April, 2005

Grinzane, etc.

grinzane_gate.jpgCiao, Amici! Sorry I haven’t posted in so long! Lots going on here! Allora….the last time we spoke I was doing a stage at Grinzane Cavour, the castle in this picture. That was the week that Jay and Denise were in Verona at VinItaly, so I was walking two hours to Grinzane and two hours back every day (though some friends gave me rides a couple of times). I loved the walk (especially when it wasn’t raining) and learned a lot about the area by having to navigate on foot! (That second-to-last picture is of the rain jars I told you about earlier…).

Anyways, I learned quite a bit at the restaurant in Grinzane…how to make homemade pasta and sugo for tagliarine, a basic meat sauce with mirepoix and not too many tomatoes, bonet, a chocolate custard sort of like flan with amaretti cookies baked in, brasata–beef cheeks braised in dolcetto, grisini–thin bread sticks that are very popular here, plin–a typical ravioli that you pinch with your fingers (that’s why they’re called plin, which means “pinch” in Italian), and lots more!

My Italian friends complain because I only write about them and never about my own family, so I’m going to try and incorporate both from now own. To this end, here’s a half way decent picture of me and Phoebe, mia sorella. Taking a good picture of us is no small feat, and this is the first good one in about twenty years!

Community Togetherness, Castle Ghosts

So, Denise and Giacomo were supposed to come back from Verona today, but their power steering exploded! Everyone’s fine, but alas, they’re still in Verona.

I went clothes shopping with the circolo gang this afternoon (Carmela, Bea, and Giuseppe). Didn’t actually buy anything though.

There was a town meeting for Citt� Aperta tonight. Citt� Aperta is a local festival where the vineyards and restaurants invite everyone to come check out what they’re doing, and what their town has to offer. I attended and took diligent notes of what I imagined they were saying. The biggest topic of discussion at tonight’s meeting was the pullman car they’re renting for the day. There was much argument over which route the car should take, since it’s too big to fit through the town’s main streets (hellow, you can barely walk through the town’s biggest streets!).

Afterward the meeting I went back to the circolo for a gelato and to try and learn Sevens, the game all the old guys who only speak Piemontese play (yeah…good luck with that one, Shira).

I didn’t remember until I got halfway up my driveway that I hadn’t left any lights on in the castle (afterall, Giacomo and Denise were supposed to have arrived earlier that evening). After standing there for a few minutes trying to gather up the courage to walk through the pitch-black cortille, I decided to go back to the circolo and borrow a flashlight. (The castle is scary at night in the dark sometimes!!)

Well, I went back into the bar and the entire place looked up at me. Somehow they all knew why I had returned. (Maybe I have “chicken” written on my forehead in Italian or something).

To make a long story short, the entire circolo escorted me back to my front door. *laughing out loud* I didn’t even ask! While I was trying to figure out how to say “Can I borrow a flashlight because it’s dark and I’m scared” they all just got up and got their coats on!

I felt like such an idiot walking up the driveway again with a Piemontese entourage; but I’d rather be a safe idiot than a dead one. So I sit here writing this, thanking the darkness (that scared me earlier) for hiding the tears of happiness that this curious people keeps evoking.

Do you know what it feels like to be so completely embraced by an entire village?

I do; it’s wonderful.

A Religous Feast

I just got back from pranzo at the circolo (I know, I’m spending my whole life over there!). Beatrice’s English has really improven since we started singing “Miss Sue From Alabama” together (remember that hand clap rhyme?). She also knows one chorus of “We Wish You A Merry Christmas”, which is absolutely hilarious to listen to.

To give you an idea of a low-key pranzo, here’s what we had for lunch today (always served separately in courses):

Bresaolo with Parmesan and olio
“Lasagne” which was more like what we would call fettucine with red sauce
Really thin breaded & fried chicken tenders with lemon
Asparagus with parmesan and olio
And apples (that Carmela, Bea, and I picked up at the farm yesterday) for dessert

Most people drank wine or vino-con-acqua with lunch, but a couple of the kids (who came down from the school upstairs) had Coca-Cola (good luck finding Pepsi anywhere around here!).

