You could easily guess - whether from the first part of the trip or from any stereotype you might have - that family is a crucial issue in Italian life. It's very important in general, but when a holiday hits all hell's breaks go loose, and everyone is fixated about how to handle the matter.
To be more specific - what shall we eat and where.
Ferragosto was declared a day of rest by Augustus/Octavius Ceaser, more than 2000 years ago. Along the years - also thanks to political moves and necessities - it turned to be the day that marks the beginning of the summer holiday (if you haven't started it a week before already), and dedicated to family and friends gatherings on the beach, on the mountains and wherever there's a little shade.
We had our annual Ferragosto lunch at a farm located at Marina di Curinga.
Well, not exactly.
The farm is officially a part of the Marina di Curinga, which is the coastal fraction of Curinga, a small village not far from Lamezia Terme. But in fact, there are no street numbers (in a matter of fact, this is one of the residents' complaints here since there is no postal service), there are almost no roads, and you identify the farms by "the Madonna at the gate with the other Madonna praying to, but not the colored one".
There are chickens at the chicken coop (surprise!), the house cats and their kitten - Congratulations! - are running around trying to understand what these new creatures that the owner calls "family" are, the hammock is waiting for someone to relax on, and it seems that all sense of rush and emergency has been left in Rome. We know we are going to meet it again - but not now.
Adjusting ourselves with some local wine - and the plates start pouring in:
Peperonata - a mixture of fried then sautéed peppers, eggplants, potatoes and tomatoes, homegrown chickpeas that were lightly cooked in almost green-colored olive oil, a 12 eggs frittata with pasta fragments inside - yes, 12 eggs are not enough so you have to add some pasta, and another pasta salad, just like that.
On the lighter side of the scene were Soppressata sausage from Spilinga, another Calabrian town, and Pecorino cheese from Curinga - the one on the mountain.
For the main show, we had three types of pies: potatoes, eggplants garnished on the inside with more sausage and cheese, and meat pie. All were fragrant and hearty and gave the notion that you rarely get when you eat at restaurants or around the city - here no one tries to give you less. Vice versa. Here you will get more and more, just because people love you, just because you are a part of the family.
After lunch - and before desserts, since we haven't eaten anything yet - Vincenzino, V.'s cousin, took us for a stroll around the farm.
It's not a big farm, yet it's big enough to hold various produce areas: eggplants and tomatoes, bell peppers and chili, strawberries and melons, and in between also basil and other herbs which smell when walking by was enchanting.
This is the most striking thing: usually, when we buy vegetables at the supermarket we barely know their origin. We might know which country they come from, sometimes even the region. If we go deeper we know also the name of the producer/farmer - if it's not a subsidiary of a bigger consortium. Those who buy their fruit and vegetables from local agricultural cooperatives are happy to know the farmers themselves.
And far on the other side of the scale there's this - here you know *exactly* where the piece of land the eggplants on your plate came from. You can spot the row and check how the offspring of the ones you'd eaten just 20 minutes ago is doing. If we take it to the extreme, you might ask next time if it's possible to eat the eggplants, or peppers, or tomatoes, from row number 3 and not number 4 since they are softer, or hotter, or juicier.
For a city-boy like me, and I guess for everyone who is not a frequent visitor to the countryside, this is incredible.
Talking to Vincenzino helped me understand better how delicate the land is. If it's too cold or too hot, if there is not enough rain or too much of it, if it pours down in season or when you don't expect it - these are merely some of the reasons for the land not be able to give us what we ask for. And that is even before we mention human mistreating and excessive use of it.
I think that is the reason why the image of stubborn and tough farmers is true. They have to be as twice as tough in order to protect the fragile land, to tame and educate it according to seasons. If they won't be like that, they are both going to fall.
At the same time, farmers must be very optimistic people, since if they stop believe that the land will accept their request and give in return its produce, then what are they doing here anyway.
We got back to the table for a last round of sweets:
The good land around us provided also sweeter than sweet watermelons and prickly pears, Chiara, V.'s sister, prepared an Amaretti cookies cake (did you know that Amaretti cookies are mostly made of apricot kernels?!), and to bind it all we had a family friend's homemade chocolate liquor.
And that wasn't the last family gathering...
Previously, on Going South:
Going South Day #1: Rome to Calabria