I have already talked about my mother’s side of the family by posting, among the rest, excerpts from the memoirs of Carlo Calcagni.
Piedmont means “at the foot of the mountains ” (Latin ‘ad pedem montium‘.)
Which mountains by the way? The North-West Alps bordering Switzerland and France.
Grandpa, of whom I have knowledge only from parents’ and relatives’ narrations, I’ve already mentioned here. He is one positive male role model I had, together with my father a bit and my mother’s brothers who however belonged to a totally different, central-Italy, culture.
I experienced some friction with my dad. A family tradition since he too had problems with his father while he was totally captivated by his mother Carolina.
Dad always told me that grandpa was ‘a scientist’ while grandma ‘was an artist who grasped nuances’. She was by the way a painter.
I never quite understood this nuances thing. Grandpa perhaps grasped other nuances that grandma and my dad – who seemingly ‘grasped nuances’ too – could not perceive.
At any rate nonna Carolina though not personally cooking ruled the kitchen (and the house) with an iron hand in a velvet glove. Only when she fell ill my mother could take over in some way.
The food served at our childhood table, in our house in Rome, was almost always very good thanks to the more-than-average cooking skills of Nerina, the cook, and to grandma’s recipes and firm guidance.
When nonna Carolina, after a good dish that perhaps had cost some efforts, asked her husband whether he had enjoyed the pietanza, or dish, Mario invariably replied:
“Ben cotto” (‘well cooked’.)
In truth – my father’s humorous comment – nonno had absolutely no interest in food and perhaps when asked for an appreciation he had even forgotten the dish just eaten: culinary art had apparently no place among his interests.
In any case grandpa, like many Piedmontese, had a sweet tooth.
My Alpine female cousins (my dad’s sister’s daughters) once told me that nonno took them occasionally to a bar (a café) and bought them una pasta (a small pastry.)
This thing of la pasta al bar I have experienced myself via papà who, being Mario’s son, took me in his turn to Bar Cigno – the once elegant café in Viale Parioli (Parioli‘s main street) – where I too was offered una pasta.
Now that almost 60 years have elapsed, thinking about it with affection, this rite of ‘la pasta’ was nonetheless curious.
At a good Italian bar – back then and today – one can consume a bunch of things.
Had my father been a Roman he would have bought us, depending on the occasion, cornetti (croissants) with chocolate or cream, maritozzi con la panna (Roman sweet buns with whipped cream and currants), pie slices of any kind (as is the habit in Germany or in the US,) carnival cakes (frappe, castagnole etc.), Sicilian cassata with ricotta and candied fruit, Neapolitan pastiera, a good selection of ice-creams plus pizza, pizzettine, pizzette, various sandwiches and the legendary Parioli’s American club sandwiches of the 60s.
['Wicked' - a young English friend would comment]
We were instead taken by dad to the bar and bought la pasta.
Now, even limiting ourselves to pastry, due to pastries’ large variety, the rite was nonetheless sober since we were usually served just a small bignè (a cream puff: see above.)
A sober, simple rite, ‘la pasta al bar’. But we liked it that way.