Lately, I've found myself laughing at how much my life has changed.
I've made meatballs and traditional Calabrian sweets. I've walked through a forest of chestnut trees overlooking the sea. I've bumped along down country roads, never sure of what beauty lay around the corner. I've drunk beer with the village dudes, the only female in the bar.
I've watched salami being made by women who learned from their mothers and grandmothers. I've participated in Sunday dinners. I've attended religious village processions.
Never would I have imagined five years ago that this would be my life!
A Lost Connection Found
One thing I adore about Calabria, particularly tiny villages like Davoli, where Francesco is from, is their deep ties to the land. Sure, they shop at grocery stores like everyone else, but they make or grow much of what they eat.
Fra's family grows fava beans, peas, tomatoes, and other vegetables. They have chickens, so there are always fresh eggs.
This time of year, they buy a pig (at one time, the family kept pigs, but now they just buy one), slaughter it, and make salsiccia and other meatly delicacies.
They know where their food comes from. I realize as an American, I can't (or couldn't) say the same. My meat came packaged and polite. No evidence of the animal it once was. If I really wanted to have the illusion of connecting to the land, I'd go to the Little Italy Farmer's Market (oh, the irony) in San Diego, where I'd pay four times what I pay here for veggies.
Fruits and vegetables taste better when you know where they come from. The ricotta his family buys from Anna, sister of Gambero (it's a nickname that means Shrimp) tastes better because it was just made. Everything on the table has a story.
Here, Nothing Goes to Waste
This is another thing I admire about the Calabrians. When they butcher a pig, they use it all. (Some parts I'd rather not eat, but someone is happy to eat the skin and intestines!).
When they have an abundance of fruit or vegetables, they can it for the seasons when that produce doesn't grow. Fra's garage is filled with jars of tomato sauce, jarred tomatoes, and jarred peaches.
At dinner, if I can't eat the massive pile of pasta Fra's mom gives me, not to worry. The dog or the chickens will eat it.
It's the circle of life. Nothing here goes to waste.
The Community Comes Together
I made the foolish mistake of buying oranges from the market a few months ago. Fra laughed at me, because this time of year, his house is filled with oranges. They don't have orange trees, but friends and family give boxes and boxes of oranges, mandarins, and grapefruit as gifts this time of year. Now I constantly have my fix of vitamin C!
When you have more than enough here, you share it. I've never met such generous people. We were in one of the two bars in Davoli the other day, and an older gentleman Fra has known his entire life, apropos of nothing, said he had some mozzarella for me! Never one to turn down free cheese, we followed him to his car and he pulled out a bag of fresh-made cheese. He had an entire box of it, and I have no doubt he gifted the rest to others. It's just in their nature to share their abundance.
And speaking of abundance...Calabria isn't a wealthy region in terms of money, but it is rich beyond compare when it comes to gifts from the earth!