Articolo disponibile anche in: Italian

A city child, I spent summers in my grandparents’ house, a country farm. There I passed three rich and intense months. Every day I woke up early (it was earlier but easier than waking up during the school year).

My nonno’s breakfast consisted in red and yellow peppers, cut in strips and softened in olive oil, and accompanied by one (or two) glasses of wine to get him going. He then said goodbye until noon. Alone with nonna, every morning, I drank a fresh egg, still warm from the hens’ morning offerings.

Nonna took her time with her stale bread soaked in milk and barley in order to keep me company. During the year she was quicker and awoke at least two hours earlier, but she loved to take care of her “city” grandson. Wearing her dignified orange felt robe, every morning she pinched my cheeks to give me some color and a “healthy” look.

She would smile and come close with those thick near-sighted glasses enlarged her eyes. She saw me as “skinny” and “pale”. She gave me mint to chew to keep my mouth fresh. If I was ill, she gave me warm milk sweetened with honey. If I was feeling low, the antidote was a very bitter pappa reale, served in the tiny silver spoon with which I had learned to eat.

I lived wild in the fields, running around all day in the open air, playing at the river in my underwear and chomping on earth-coated carrots from the vegetable garden when I was hungry.

We ate (especially my grandparents) with an appetite created from the day’s toil, recognizing those who had suffered hunger, and in respect for the value of our hard work.

At noon, we ate quickly but richly; nonno had to return to the fields, taking advantage of the maximum hours of light. In the evening, we ate in the courtyard, at 7pm on the dot, on grand planks of wood, the table set spartanly and simply.

Almost always we were joined by aunts, uncles and cousins, and the meals, simple and filling, were happy and abundant: I remember the enormous block of polenta, cut with twine, and hands reaching out; hungry mouths and joyous voices asking for their just and ample portions. Often, dinners ended with song: an uncle who worked in the caves would begin.

He had the largest voice, almost as big as his girth. We all accompanied him in a a growing crescendo which resounded in the refrain. In order to fall asleep, (I didn’t really need it…I was already quite grown) my nonna, in the quiet after the boisterous evening, told me stories.

Seated on her bony legs, lost in her lively affectionate blue eyes, I can still hear her words, stories of long ago, from a time that belonged to her; stories which she had heard as a child, by the warmth of the fireplace or the coolness of the courtyard. During those three months, I felt like a king: cuddled and revered like a lord.

When I was born, the most noble of trees, a walnut, was planted. Still today, as I approach forty, the tree stands by the courtyard. I can’t assert that that was a happy world -hard work, misery and sweat were a constant – but in a certain sense, everything ran smoothly.

Francesco Sorelli – Il Bisarno Oltre la Sieve