Saturday, April 17, 2004

Easter lambs and pasqua nonna

Pasqua is past. How did it come and go so quickly?! My family and I ate Easter supper around Grandma's 3D lamb cake centerpiece. It's tradition - each year she bakes the two halves of the kneeling lamb cake then frosts them together with tufts of coconut wool and a little black jelly bean nose. Sunny skies, a cool breeze, an hallelujah chorus stuck in my head from church that morning, and all of us tucked around the table overflowing with food...una bellissima pasqua.

We have our lamb cake tradition and with each Easter I'm reminded of the traditions our friends shared on our first Italian pasqua. Our friend Elisabetta drove Erin and I to her family's country house early that bright Pasqua morning. Still under construction, the frame of the house was bare, with bags of cement mix and piles of tiles in the breezy future kitchen. The interim dining room was a long set of cardtables shoved together under a rainbow mix of tablecloths inside a tin barn next to rows of apple trees and grape vines.

Nonna (Elisabetta's grandmother) sat in the shade of the barn's entrance. Elisabetta introduced her friends, le americane, and Nonna growled, "Ho fame. Quando mangiamo?" (I'm hungry. When do we eat?) Her gnarled hands and rolled back had produced so many previous Pasqua pranze. It was her turn to be served. She knew it and she'd earned it. We sat down quickly.

Elisabetta's mother and sister brought course after course to the table, each plate containing some ingredient harvested or butchered from the land right outside that wide barn door. Her whole family asked questions about America and American Easter between their demands that we eat, take seconds, drink, take thirds. By the end of the meal, we all resembled Nonna a little: tired, crumpled over, leaning a bit to the left...but happy.

After a walk through the family's lands and around the little village, we came back to find Nonna already in the car. "Ho sonno. Quando andiamo via?" (I'm tired. When do we leave?) It was time for a nap. She knew it and we'd earned it.

I don't remember much about the drive back to our apartment in Macerata, but a deep nap that afternoon was filled with dreams of grumbling nonnas, homemade pasta, and green rolling hills sprinkled with coconut lambs.

Buona (belated) Pasqua!

Thursday, April 15, 2004

Pasqua and Pasquetta

Easter weekend was a good one. Antonello and I found ourselves attending a party for a friend Friday night--it was her graduation from law school. Despite my usual fear of events where I have to speak and understand Italian at a tremendous rate, the evening was a lot of fun. Paola, who we usually see in a caving suit and a helmet, was all dressed up and very happy. We ate bright pink raddicchio pate, polenta with mushrooms, and plenty of pasta--followed by a strawberry torta that Paola had made for everyone. Yum!

Easter brought more eating. I made devilled eggs for Antonello's mamma and nonna, and surprisingly, his mamma was delighted by them and ate four (she usually doesn't eat much, so it was neat to see her reach for seconds). We had a small feast of spinach ravioli, veggies, and, for dessert, Colomba--an Italian Easter cake with sugar and almonds on top. Colomba means dove which, apparently, the cake should be shaped like, although it looks more like a puffy cross to me.

Easter Monday, or Pasquetta (little Easter?), is an excuse for Italians to festiggiare some more, as Antonello had one of his few days off this year (you gotta love a shoemaker's life!). We drove a rainy road up to Trevi--a wedding-cake-like city on a hill in Umbria. Corrie reccomended it from a trip there over the summer. It's one of the cities you pass on the Rome-Ancona line (heading from Rome to Macerata), and when the train stops at the station, the car always fills up with chatter--"Where are we? What is this city?" There's good reason too--from afar, the city is as fairytale-like as they come--spiraling to a point with a tower at the top. It's a true Umbrian hill town. We drove the windy road up to the top, stopping to -ooh and -awe along the way. Once there, we visited museums, churches, and tiny ancient alleyways, losing our way on purpose a bit just to wander.

The weekend ended with a drier drive home, italian music buzzing on the radio and a sense that the weekend all went by way too quickly. A weekend like that won't come again for a while, I thought as we pulled up the hill to Macerata. But I closed my eyes and sang along to the radio, holding on to the few moments that remained.