Peggy was a formidable woman. Brought up atheist by Jewish parents, and married to a practising Christian, her faith was, in many ways, cooking – something which she passed on to her daughter, who in turn passed it on to hers. When she and her husband were posted in Northern Italy just after WWII her priority was to learn enough Italian to be able to shop for ingredients.
Sixty years later, her granddaughter arrives in Puglia and continues what she started.
In many ways, although Italy wasn’t somewhere that you’d ever thought of living until you actually ended up here, it’s perfect. Food is such an important part of life, especially in the south. After ten years of snacking on the run in the back of a car between theatre shows, or eating overpriced and disappointing sandwiches at the desk of yet another city temp job, rediscovering long lunch breaks is bliss. You decide that a region which closes all businesses between 1 and 4 in the afternoon is your kind of place.
In Puglia you trek 20 minutes down the hill most Saturday mornings to the market to pester the veg sellers. Some are grumpy; many are friendly, and you learn the names of things which you hadn’t even known existed before you came here. What’s this? –It’s cime di rabe, bellamia. You nod enthusiastically and take a kilo of the stuff because you can’t remember how to say half. Luckily, you fall in love with it and can happily eat it three times a day, wolfing down great bowls of the stuff with fistfuls of salt and chilli flakes ground over the top of it while watching DVDs in your room.
In Calabria eating becomes more social. The classic image of family and friends around a huge trestle table groaning with food under a vine-covered pergola, laughing, singing and eating until they just can’t eat any more? Yeah, it really happens. And you tell someone that this parmigiana alle melanzane is delicious, and they tell you their secret ingredient and you go home and make it and yes – it’s the best thing you’ve ever eaten. And then you make it when you go back to England and it’s worth paying six times the price that you would for the ingredients in Italy because when your mum and uncle taste it they go silent for a moment and then say, god, this is just like the one that Mum used to do … And you glow a little bit knowing that means you’ve got it right.
And now in Sicily your favourite part of the morning is going to the greengrocer’s. Not just because he’s cute – although he is – but because it means that you can dance around the shop while he looks on in amusement, and point to things and say you want some of those – no, a few more – and a big bunch of that, and have you got any cime di rabe today? And he laughs and crinkles his eyes at your terrone pronunciation and the fact that you’re standing right next to it and haven’t noticed when you ask that question. Then he tells you that you can cook the leaves of the rabe, too, and it’s your turn to laugh, because you remember the Pugliese traders telling you that right back at the beginning, before you could speak any Italian at all, but you understood them because their passion and yours were the same.
This is your church.
Image by ljcybergal (Creative Commons)
This post is a response to the Scintilla Project‘s day 6 prompt: Talk about an experience with faith, your own or someone else’s.