Monday, March 28, 2011

The Thrill of the Hunt

Yes, we have become hunters.  We've prowled the woods, scrambled in the underbrush, and tracked through a river in seach of our prey.  We sustained scratches from thorns and sore backs from bending down, along with wet, muddy feet from the marshy areas, all in search of the wild edible known as aspargi

Before yesterday, I'd never seen an asparago in the wild.  I bought the neatly-rowed bundles at the supermercato, each of similar diameter and length, tied up neatly with string.  Aspargus that are coltivato, said my barista, have no taste.  She was explaining how her husband woke her up extraordinarily early the other day as he was preparing to go off on an aparagus-finding expedition.  I pleaded my ignorance publicly, asking where one would go to find the little critters.  Everyone went a little mum, each protective of their hunting grounds.

That's when Osvaldo chimed in.  A sometimes-resident of our village, he was in town for the weekend and was more than willing to talk stalks.  He started describing tracts along the Basento River: take the dirt path on the north side, keep going and you'll find the tell-tale plants.  Our blank looks led him to ask, "Uh, but you do know what the plant looks like, right?"  Well....yeah, it's the pointy green thing that you eat, isn't it?  "Mah!  What?!  You really have never seen a wild asparagus plant before?  Mah!  Andiamo!"

That's how it often happens here.  An off-hand comment results in an invitation or an offer of assistance.  And just like that, we were in his car heading downhill to his childhood home (now abandoned) and known foraging fields.  He led us along the paths, showed us the preferred hiding places of the creatures we were seeking, and how to identify their habitat - the sinewy and prickery tendrils that scream out:  Asparagus grow here.  At our elevation, it is still a bit early in the season and after about an hour of tramping around we were ready to give up when he spotted one of the hunted and called us over to show us the shoot poking up through the ground.  After that we located a few more and I felt positively triumphant when I caught my first all by myself.  All told, it wasn't a big take - 15 stalks.  Not enough for a lunch, but abbastanza for a taste.

From those few, however, many have multiplied.  As we recounted our tale of the hunt, our neighbors and another acquaintance brought bouquets of green stalks to our door.  They were more than willing to share their bounty with us - but not their hunting grounds.  Some secrets remain tightly kept.  But at least we know one place to go and what to look for.  Given a little more time (and some sturdy shoes and protective gloves) we'll become real hunters ourselves.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Happy Birthday, Italia...Sort of

Today marks the 150th anniversary of uniting this here peninsula from fractions and kingdoms into a nation .  You'd think it would draw major celebrations, national pride, fireworks even.  In some cities that is true, but much of Italy seems uninterested, even downright indifferent.  While the schools are closed and politicians will no doubt give windy speeches, there are no major celebrations planned in our area.

The risorgimento created a unified political entity but didn't fully succeed in unifying the nation culturally (or even linguistically, as many regions hold tight to their distinct dialects).  Down here, they viewed the unification as trading one foreign ruler (the Bourbon king) for another (the Savoy king, Vittorio Emanuele, who didn't speak Italian), which, they say, resulted only in territorial expansion and continued exploitation, rather than a united nation.  Loyalty stays with the region - or better to say, with the province or localized area around your town and with your famiglia; politicians and national entities can't be trusted to hold the people's interests at heart.  Campanilismo, is devotion to one's town - only people within earshot of your campanile (bell tower) can be truly trusted.'s complicated.  As with all things political in Italia.  Rather than celebrating the unification, we're told that the festa della repubblica is a more worthy celebration, when a post-war popular vote sent the king into exile and the constitution was established.  But even better than the festa della repubblica, says our barista, is the festa di Sant'Antuon or a nice sagra della salsiccia.  Local celebrations, those are the ones that are most important, he says.  Unity stays within sight of the campanile.

Read Other Bloggers' Views of the 150th Anniverary of Italy's Unification:

Happy Birthday, Italy - Rob at Windrose Hotel

150th Anniversario dell'Unita' d'Italia - Bryan at 2 Italy

Crostini Tricolore - Aglio, Olio e Peperoncino's recipe tribute

Celebrating the 150th Anniversary of Italy and the Italian Language - Becoming Italian Word by Word

150 Unita' d'Italia - News From Italy blog

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Celebrate Womanhood!

Auguri!  Today is International Women's Day, or la festa delle donne as they call it in Italy.  Unfortunately, my mom left Basilicata yesterday afternoon so we're not able to celebrate it together.  I can't find mimosa blossoms in our village; at our elevation they haven't opened yet.  They'd have snow on them anyway, as we received another dose of white last night.

Even though we can't go our for a cena speciale together, as is the tradition, I'm still dedicating Women's Day to my mamma, who made many sacrifices, worked her hiney off, and dealt with many obstacles to raise her three children on her own.  She had help and a can-do-attitude role model in her mother, of course.  I am proud to descend from some amazing woman.  So, buona festa to mamma...and to all you wonderful women reading my blog.  Auguri!

Read about the history of Women's Day in this post from a few years ago.

Read some of the Biographies of Notable Women, which offers countless examples of awesome, touching, or odds-defying women.  Famous Female Firsts is a slide-show presentation of ground-breaking gals.