Friday, March 15, 2013
Beyond The Pasta
Beyond the Pasta
Recipes, Language and Life with an Italian Family
By Mark Leslie
Published by Gemelli Press, 2010
The tragedy of 9/11 was experienced by the author, his partner and their mothers, whilst they were all in Florence on holiday. Italy had - and continued to exert- a fascination for him, and he made the brave decision to return in 2005 for a combined cooking and Italian language course in the Stefani family home in Viterbo for a month.
This book is based on his diaries of that eventful month, during which he learns to come to terms with the Italian way of shopping, cooking, communicating - and navigating the shopping trolleys. The absurdities and quirks of Italian life are lovingly depicted and in the space of a chapter, he can fit in a remarkable variety of experiences, including history, ice-creams, football, old churches, and during a weekend trip to Rome, he manages to visit a gay bar as well as see some unusual tourist sites.
A large part of the book is naturally devoted to the food he learns to cook with the elderly Nonna, who not only runs a Scout troupe but has also mastered the art of texting and has two mobile phones! He learns to prepare a wide variety of food for family birthdays, everyday meals, learns to make home-made pasta and encounters a traditional Wood burning pizza oven. He often eats out with his Italian host family, and meets their extended family, neighbours and friends, which gives him ample practice in perfecting the Italian he is learning from Alessandra, who is Nonna's daughter and his teacher. A surprising amount of Italian is incorporated in the book, which I found fascinating, especially when he shares the embarrassing mix-ups he makes with easily confused words.
By Day 20 he is even dreaming in Italian and learning to translate song lyrics, among many other things, and he falls in love both with Viterbo and the Stefani family, keeping in touch with them by phone and email, and taking his partner Richard to visit them every year.
It is hard to pigeonhole this book in any single category as it is neither a pure travelogue, cookbook nor language book, but a delightful melange of all three; reading it was an extremely pleasant way to spend a few hours.