Don Matteo, Sinio’s priest, ate with us today (well, I got the impression that he eats there a lot, it was me that was the newcomer). Don Matteo is a little hard of hearing, so communicating with him is un po dificile. I tried to explain to him that I only know the responses to Mass in English, and attempted to ask him if there was a book that had the responses in it that I could borrow. I don’t think he quite understood me because he started reciting the Our Father in Latin…

Luckily, Giuseppe came home shortly afterwards and translated for me. They got out a book and tried to figure out which prayers I’d need to have for mass. This is where it got really interesting, because obviously some of the people at the table hadn’t been to mass in a long time and couldn’t quite remember how the prayers went. But, of course, they didn’t want to look bad in front of Don Matteo so they made it up as they went along.

Well, when the one person who had been to church argued that what the others were saying was wrong…mama mia! I don’t know how to describe this except to paint the picture for you: Half of the table was reciting the Padre Nostro to me (extra-slowly and extra-loudly in the hopes I would be able to understand what they were saying), while the rest of them were arguing about which prayers they use in everyday mass and screaming at each other across the table. During this whole exchange, Don Matteo was mumbling something (mostly to himself, because no one ever really listens to him). At the same time, Bea was trying to teach me a new card game, but I wasn’t paying a whit of attention to her, because I was trying to to listen to Don Matteo and show some respect for the priest — something that no one else seemed to be doing.

It was absolutely ludicrous, and yet, we were all communicating with each other– at the same time.

Most meals at the circolo have that same feeling of being just a-little-bit-out-of-control. But that’s part of what makes them so fun!

P.S. Bea is short for Beatrice and is pronounced Bay-ah, and not Bee. Likewise, it’s Bay-ah-tree-chay and not Bee-a- triss (like my former car).

Rain Jars

I wish I had brought my camera to work this morning. On the way home it was raining heavily (it has been for the past few days now). In one family’s cortille they had set up all the spare jars and cups they had to catch rain. And they were all full! It was the most hilarious thing I’ve ever seen; and something that really illustrates the character of the Piemontese.

Open Arms

Wow, today was another wonderful day here in Piemonte. I slept in (until 7:45AM) and didn’t even feel guilty because EVERYONE gets to work late and nobody cares. To make things even better, I got to take a hot shower (because Giacomo e Denise sono en Verona ‘sta settimana, so I don’t have to share the water with anyone). And then during the two hour trek to Grinzane Cavour, the sun was coming up over the (snow-capped) Alps; it was absolutely beautiful–just like in the beginning of The Sound of Music–so I found it appropriate to belt out “Climb Every Mountain” the whole way there.

I thought I would be clever and take a shortcut through a vineyard to make up for the time I’d spent sleeping in–it turns out that wasn’t such a clever idea afterall. It hailed yesterday and rained last night, so the entire vineyard (which happens to be on the side of a steep mountain) was a mudslide. Porca miseria. All I have to say is, thank god there are poles holding up the wires that train the grape vines, or I would have been on my butt sledding down the mountain in mud. As it was, I was absolutely filthy when I got to the top, and the amount of time saved by taking the short cut was spent cleaning the mud off my pants, socks, and shoes. Another well-learned lesson…

At work today I chopped up a whole bunch of rabbit livers for ragu (rabbit livers are preferable to chicken livers because of their quality and flavor, but they’re much more expensive). I also learned how to make ravioli from scratch, cleaned a whole bunch of mache (lettuce of choice in this area), and tasted the local cheese and wine we served to the Truffle Association for lunch.

Speaking of truffles, did I tell you I met my first truffle dog yesterday? Carmela, Giuseppe, and Beatrice invited me over for pizza last night and afterwards I got the grand tour of their house and farm–including a formal introduction to Bobby (pron. Boe-bee), their truffle dog. After meeting these people’s dogs, I can honestly say that Minnie Mae would not survive here. Italian dogs, at least the ones I’ve met so far, are wiry and viscious. (Though I suppose if they bring in thousands of euros’ worth of fungus every year perhaps they’re worth it). But there are two things that the Piemontese don’t do: they don’t tell their dogs to stop barking, and they certainly don’t cuddle up with them at night. These dogs are domesticated in the sense that they live close to people, but that’s as far as the domestication goes; they’re still very much wild animals.

