I was famished when we finally arrived. Nonna hadn’t made lunch to make sure I had room for the special dinner. We had been in the car now for about an hour and a half, weaving through mountain roads at what I considered to be much too fast for a single lane road. “The car has four-wheel drive,” Nonno had reassured me.
As we got out of the car, I felt as if I would faint if I didn’t eat something soon. My eyes made a beeline for the house we were apparently dining at.
We finally made it past the introductions of many elderly couples I had supposedly met many times before. My limited language skills were barely enough to communicate with these ladies in proper Italian, let alone understand the questions they were asking me in dialect.
We sat down at our designated seats, my grandfather on the men’s side of the table, and I squeezed in between the women.
First they brought out the wine and a selection of cheeses and meats. Sliced bread sat on the middle of the table. I went straight for the cheese, an incredible misto that had no name from what I could gather. The appetizers restored my energy level giving me the strength to attempt conversation with my neighbor.
“Buonasera,” I greeted her.
“Buono,” she said, holding up a piece of prosciutto to me.
“Sì,” I smiled back. She then started speaking incredibly fast, reminiscing about a lost relative in America. I just smiled through my uncertainty, unsure of how to respond. We sat awkwardly for a few moments until she turned to her other neighbor in conversation.
I turned my attention back to the food on the table. As a vegetarian, I thought it best to stock up on cheese in case the main course consisted of meat.
A glass of homemade wine later, the pasta course was served. Big cylindrical pasta with tomato sauce. The cheese hadn’t been enough, so I went for a second helping.
Satisfied with my meal, I sat back as the meat course was served. I assured the other ladies that I was quite content to sit this course out, but I could tell the hostess was concerned that I refused to eat her carefully prepared coniglio. She went in the kitchen, coming back out with a cooked egg that I could eat instead of the rabbit. “Struzzo,” she said. I had no idea what she meant, but I took the dish so I wouldn’t seem rude. She’d handed me what appeared to be the world’s largest portion of a scrambled egg. It didn’t taste like a normal egg, but I was already quite full so I didn’t feel the need to finish the serving. I was beginning to reach my limit, but I ate few bites whenever I saw her glancing my way.
The wine kept flowing as the vegetables were brought out on the table. Melanzane fritte, pomodori ripieni, and polpettone di bietole, in addition to many other dishes were laid out. I helped myself here and there, really wishing I hadn’t gone for a second dish of pasta.
I thought we were finally done with the meal, when melone and an assortment of fruit were brought out. The ladies pecked at this, while the men gulped their digestivi down. “Ehi, danne un po’ alle signore,” the woman shouted next to me. “Hand some out to the ladies.” The bottle of the digestive liquor was passed down the table.
While my energy had returned after the appetizers, my body was now fully focused on metabolizing my meal. I was so full I could barely breath. “Piena, piena,” was all I could make out to the women as they tried to make conversation with me.
I treasure this memory and many other experiences with my Italian family and their friends. They have all been teaching me that a meal can be a time to share memories of the past and build new ones together (as long as you know some Italian and can actually communicate!). What I have also learned is that, in Italy, food is not only a necessary consumption of energy, but also a lifestyle. So, the secret is to sit back and enjoy it. And not to take seconds on the pasta course.
Class of 2015
Art History Major
Hometown: Los Angeles, California