Something I’ll never forget — sitting down at a wooden table with a heart-warming and welcoming family, several conversations in Italian going on at once, and sharing Polenta served on a few wooden tablets. The feeling of acceptance into the family and consideration they had for me made my heart literally melt.
But let me start at the beginning.
ON THE WAY OVER
My host sister Aurelia arrived from university from northern Italy just 2 days prior and, since she hadn’t been back in a while it seemed obvious that a visit to Nonna’s and Nonno’s was necessary. Flash forward to the morning of, when we’re grabbing our jackets, putting Amelie’s leash on (she’s the family dog whom I talk about in a previous post), and carrying the mushrooms into the car — more on the mushrooms later. We drive an hour out of the city and into what’s considered the suburbs of Rome where my host mother’s parents live. It’s a beautiful and really old house with a most-delicately carved trimming, glimmering chandelier and rich carpet. It smells of maiz and I think I know what’s coming … polenta. And not the kind that looks like tofu and tastes rather iffy from Italian-American buffets, but the real kind.
HOME SWEET HOME!
My zia, who also happened to speak Spanish fluently because she lives in the Canary Islands, was telling me how she was preparing the dish, how it needs to be constantly stirred, and how you can smell the goodness of it all throughout the house. I was really stoked. And while this is cooking, we’re eating olives and freshly-baked bread and I’m talking with the nonno about his life. He tells me he met his wife when he was 27 but before that he spent some time in jail for political reasons — he smiled when he said that, and even quizzed me later. He was retired so he spent his time caring for pets, the garden and generally living his happy and relaxed life surrounded by his 3 children and many grandchildren.
Soon thereafter, my host mom Roberta clears the table and places 3 wooden tablets on it, telling me it’s for the polenta. “Uno per te and due per noi,” meaning one was for me and two were for the family. Well, I would split one with her since I’m vegan and my polenta would just be the maiz paste, tomato sauce and the mushrooms she’s prepared earlier. To eat, you just grab a fork and have at it. I couldn’t have been happier.
Afterwards we were served coffee (mine with 3 sugars please — thanks Cuban habits!) and some amaretto cake (not vegan so I just looked at it and said it was ‘cute’).
Nonna’s younger sister arrived with her 3 sons, their wives and 2 grandkids. It’s her sister’s 65th birthday and she wanted to celebrate with the family. She even brought a marmelade tart (which was vegan) so I was very, very happy! For the next few hours we talked about her life, the tart, and me. She opened her present — a painting — and the kids worked tirelessly to work out a Rubik’s Cube. And since it was kind of chilly, one of her sons went to grab firewood and got the fireplace going! You wouldn’t believe how quickly the home toasted up.
I gotta say, when the whole family arrived out of nowhere I started getting a little angsty but then everyone really went out of their way to make me feel welcome, asking me about my school, my time in Rome, and what my plans were afterwards. When they say Italians love family, they really love family. And when it was time to go, everyone gave me hugs and kisses and now I’ve been counting the days until the next visit.