me stories to help me fall asleep. Seated on her bony legs with her affectionate and lively blue eyes I can still hear her words; words from an antique world which belonged to her only.
She told stories which she heard when she was a child next to the heat of the fireplace or the coolness of the barnyard. During those three months I felt like a king. I was cuddled and revered like a Lord.
To celebrate my birth, the noblest tree of all, a walnut, was planted. The almost 40 year old tree can still be seen near the end of the barnyard. I can’t say that this was a “happy” world… hard work, misery and sweat were the words of the day… but everything worked in a certain way.
(to be continued…)
Francesco Sorelli – Il Bisarno Oltre la Sieve