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.

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Only the Committed Drink on Tuesdays

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“Boss,the guy at the bar is making trouble.”

I looked up from the roster. Dario nodded towards the white-haired, red-faced man leaning on the bar with one elbow, clutching his wine glass. The man glanced erratically around the room then unsteadily focused on Manuela behind the bar. She had moved to the far corner by the coffee machine and was stiffly staring ahead. Her hands kept polishing the rim of a wine glass, round and round, and her eyes seemed shiny.

I sighed and got up. He owned a clothes shop in the neighbourhood, a confusion of colourful velvet, beads and mirrors. If it weren’t right on the main tourist thoroughfare, he would have been bust long ago. As it was, it still seemed to support his drinking habit. He seemed worse than usual tonight. Continue reading

A thought by M.F.K. Fisher

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Mary Frances Kennedy Fisher (1908-1992) was one of the first great food writers of the 20th century. She wrote essays, memoir and travel pieces of her life in the USA and France, where she spent several years. Interestingly, though, she did not think of herself as a “food writer”. In the foreword to The Gastronomical Me (1943), she explained: “When I write of hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and warmth and the love of it and the hunger for it.”

When I read this line in one of my Food Studies Master’s classes, a door opened for me. Food in itself is wonderful, but what drew me to working in bars and restaurants as a teenager and all through my twenties was the human theatre that played out there every night, celebration, romance, heartbreak, redemption, business. There had been books and scholarly articles examining and affirming my impression, but here for the first time was someone who celebrated it through words, which are after all my other great passion. And I realised I had found my corner in the food world, my tribe.

A thought by Julia Child

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Julia Child (1912-2004) was an American chef, author and TV personality. Actually, her first career was in the Secret Service, which is pretty cool. She met her husband in the Service, who became a diplomat and was posted to Paris. That’s where Julia decided to learn cooking. She began also to teach cooking and eventually published her debut cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking, which is famous for making complex French dishes accessible. Her personal style helped matters greatly: she is hilarious and did not take herself too seriously, not even on TV.

 

Book Fix Dublin – Hodges Figgis

img_20161120_152432 Where to find good books in Dublin?

No.2 – Hodges Figgis. The name sounds like a Dickens character, the shopfront looks exactly how you would picture Dublin’s oldest bookstore. Huge windows full of books curve towards the door like a bell jar. Their frames and the door are dark green, like the leather inserts on a library table.

But the shop is not resting on its long and illustrious pedigree (which includes being mentioned in Ulysses, no less).  From humanities, business and sciences on the top floor to the sweeping selection of classic and modern literature, Hodges Figgis is eminently knowledgeable without being snobbish.  Continue reading

Book Fix Dublin – The Secret Book and Record Store

img_20161118_141610Where to find good books in Dublin?

No.1 – The Secret Book and Record Store. A bookworms’ lair unfazed by fashions.

The Secret Book and Record Store is not all that secretly located in the city centre of Dublin. Around the corner from busy Grafton Street, amidst cafés and shops, a large yellow sign adorns the entrance. The corridor burrows away into the old building. At the end of it, boxes and tables and shelves full of books fill a low room almost to the ceiling.

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