I’m no stranger to farms. Growing up in rural northern Ohio, I hail from a place where FFA was the biggest club in my high school. That’s Future Farmers of America, for you city folks. My grandfather –and his father before him-have always had horses that they trained and raced (harness racing). My maternal grandparents both grew up on farms and had a slew of relatives maintaining their family spreads. We paid many visits to see baby piglets, pick elderberries, and shuck mountains of sweet corn. In New Mexico, we lived in Corrales, a village that maintains its rural character with small-scale farming. Finding myself behind an ancient tractor on the main road was a common occurrence. Friends there nurture a vineyard, and orchards are common. There is always something calming and reassuring to me about being among fruit-bearing trees and productive gardens.
So when Giorgio Tomassetti said his family was issuing an invitation for us to go to his grandparents’ country place, we were excited. I love being in the country and seeing the bounty coming from the land. You already know Giorgio from his blog, Un Anno a Stelle e Strisce (Stars and Stripes for a Year). No? You haven’t checked out his blog? The link has been residing in my Neighbors in Italy section for some time. Even if you don’t know Italian it’s worth a look; his photos and videos are clear enough to understand the things about American life that captured his attention during his year as an exchange student.
Giorgio’s parents were curious about the Americani living in Ascoli Piceno. We drove the short ten minutes from town to find ourselves in the hills, in a semi-arid landscape that reminded us a lot of New Mexico. You know, except for the olive groves and centuries-old stone buildings. The views were breathtaking, encompassing Mt. Ascensione and Monte Vettore, the highest peak in the Sibilline mountain range. The grandparents keep a nearly self-sufficient place: chickens for eggs and meat, rabbits, and a gigantic pig, ugly as can be but destined to become delicious delicacies like prosciutto, salami and sausages. The animals, in historic fashion, are kept in the stalls and rooms fashioned below the stone house. They reside in the house next-door, and use the rooms above the animals’ pens for the wood-burning pizza oven and larger-scale cooking space for making jams and sauces.
Besides the large plot of olive trees and the vineyards for homemade wines, they have fruit trees (we tasted tiny and sweet-tart plums which were recently harvested), potatoes, tomatoes and other vegetables growing in the orto. I was awed by how much they produce. In fact, except for the flour used to make the pizzas, I think pretty much the remainder of the food presented to us by the Nonna was home-grown. I love those kinds of lunches! Afterwards, the Nonno went down to the cantina to decant a bottle of his vino cotto, cooked wine, a strong, delicious dessert wine unique to this area.
Giorgio’s mom, Cinzia, is bubbly and sweet. We hit it off right away, and I hope to meet up with her again soon. We all chatted about life in the US, their travels there, and Giorgio’s experiences. (I must say that I’m still appalled by the less than fabulous Thanksgiving dinner his host family prepared for him…I mean, who consumes a Thanksgiving feast in less than 15 minutes?! Mamma mia!) We’ve promised to make them a proper festa come November.
We answered their questions about our experiences in Italy, why we chose Ascoli Piceno, about our tour company, and told them how much we want to stay here. We recently had other friends comment that they think we’re nuts to live here; the whole world wants to go to America, they told us, and you two choose to come to this little corner of Italy? Well, yes. It’s exactly this kind of experience and hospitality that continually nurtures our love of Italy and the Italian people. A day in the country is all it takes to remind me that this is a wonderful place, indeed.
2007 valerie schneider