Wednesday, November 24, 2010

America Feasting Comes to Basilicata

Happy Thanksgiving Day everyone!  First, let me say how thankful I am to have such wonderful friends as you, who come along for the ride and read about our everyday adventures here in the mother land.  Grazie a voi!

Remember a few years ago when I gave you my top ten reasons for not celebrating Thanksgiving in Italy that year?  Go ahead; give it another look.  I'll wait.

So anyway, that was then.  This is now.  We're paesani.  We're part of the village.  We're throwing a Thanksgiving feast.  For a tribe. 

It all started innocently.  A friend inquired why Americans go pazzi for tacchino.  We talked turkey and discussed the fact that, unlike Italy where every holiday and saint's day has a special meal attached to it, Thanksgiving is the only American holiday that really centers on food.  Well, why don't we show you?  We'll cook up a turkey, it will be fun, said we.  Just a few friends and the cousins who live nearby.  Va bene.  Then more friends needed to be included; don't want them to feel slighted.  Then we thought, why not send out a general invite and see who wants to come?  All told, we will have 27 guests.  At least, I think we're holding at 27 and not edging up any further.  Some friends are even making the drive down from Ascoli Piceno.  We're thrilled. 

And tired.  I've been making rounds of stores in Potenza to procure all the necessary provisions.  But the preparations have been made a bit easier, thanks to our friends.  One has a brother who is a butcher and he has procured a big ol' turkey for us (not an easy feat in much of Italy, lemme tell you).  Another friend's dad gave us a big pumpkin, which I cut, cooked, and crushed into pie filling.  Our neighbors are giving us fresh fennel and lettuce from their garden.  Another wants to give me the apples for the pie and the potatoes for mashing.  Our friends who own an agriturismo are letting us hold the party there and use their commercial kitchen to cook it all up.  Maybe the adage that "it takes a village" is true; they all want to contribute something to the meal, so when it's all said and done, this will be an American holiday but a very local feast.

While you're eating your turkey and fixings, I'll be baking pies.  We're holding our holiday on Saturday to accommodate everyone's work and school schedules.  But I wish you all a very happy day, and hope you have much to be thankful for.

Tante belle cose, my friends.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

To Be a Paesana

What does it take to be considered a paesana in a small Italian town?  I've been a formal resident of Lucanella for two months now and have learned through various whisperings and conversations that I am considered a Lucanellese, una vera paesana.  My neighbor recently told me that she was thrilled to hear others say what she had already noticed, that I've "inserted" myself into village life in a very short time and become a "local".

The fact of my residency status was confirmed about a week ago when we attended a festa in a nearby village.  As we pressed through the crowded streets to see the various vendors and displays, we were joyously surprised to run into about ten people we knew- from Lucanella as well as from my ancestral village.  Our names were called out from across the piazza...'Eh!  Valerie....Bryan!  Ciao!'  We were invited to join one group as they made their way through the food stalls.  We stopped for aperitivi with a friend and her husband.  We chatted with a local carabiniero of our acquaintance.

After we had sampled many delicacies, sipped some good local vino, and enjoyed a performance in the piazza, we made our way to the car.  We looked up and saw the outline of the Milky Way painted across the sky.  A shooting star dipped toward Lucanella, across the valley.  We smiled all the way home, elated at the cameraderie we had enjoyed after such a short period of residency.  We felt that we had been truly accepted and a part of the local landscape.

So how did I do it? 

My Five Tips For Becoming a Paesana

1) Smile and greet everyone you pass.  Even the curmudgeons will start to return your buongiornos.

2) Never decline a caffe'.  I've been terribly overcaffeinated, but if someone asks me to prendere un caffe', I don't say no.  The short chat while we drink them in compagnia has let them get to know me.

3) Shop locally.  I buy as much as possible at the local stores.  They see I'm dedicated to the village and its well-being.  Instead of automatically heading to the big grocery stores in Potenza, I buy my provisions, my fruits and veggies, my bread and hardware right here in Lucanella.  (Besides, our baker is one of the best in the province.)

4) Take time to talk.  It can sometimes be hard when I have things I need to get done, but when neighbors stop me and want to chat, I give them my time.  Sometimes they're lonely and want someone to talk to; other times, they just want to get to know me better or discuss the weather and the bad grape harvest.  Either way, a few minutes goes a long way to becoming a paesana.

5) Get involved.  I jumped at the opportunity to organize English lessons.  The notices posted around town told people not only that I was an intelligent human being (contrary to my accent and stumbling for Italian words that they may have noticed), but that I want to be a part of the community.  I don't know how many people have told me how happy they were to see that I was participating in village life.  We also drove to another town nearby to hear the local choir perform (three of my students sing).  They were thrilled to see me, and news of our attendence was passed around town the next day.

Now that I think about it, these are things I've always done...they're just more noticed in a small village setting, and they've given me the benefit of acceptance.  It's nice to be a paesana.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

The Cycle of Life

The bells sounded out two tones, a solemn bong which faded before a higher-toned clang followed.  They tolled mournfully like that for about fifteen minutes, telling everyone in the village and the surrounding countryside that a funeral would be held shortly.  We've heard the funerary bells before, but it's somewhat chilling when you know the person they're tolling for.  It gave me goosebumps.

Our upstairs neighbor passed away last week.  He had been in the hospital for several days in a coma after fluid had built up in his brain.  He died on Thursday and the funeral was held Friday, a very fast transition compared to our American rites.  When my grandparents died, the funerals were held three or four days later.

Signore Fabrizio was unwell since I first met him in January.  He was mostly solo, alone; his kids didn't come to visit him though his brother, also elderly and not in great health, did stop by a few times a week.  The barista would dole out his medication to him in the morning, and another lady brought him lunch every day.  He scuffled along slowly, but when we were heading toward the piazza at the same time, I'd slow down and walk with him, chatting along the way.

He was, according to most of our acquaintances, a bit of a curmudgeon, but he warmed up to me and would smile broadly when I waved or greeted him.  He even offered me a caffe one morning, which made the barista stop in her tracks and look at me in surprise.  "Ma, Fabrizio doesn't pay for anybody's coffee," she exclaimed.

Sometimes I'd find him on a sunny bench in the piazza and he would wave an American-style wave back at me, even when sitting with other elderly gents.  They've since picked up the habit and it makes me smile when I see them waving their arms at me and wishing me a buongiorno.

I didn't know him well, but I did become fond of the old guy, and I hope that in some way I was able to brighten his last days a bit.  After the funeral we were introduced to the parish priest.  He greeted us warmly and said how happy he was that our village had two new residents.  A villager had passed away but two people had recently arrived...the cycle of life.