Tuesday, October 28, 2014

I Mandorli

Cardona di Alfano Natta, October 28, 2014—

Siamo uccelli di passagio
, I explained to Gabriella last night at dinner, we're migratory birds, we need to come to the same trees year after year.

Not always, of course; we do skip years; our migrations are annual, give or take, but not always the same route. But we do like our familiar temporary settling places, and among them this is a favorite.

It is half past seven; I've been awake half an hour. The fog is beginning to lift. Out the window I see the familiar rumpled landscape, the irregular fields divided among many different crops — olives, grapevines, dry cornstalks, lush green pasture. a couple of cars glide soundlessly along an invisible narrow road. To the right, the east, quite nearby, the village, stucco buildings, tile roofs, a square church-tower with two windows and a giant clock on each face; you'll be able to read the time out in your field, though anyway the bell tells the half-hours. A black and white cat comes across the tiles just outside my window, sits, regards me without interest, looks out at my view, then seems to think of something and moves on.

We came here first fourteen years ago, Gabriella tells us — I hadn't realized it was so long ago. She and her husband Franco bought this farmstead on the edge of the village a few years before that, having moved from the city for a quiet life. Over the years they've added to the property, and now their B&B offers several rooms and apartments. Franco has made wine and olive oil; Gabriella tends to the orto, the kitchen garden, and bakes, and makes delicious jams and tarts. 

Here she is now with breakfast: a fine mortadella-like Piemontese sausage, two goat cheeses, a basket of toasted bread, butter, apple butter, a bowl of walnuts and hazelnuts, fresh-squeezed orange juice, a basket of apples, oranges, and bananas, and carafes of coffee and hot milk. We decline the yoghurt, as always. It is all too much, of course; it is mostly not only local but della fattoria, from the place itself; it is all delicious.

One of the problems with my other blog, Eating Every Day, is that occasionally it asks me to write about a meal prepared by one of its readers. I know this to be the case here; Gabriella mentioned it herself last night, at the table. We hadn't wanted her to go to the trouble to cook for us, and perhaps she didn't really; perhaps she and Franco always dine like this: fried cheese, radicchio salad, soup, roast lamb, beets and onions, giardiniera, tiramisu. Domestic and delicious.

The bed is comfortable; the air tranquil. Theo the basset is two years older than when last we saw him, and deaf, Gabriella tells me, deaf like me — my ears still blocked from last week's flight. We all get older, those of us fortunate enough to survive. But one of the attractions of this familiar roost: it does not change, nor does its setting. 

Oh, there are little changes. The chapel down at the corner, which had lain a ruin for decades after its deconsecration — the population has not grown here! — it has been taken over by the municipality and gussied up with a new and to my eye irrelevant pseudo-Classical porch and is for sale, if you have an extra quarter of a million Euros. There are no toilets in it, Franco tells me, and when I ask if there's any plumbing at all, he shrugs. Well, it could always be installed. 

I don't know what you'd do with it. To my eye, Cardona doesn't really need anything. A mile down the road, in Alfiero Natta, there's a bar and a little store. Cardona has only its church, telling the hours patiently to anyone who'll listen, and the sleepers in the cemetery down the road toward Tonco…

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