It cracks me up how openly curious the Piemontese are. If they see you coming down the street, they’ll walk right out into the middle of the road and stare at you until they’ve figured out who you are. I was doing a little pulizzia (–sp?; cleaning) when I noticed Gigi my friend and our furniture maker pull up in the piazza. They went into the circolo and a few minutes later Gigi came out to smoke a cigarette. But the way he was smoking it was so typical of these people. Instead of standing outside the circolo door, he walked right into the center of the piazza so he could see exactly was was going on in Sinio. Our castello is right on the piazza, so I could hardly not notice him standing there. I stuck my head out the window and yelled a friendly “Ciao!” and they invited me to join them for dinner at the circolo (I know, “Dinner at the circolo again!?” you’re thinking. I’m telling you, the circolo is The (and the only) place to be and to be seen). I acceptend and 12 of us had a lovely dinner together–accompanied by lots of homemade wine and, of course, followed by the obligatory limoncello and caffe.

Bea (5) taught me two dances after our dinner. One of them involved lots of hip circling and military salutes and the other vaguely resembled Riverdance. Unfortunately (for my pride), she insisted that I learn in front of the entire circolo (which, at that point, was busting at the seams with 80 year olds playing cards and drinking strange digestivos). I have a feeling my reputation will never be the same again…

Endeavors into Italian Culture

I started my stage (internship) at a local restaurant today! Oh billy. It’s intimidating enough to go work at a new place in the United States, and when you’re going into a place where only one person speaks the same language that you do…mama mia. It was nice to be around a few people my own age though.

The other issue is that I have no transportation here, so I’m making the two hour walk every morning to go to this restaurant. It’s a beautiful walk, I don’t mind that part. I didn’t fully comprehend how widespread the break I mentioned in yesterday’s blog is. Everyone left the restaurant at 3:30pm. Luckily, one of the guys asked if I needed a ride, or else I would have been the only one left inside in a uniform. (And it came so close to happening! Picture me, standing in an empty Italian kitchen wondering where the heck everyone went! Aiee. Porca miseria. This language thing is killing me.)

So, they gave me two numbers to call at 6pm to ask for a ride home. I called each one ten times and nobody answered…the numbers weren’t working. Are you kidding me right now? So, I called the restaurant and just told them that I guess I couldn’t come back until tomorrow. I’m not sure they completely understood… The thing is, I left my sneakers at the restaurant, cause I figured we were only going out for a few minutes. So I’ll have to make the walk tomorrow in kitchen clogs. What an adventure!

I learned a lot this morning, though, so I guess it’s all worth it! The most important lesson is to make sure that you understand the recipe right. I was making tuille batter and I could swear the guy, Davide, said to substitute cocoa powder for the flour. Turns out he actually said put all the flour in and add a tiny bit of cocoa at the end. So I did it over; a lesson well-learned though. I made ragu with salcicca di Bra, and talgliarine (homemade spagetti), a million stupid tuilles (god, I’ve always detested tuilles and think I always will), and bonet–a molto tipico Piemontese dessert (a chocolate custard with amaretti cookie crumbs baked in. All the versions I’ve tried so far have been nastiness though. I think it needs some help). If you haven’t noticed, my English skills are going right down the tubes; please forgive me.

It hailed today! A lot! I was half way to work when it started and luckily for me, my friends who own the chicken farm (I found out today that their names are Luciano and Cristiana) were going to Gallo this morning, so they picked me up half way. Ding!

I had dinner at the circolo with Carmela, Giuseppe and Beatrice. Afterwards they took me to their house and gave me the grand tour. They have 3 dogs, 2 rabbits and 80 chickens! The drinking habits here should be upping my tolerance pretty quickly (I hope!) Wine with every meal and always apperitifs! No matter how much I protest, somehow I ALWAYS end up with a big glass of some foreign liquor in front of me. The key is to make your first sip really big, and then there’ll only be a couple more painful sips to go…

It was an exciting day though, to say the least! A domani… (Untill tomorrow…)

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