Publication: Along the Tevere – A Gastro-Historical Portrait of the Region

I wrote a piece about a study trip we took during my MA studies, following the Tevere river from its sources in Emilia-Romagna to Rome. I call it a “gastro-historical portrait” because it doesn’t quite fit any style or genre. There was so much to talk about, so much indeed of history and culture that we encountered on this 10-day trip that it would have ballooned in length had I written it as a straight-up re-telling. Worse though, I found that it lacked narrative coherence and became a boring “and then…” list of things. Often, in travel writing, it is the traveller herself who provides the coherence, but this trip or this story at least was not about me, or us as a group. It was about the river, and so I had to put the river at the heart of it. It ended up becoming quite a lyrical piece, returning again and again to the motif of the river, water and movement. As the focus is not on any particular person or community, these became often nameless, supporting actors. It reminds me of what Anna Burns did in Milkman (2018), her novel set in late 1970s/early 1980s Belfast, in which she does not name a single character with a name, only by their relationships, characteristics or nicknames (“maybe-boyfriend”, “older sister”, “real milkman”). In her story, the technique captures the secretive and cautious way of life in Northern Ireland during the Troubles. In my article, it is not about secrecy but about, I suppose, unimportance. The smallness of individual lives and stories against the eternal story of the river.

***Along the Tevere (excerpt)***

Source of the Tevere – (c) Roberto Fogliardi /Creative Commons

“On the first evening, over dinner in their beautiful restaurant, the hosts explain how their work is centred on memory and tradition. But 82 years ago, their tradition abruptly changed, as they ceased to be Tuscan, and became Romagnoli. People are polite here, or is it careful? The carefulness that comes with having been ruled by many lords, with never much to say. Careful not to offend anybody, because who knows who will be the next masters? So people are cautious, stick to the facts: Yes, we used to be Tuscan. Now we are Romagnoli. They call it Tuscan Romagna. That’s us. Never a word about the power-hungry man from Forlì1, who thought he could influence destiny through geography2. A forced syllogism: what springs out of the sources of the Tevere must end in Rome. I am from Romagna. If the sources of the Tevere are also in Romagna, therefore, what springs from Romagna must end in Rome. In fact, he ended at the shores of an Alpine lake3. But that is a different story.

The story of the river is not one of destiny. A river has no destiny. The water never stops. It enters the sea, only to rise up again into the clouds, then fall down as rain on the top of the mountain, seep through the rocks into the underground reservoir4, and out again through the cracks. A little stream, trickling through the beechwood forest5, downhill, towards the valley and the city. An endless cycle, forever repeated. A river is movement. And in the movement, there is force. The force to carve a valley out of these mountains, or just to transport the heavy loads of the upstream harvests to the city. Grain and oil, milled with the force of the river. Wine. And people. Always people…”

1 Benito Mussolini (1883-1945), Prime Minister of Italy 1922-1943
2 In 1927, Mussolini decreed that the borders of Romagna and Tuscany should be re-drawn, in order to include Monte Fumaiolo with the sources of the Tevere into Romagna, his home region.
3 Mussolini was executed by partisans at Lake Como, April 1945.
4 The sources of the Tevere spring from an underground reservoir on Mt. Fumaiolo.
5 There are many beech trees on Mt. Fumaiolo, because they are especially adapted to the local terrain – it is very sandy, and so only the beech, which has sprawling roots, about as many as it has branches overhead, can find enough hold to become very old there.

Read the full story here: https://arrow.tudublin.ie/tfschafart/212/

Bridge over the Tevere in Rome – (c) Giampaolo Macorig /Creative Commons

Unfortunately, all my own pictures from the trip were lost when my laptop crashed a while ago, so these pictures are from the Creative Commons, with thanks to the photographers.

Autumn in Piemonte

IMG_1820If you go for a walk in the woods one of these crisp Piemontese autumn mornings, you may meet a man carrying a wicker basket. In it, a few small mushrooms on a bed of fern. ‘Oh,’ you will say, ‘not so lucky today?’ – ‘No,’ he will answer, with a rueful look into his basket. ‘Not much luck today. Or maybe I just don’t know where to look.’ And, with a slight shrug of the shoulders, he will say: ‘Maybe this wood is not good for mushrooms. Good luck to you though.’

But if you were to come to the house of this man in these days, you will find him sitting at his kitchen table, carefully cleaning porcini mushrooms the size of his fist. He will be surrounded by several wicker baskets, full of glorious nut-brown and stone-grey specimens, resting on their bed of fresh green fern.

