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Chef Joe Bonaparte
This weekend we took another trip to Tuscany, but this time we went to visit Chef Marcella Ansaldo on the island of Giglio, her home town. I met Marcella last year in Charlotte when she conducted some classes for our local Slow Food Convivium. Marcella currently teaches Italian cooking at the school Apicius in Florence. Marcella contacted me the day I arrived in Italy and we had planned to get together earlier, but unfortunately her son had a bad motorcycle accident and has been slowly recovering, first in the hospital and now at home. He is still unable to walk, but Marcella thinks he will be able to in a 1 o 2 weeks.
The last ferry to Giglio leaves Porto Saint Stefano at about 7:30PM – the drive from Jesi is about 3.5 to 4 hours, so the ferry is too early for us to make after class on Friday evening. With Marcella’s ok, I invited the other students in the class to come and Toshi, Sadao, and Masa came with Christine, Francesca, and I, but Jennifer stayed to meet some friends in Ancona. We decided to drive ¾ of the way Friday evening and spend the night in Siena. Siena is a beautiful city; I think the Piazza Del Campo is probably the most striking Piazza that I have seen. Last year when we were in Siena it was set up for the Palio – so there was dirt and grand stands filling most of the Piazza. This time I stood alone in the Piazza at 7:00 am – it was awesome. Marcella drove to Siena to meet us for dinner and she hit it off with my classmates, Christine and Francesca immediately.
Saturday morning we headed for the small island of Gilgio which has a population of about 1000. It is wonderful to hear Marcella speak with such passion about her island. As soon as we walked off the ferry she was hugging and kissing people, it seemed as if she knew everyone on the island. Is was interesting hearing about how the Romans used the island for wine production and to see the old roman foundations. The island has three main parts all very different Porto, Castello on the hill top, and the beaches. Marcella has dreams of building a school, and cultural center on the island. She is currently working the local government trying to make her dream become a reality. I hope she does as the island and its people have much more to offer than crystal clear water and beautiful beaches.
Other thoughts: - Not to sound like a broken record, or preachy or that I don’t love the US, but I had some thoughts and observations over the weekend.
Francesca fell asleep during dinner in Siena on Friday night so I needed to carry her back to the hotel when we were done. We took a lovely walk through the city and came to a set a stairs to go down. Usually I would just quickly walk down the stairs without a thought, but since I was carrying a sleeping Francesca and could not see down in front of me I walked carefully sliding my feet down the stairs so I wouldn’t trip. I noticed the steps were very smooth, slightly slanted and rounded on the edges. As I went down I thought how many hundred years old these steps must be, how many thousands of people have gone down them to smooth and round them, and how many hundred years more will they be there after I have gone? For some reason my first thought was how fleeting our time is here on earth and that I should enjoy each moment and step. Stay in the moment and don’t worry about yesterday or tomorrow. Then I thought why we (America) look at things so differently than other cultures. It seems we may have viewed the steps as “old”, “worn out”, needs to be “replaced”. Yet the steps still work, they tie us to the past and help make one small connection with those who came before and those who may come after us. I thought of where I live and how we viewed a perfectly good less than 20 year old, multimillion dollar structure (the Charlotte Coliseum) and blew it up so we could move it 5 miles to downtown? How strange? How disposable our culture has become, it does not make much sense to me.
Driving from Siena to Porto Santo Stefano we stopped at a gas station (not an Auto Grill – but a small unassuming place) to get a café. Like all the roadside bars in Italy you can get a great café. But, when you ordered an orange juice, the guy took a couple of oranges cut them in half, juiced them, and gave you a glass of orange juice. In the US you can get a good coffee and a fresh squeezed OJ in the big city, but what do you get on the side of the highway or small towns for the most part? The simple answer-junk food – you know the names. Why do we put up with it? It is crazy we can get an egg mcmuffin and crappy coffee, and orange juice from concentrate or powder. We can get a Walmart, a gas station with a junk food vendor inside, but can we can something simple, fresh, healthy and good? The little beach huts on Giglio actually had fresh, made to order food. Not microwave hotdogs and burritos. One had a wood burning pizza oven waiting to make you a fresh pizza, they had salads, pastas, and great café. The other had the chef waiting to make you fresh mussels, or pasta. The beach was tiny –like 20 yards- there were 6 tables. These were on the beach, not in town. Why don’t we demand quality, are our bodies and minds not worth it?
Stand up and scream “I mad as hell and I am not gonna take it anymore” come on you can do it – did you see the movie?