That time I made peace with myself at last — in front of a plate of pasta
For some of us, accepting who we are and where we came from is the struggle of a lifetime. Eddie tells us how learning to make homemade pasta can unexpectedly become a rite of passage — and acceptance.
Abruzzo is a strong land. Rugged. Towering. It’s the kind of place you see in those car commercials that talk about force, endurance, strength — with its desolate valleys between jagged peaks, no trees, only meadows for sheep and horses to graze. These places inspired many a medieval tale and mystical legend — but for me, for so many years, they only inspired the great desire to escape. I wanted nothing to do with Abruzzo. I had an agreement with it; let’s call it a common understanding: I would stay until I was 18, setting up my plans for a better future — one far away, out in the big city. Abruzzo was only my launch pad — or rather the Earth itself, pulling me back, keeping me from launching off to a better life that I could almost see up there, calling me with its shining lights. I focused so much on my escape plans, and I didn’t really understand what I was trying to escape from.
Then, when I finally made it past 18, with my blooming university career ahead of me in a far-off land, not even the homemade gravy of my mamma or my nonna were enough to make me even think of going back. The times when I returned home for the obligatory festive occasions were rightly dubbed ‘doctor’s visits’ by everyone I knew: quick, just passing through, as there was always something better to do somewhere else. It would take a long time — indeed, it took more than 20 years, voyages around the world, times of love, times of loss, and a masterclass on homemade pasta taught by a housewife, none other than my own mother, to make me understand that I could finally bury the hatchet — bury it deep, and make peace with my roots.
In my wanderings far from home, I learned to make sushi and paella, I learned to prepare a delicious ratatouille, I became versed in the Ecuadorean cuisine of the Andes, and I even tried my hand at cooking Vietnamese tidbits — but I always just took for granted my grandmother’s pizze fritte, my aunt’s ravioli, and the homemade pasta of my mamma — to name only three of the infinite delights that had nourished me during my teenage years and helped me grow into a man. At no time did the thought cross my mind that I should learn to make the dough myself, knead it, and put it through the machine, to be able to enjoy a plate of my very own homemade fettucine. Learning to make sushi — of course, a must for any true ‘metropolitan soul’; but homemade pasta — what the hell are you talking about? The distance I tried to put between myself and my origins dulled any impulse I’d had to learn. That, and some kind of faith, blind, not even conscious, that mamma would always be there to make it — the best food I’ve ever eaten in my life.
But the years passed, and the youthful certainty of my own immortality didn’t seem so certain anymore. And so it happened that, a few months ago, during one of my blink-and-you’ll-miss-it trips home, I stopped for a moment to watch my mamma make the homemade fettucine. And I broke the silence — a silence that for me had something solemn, even spiritual, and for her probably just came with the automatic movements repeated so many times they no longer needed any further thought or expression — and asked my mother to show me how to make the pasta. I vaguely offered that maybe — don’t know when, but at some point — I’d like to try to make it myself, at my own house. And my mamma, not seeming to give much importance to my unexpected outburst (as mothers know what inner struggle it takes sometimes to follow our impulse to ask something — and they know not to stifle the spark within us by making us uncomfortable), started to show me — from the beginning.
I made a careful record of the process, making pictures, taking notes — but the whole time while I was playing reporter, I couldn’t help noticing the strength of my mother’s fingers as they dug into the lump of pasta, to mold it, break it apart, and mold it again, giving it perfect firmness in the end. That simple and repetitive movement, the fingers like the roots of a tree digging forcefully into the earth, seemed to almost put me in a trance — and I was again close to my land, Abruzzo, the stubborn and the proud, strong as the roots of a tree, gentle and soft as the lump of pasta that lets itself be molded and broken apart.
What about the fettuccine, you ask? We ate them on that very same day, with a sauce of tomatoes and mushrooms, picked with great care from the fields around my childhood home.
That was six months ago. No, I haven’t tried to make homemade pasta — not yet. I don’t have all the utensils I need. More importantly, I don’t have all the courage I need. The courage to try and maybe fail — and betray the trust of my mother, who gave me her very own recipe for the pasta, a secret to keep and pass on to my own children. To fail, and be unable to prove (to my dinner guests, to myself!) that I am a true man from Abruzzo — one who knows how to make his own homemade pasta, and who is comfortable, and proud, to sink his roots deep into the soil that nurtured him and raised him up.
This story has initially been written into Italian by the impressive plume of Edmondo Pezzopane.
It was then beautiful trans-created and polished by Eugen R., and carefully proofed by Eugenia P. until it shined like a diamond.
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