It was a holiday in Italy yesterday – Liberation Day. To celebrate the day off work and school a big group of friends and strangers including many children took a hike around Lake Nemi, just south of Rome, led by a young agronomist called Mattia. We thought we would be walking 10 km with lunch in the middle. The calculations were slightly off. Instead, we walked for 12 km before we came to the agriturismo where Mattia’s friend Gino was preparing our lunch.
Lunches like this one are the best part of living within a food culture. There were 12 children in our group and even more adults, but no one ever asked us any questions about what we wanted to eat or whether or not we had any dietary restrictions. Instead, our table was laid and ready for us when we dragged ourselves up to it. There were jugs of water and jugs of the local red and white wine, bowls of black olives and plates of bread that had been toasted on the fire and then drizzled with olive oil. For the first course we ate two kinds of pasta (one with tomatoes and mozzarella, the other with tomato sauce cooked with a little bit of crumbled beef) followed by sausages stuffed with dried berries that grow in the area, fennel seed and rosemary, as well as chicken stewed with tomatoes and salad. After, we had fresh ricotta with apricot jam. Everyone enjoyed the meal.
After spending the last two weeks in Canada, where everyone seems to have dietary restrictions, personal preferences and political food issues, it was a relief to eat a communal meal with so little fuss (I love you all, my friends, but eating with you is becoming more and more complicated). The children ate a little of everything and then were excused to play among the ancient ruins of the Temple of Diana while the adults took their espresso at the table and grilled Mattia on just how long was the hike back to Genzano, where we had left our cars.
During the post-lunch six km hike uphill through stinging nettles and along narrow paths, my friend Andrea and I talked a little about how shared meals like this one serve to unite a group. There’s something about passing the platters and collectively trying to figure out the unusual and delicious taste of the sausages (which turned out to be the berries) that gets conversations flowing.
I’m only sorry that I forgot to bring my camera.