The bells rang today, once a long haphazard slow ringing because there was a death in the village and a couple times more for Palm Sunday. There weren’t any olive-branch-porting procession-ers in the streets today though; no mass in the sweet Chiesa dell’Annunziata, which opens the doors to its late-Baroque grace only rarely, but always for this day.
What won’t be celebrated in the streets is finding its way out in food, regardless of the restrictions. Yesterday, coming home from the studio I was almost at my door when Annamaria from the bottega across the piazza called out to me. Come here! Blue-gloved and masked, she handed me a small package. As I walked in the door, the unmistakable orange-blossom scent gave it away—pastiera!
This smell and the taste of this torte brings me back to my childhood when my family would pile in the car on Easter Sunday to drive an hour to the home of one of my mother’s aunts, usually Millie or Jay, to crowd into the dining room with at least 15 or 20 other aunts, uncles and cousins to eat. All day. Six courses, maybe more. Near the end, before the fruit came out, there would be the pastries and the rich, sweet, dense pastiera. My mother’s aunts would have been cooking for days. They were first generation Americans and knew all the recipes from “home” by heart. This was one of my favorites. Before arriving in this valley, about two and a half hours by car from where all my great grandparents came from, I hadn’t had a slice of pastiera in many years. My first Easter here I was flooded by a mix of memories of vinyl-covered sofas, laughter and loudness, uncomfortable “Sunday” clothes, foreign words dropped into the conversation like expletives, the mystery of the great-uncle whose hair was blacker than my mother’s (and she so much younger), the perfume of the women, the perfume of the lasagna; staying at the table to listen in on the conversation of the men (and steal sips of sambucca unimpeded), and the small cups of bitter coffee.
Today I start my day with half of the last piece of pastiera and an espresso. Later I call my mother. It’s her birthday.
I added this blog as a way to share some thoughts and experiences around the impact of Covid-19 on my life here in Southern Italy. These posts have been a near-daily practice during this time and are largely unedited, most having been first posted on Facebook. They are of course in order with the most recent entry on the first page. I invite you to explore previous posts or even start from the beginning.