Letters from Italia: Village life

The rain has stopped, for now, leaving the fields green and the daffodils blooming in time for Pasqua, though it’s still cold enough for a winter jacket. Twelve degrees tomorrow, they promise, but it may be short-lived.

Inside, by the stuffa, the enclosed wood stove that heats the main floor of Remo’s sprawling split-level house, with its thick concrete walls, we’re toasty warm.

Surrounded by green fields, there are no neighbours to be seen. We awake to silence broken only by bird song. From the floor-to-ceiling window in our bedroom, I can see beyond the terrace to the bee hives at the end of the lawn belonging to a friend of Remo’s. In return for loaning them space he gets a big jar of light acacia honey. We pass the trees with their branches of small round leaves when we walk down the lane into town.

Remo’s as nonchalant about the honey as he is about the kiwis that will grow near the garage or the blueberries he makes into jam in the fall. Today for lunch we had penne with broccoli from the garden. He planted it last fall along with the now full heads of savoy cabbage and thick leeks already a foot high. The lettuce is under a cloth to protect it from the cold.

His food is simple, just a few ingredients mostly from the supermarket. There’s always cheese, from meltingly creamy buffalo mozzarella to blizzards of Grana Padana to a great wedge of the creamiest gorgonzola on earth, produced locally. There’s always sliced meat – today a plate of tender wine-red bresaola slices accompanied by lemon wedges.

Pasta is a given as a first course at lunch, and there’s always fruit to finish. After lunch we repair to the living room to watch TV and fall asleep. Today it was some educational show about how the pyramids were built. Perhaps they choose the narrator with his droning commentary to put viewers to sleep?

Then coffee, to wake everyone up. By then it’s about 2:30 p.m. Around 4:30 it’s time to repair to town, 5 minutes away, to the pasticceria for coffee or gelato or both.

This morning we also resumed Remo’s daily ritual since his five-year term as mayor ended. If we arrive at the osteria exactly at 10:30 all the regulars will be there – six guys Sandro went to school with …. 60 years ago, I suppose. They’re still around, all retired with unlined faces from their gentle life.

One by one they greet Sandro with a hug or hearty handshake. They ask how he is, they remark on how well the Canadian economy is doing, there are a few jokes about retirement, and that’s it. Their lives are so different than ours, neither side has any clue what questions to ask. Among themselves, though, they always have lots to say, every single day, which is pretty amazing.

When it gets too quiet, Remo finds an excuse to drive to the neighbouring village, Conturbia, to see Giancarla, chef/owner of one of the busiest restaurants around. As a retired pastry chef with nothing to do, he often goes to prepare cakes and tortes

She certainly needs help. This morning when we got out of the car, we could hear a long, loud scream coming from inside the closed restaurant. Was it Marta or Federico, I wondered.

We walked past the coffee machine to the kitchen, where Giancarla was chopping carrots. She put down her knife, kissed us all hello and said, not for the first time, This is a mad house! And smiled, as she always does.

In one of those crazy juicy small-town stories, she slept with a travelling wine salesman who rented a room upstairs when he was in town, and ended up with twins. This a 40-something woman who was already raising three kids on her own. They’re now in their 20s and all at home.

The twins turn four in August, but they’re just not growing fast enough! Remo and Marisa regaled us with tales of the two running amuck in the kitchen, their playground since day one, sticking their fingers in whatever dessert is on offer, shovelling raw sausage stuffing in their mouths and generally wreaking havoc until an employee, babysitter, sibling, aunt or whoever happens to be around grabs one or both and removes them from the scene of the crime. At least they’re now old enough for daycare during the week.

I never found out what made Marta so angry this morning – she has the most beautiful face with huge blue eyes framed by long lashes – but her homely brother stayed happily on his stool in the kitchen, elbow deep in a tub of water playing battleship with big peeled potatoes awaiting their turn to be chopped for Russian salad.

Yesterday, as Sandro and I sat at the bar drinking caffe an old farmer came in and sat two stools down. Of course he knew we were strangers, so barely acknowledged us. I coaxed Sandro to introduce himself as Remo’s brother. Well, that changed things! We were suddenly old friends.

Y’know how we consider telling your life story to strangers two minutes after meeting them an American trait? Well, I’m beginning to think it’s universal. Within two minutes this old guy was telling us he was one of eight children, and one of only two still alive. He then proceeded to tell us how each one died, whether war or disease. As the tales got grimmer and grimmer (and remember I was only understanding about 30%), I silently apologized to Sandro.

Today at the osteria was completely different. While Sandro was outside having a smoke with one of the guys, a woman sat down beside me, avoiding me completely, and proceeded to launch into a loud, spirited political rant about Grillo and his Five Star party and about whoever stepped down last night. The part I understood most clearly would make any Torontonian laugh. “Who voted for this guy?” she demanded angrily. “Only a third of the country,” mumbled one of the guys.

With the clocks about to spring forward I’d better get to bed in my little cot. Tomorrow’s big question is … will we go to church? Buona Pasqua a tutti and thanks for your kind wishes. xcy


  1. Cynthia: how poignantly you have captured the village and family life of Sandro’s Italy. We feel like we are there with you….and at least, wish that we could be on one of those stools. Thank you so much for sharing this with us and creating such a special memory of your visit.

  2. Well it certainly sounds as though you and Sandro are having a great time.   I do hope that you have a great Easter.   I will be in Toronto at the first of May for Orthodox Easter and will try to get ahold of you.  That is if you are back by then.    Going to myItalian cousins for Easter dinner.  Their last name is Allevato but have no idea what part of Italy they are from.   Much love to you and Sandro and am so glad that he was able to travel.

    >________________________________ > From: Cynthia David >To: eugenee226@rogers.com >Sent: Saturday, March 30, 2013 6:20:31 PM >Subject: [New post] Letters from Italia: Village life > > WordPress.com >cynthiadavid posted: “The rain has stopped, for now, leaving the fields green and the daffodils blooming in time for Pasqua, though it’s still cold enough for a winter jacket. Twelve degrees tomorrow, they promise, but it may be short-lived. Inside, by the stuffa, the encl” >

  3. Happy Easter to you & Sandro & Remo, too! I envy your glimpse into village life. Have fun!


    Sent from my iPod

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