Continue reading

I’m jamming… An essay on marmalade

A few Sundays ago, I made my first jam. Orange marmalade to be precise, from untreatedP1070506 Sicilian blood oranges. It took me a few hours, and I had to wash the kitchen floor and myself afterwards because everything got a bit sticky, but I did it. That evening I was sitting on my couch just looking at those glorious five jam jars with their orange-red filling. Proud as if I’d laid an egg.
Since then, I’ve made my own apple sauce and taralli (sort of pretzels), and there’s a box of orange peel in my freezer waiting to be candied. I am a bit surprised myself by my recent domestic adventures. But there is a reason behind all this. What inspired me to the jam-making…well, actually, that’s the point. I was not inspired, I was pushed. By 10kg of beautiful Sicilian oranges sitting in my hallway. My colleague’s brother has an orchard somewhere at the south-eastern corner of Sicily, and she organised a delivery of oranges up to Piemonte, for a good price, but you had to take 10kg minimum. What are you going to do with so many oranges? Marmalade, that’s what. Because you don’t want a single one of them go to waste… Continue reading

Parma haikus

Parma_Fog on the bridgesFog shrouds the city
Hidden opportunities
I can’t find my keys

…Four years and four months ago, I left Ireland after living there for ten years and moved to Parma, Italy, to attend a masters course. Part of the course was a writing workshop, where I came up with these gems of wisdom that I would not want to keep from you…

Nebel auf Brücken
Der Fluss fliesst unermüdlich
Warum? Wasser halt

Fog on the bridges
The river never tiring
Why? Well, it’s water

Po-Ebene – Schnee
Zugfahrt ins neue Leben
Erstmal ‘nen Kaffee

Twenty-six boxes
Ten years worth of memories
Where the hell are they?

 

A little risotto manual

Are you intimidated by risotto? Have you heard people saying that it is complicated and a lot of work? Then you probably are a victim of the Very Secret Risotto Cooking Society. It exists, I can only presume (it is Very Secret), to scare people off preparing this very delicious and simple dish and thus making the people who do prepare it (probably all sworn members of the VSRCS) look all the more accomplished and fabulous. It’s a conspiracy. I know it.
Because making risotto is neither complicated nor any more work than your average dish of pasta (there aren’t even a lot of dishes to wash, because we need just one pan and one bowl to hold the stock). And you can adjust it in many ways to suit your taste, with seafood or vegetables or meat… Continue reading

Understanding cheese – A visit to a Parmiggiano-Reggiano workshop

The taste of cheese curd changed my life.

I had been well-trained in the art of composing a cheese board: combine fresh with aged cheeses, cow milk with goat and sheep, soft textures with firm, subtle aromas with pungent. Add wine. Achieve satisfaction. I was even getting rather proficient in remembering the curriculum of particular cheeses: this one from high mountain ranges, covered in luscious pastures, that one from craggy hills where sheep roam freely nibbling on wild herbs. But I hadn’t yet quite understood cheese.  Continue reading

Berlin Favourites – Pizza a Pezzi

Just a picture of tomatoes

Just a picture of tomatoes

This one is about simple pleasures. The pleasant and civilized feeling of grabbing a bite to eat after work on your way to a meeting, and that bite being a slice of fresh pizza made with good ingredients, served hot on a board, with a glass of red wine – for 4 Euros. Served in 5 Minutes. Good food IS possible, even in a hurry and on a Neukölln street corner. They have a few choices – one of them, to my absolute delight, is ‘nduja, the chilli-spiced soft pork sausage from Calabria. It sits on top of the rocket-covered pizza slices, like an orange-red devil’s egg. In the oven, the pork fat melts and the ‘nduja becomes a little chunky puddle of heat on top of your crispy steaming slice of dinner. Fantastic. Though I recommend beer with that.

There is ample place to sit at wooden tables, and in warm weather they open all the windows wide and serve you and your friends hot delicious pizza with your umpteenth beer of a summer evening.
What do you call walnut-sized amorphous pieces of soft yet solid something? Not chunks, as in bread. Not balls, because they aren’t. Clump sounds to heavy, so does clod (plus would you want to eat a clod? I certainly wouldn’t).  Nearly a glob, though that would be too soft, like mashed potatoes, and you don’t spoon ‘nduja, you dig it out with your fingers…but I digress. Must be the wine.

Pizza a Pezzi, Weserstraße 208, 12047 Berlin-Neukölln.