August is here again, and as part of our summer break, I offer you a story I wrote about making gnocchi for our village festival. This is long story for a blog and comes in two parts. To read Part I, click here. I hope you enjoy it and your summer!
I had been on my feet all morning rolling strings of dough and cutting them into bite-sized gnocchi, when someone arrived with a tray of sliced prosciutto crudo on fresh bread and thimble-sized cups of strong black coffee. Both never tasted so good!
But truly, my inspiration and energy only arose from the compagnia of the women around me. At one point, I was standing next to Eleonora, a young woman who had spent seven years in Boston and New York studying music. She started singing “Close to You” by the Carpenters and we sang together for a while, with me helping her with the lyrics. Then suddenly Adelaide threw up her arms and waved them around as she sung, and the rest of the women joined in. She then recited a short poem that she had just invented:
Chi al mare e chi al monte
A fare gnocchi, ci sono tonte.
Some are vacationing at the beach, others in the mountain sun.
Those who make gnocchi are the stupid ones.
Adelaide was quick to engage me in fun. Whenever I stood at the table quietly dazed by all the activity around me or waiting for a new batch of dough to be made, she would pitch a few small balls of dough across the table at me, as if to say, “Don’t just stand there, roll gnocchi!”
And so it went. Elisabetta, one of the younger dough makers and a teacher of mathematics, complained one morning when we stood beside each other. “Don Stefano! He wants us all to go to Paradise, so why does he only talk about Hell?! He should be encouraging us on what we have done right, not just telling us about how we are all ready for Hell.”
To be honest, I have enjoyed Don Stefano’s sermons. A tiny, slightly hunched man, our village priest wears thick, square glasses that make him look like he’s ready for scuba diving. Whenever he starts to preach, Don Stefano carefully examines this watch, but then he never seems to check the time when he stops. His sermons are adopted to best suit his agrarian audience. One time he told us that we were like hoes in God’s hands. “If the hoe is broken, how can you work the field? It’s the same with God. If you are not whole in the grace of God, how can God use you to sow his profound Love?”
After our worked finished on Friday morning (and every day after that), it was time to enjoy the fruits of our labor. We all sat down together to eat lunch, and this was the best time for me. Everyone was satisfied with a job well done, happy to be together and playful in word and deed.
We all started out eating gnocchi in order to test the offering that would be made later that night. The gnocchi was deemed good, the sugo too acidic. Then there was a big discussion of the best way to remove the acidic taste from the sugo, with the debate ranging from sugar to bicarbonate of soda. I don’t know which one won out, but undoubtedly the master chefs did their magic. Meanwhile I was bragging about how the gnocchi were the best ever because this year they had un sapore americano, the taste of an American touch.
On Saturday morning, I came in wondering about Sunday mass. How would we all manage to make enough gnocchi and then, with our aprons covered in flour and cooked potato, clean ourselves up in time for the 11:30 service? “Oh, don’t worry!” Rita beside me said assuredly as we rolled and cut and rolled and cut. “The mass comes here! We all just go outside and Don Stefano does the mass outside the kitchen that day.”
That’s precisely what happened, and I guess for Elisabetta’s sake, he did preach about Hell. “Some people say how wonderful it would be to die at home in your sleep,” he said, setting up his punch line. “Ha ha. Hmmm. Yes, it’s wonderful if you go to bed without sin! But if your soul is full of sin, then such a death is a terrible thing. A terrible thing!”
I guess this is a good time to tell you that I not only make gnocchi in compagnia, but I also sing. I have joined the church choir, something I have never done before in my life. I thought it might be good for my Italian, and besides I like to sing. Every Monday evening we practice in the ancient church, practicing the songs for the following Sunday. In between melodies, the evening is full of scherzi or joking and teasing of one another.
Most of the songs are impossibly low in pitch for me to maneuver. However, I like to sit next to Clara, a heavy smoker whose deep, husky voice boomerangs around the church. She’s handy for me to sit next to because she clearly pronounces all the lyrics, some of which are like tongue twisters.. Try just saying (I recommend starting out really slowly):
“Questo miracolo incredibile, Questo prodigio indescrivibile.”
That last word alone has six… Count them! SIX syllables. In total this one verse has 22 syllables! Now run them together into a melody, sing at top speed, and make sure every syllable is distinctly enunciated. I noticed that with my American accent the vowels seems to slur into one another while the Italian singers nicely clip their vowels into staccato peccadillos of clear song.
Oh well, it doesn’t seem to matter. They all keep telling me how brava I am (I’m not) and how well integrated I’ve become (whatever that means). In any case, I am in compagnia and so are they. And in the end, that’s all that seems to matter.
This story and all its photos are copyright of Catherine Ann Lombard, 2018.