Whenever I say I grew up in a tiny village in the Venetian countryside, people start to make assumptions, and I don’t blame them. It must sound like the best place to land on this planet. Although it has its charming traits and its good sides, there are quite a few myths to debunk about my childhood.
For starters, there were no kids – only four of us in my class in primary school. Four. Which means a) any team game was automatically a bummer and lasted very shortly, and b) I had to do the maths and the grammar at the blackboard every single day. And what is worse, I had no one to exchange or share my food with. On the break between classes (intervallo), when kids were allowed to eat a snack and run around, I would eat whatever my mum had put in the little zipper pocket of my Cartoon-branded backpack without a chance to trade it with someone else. Statistically speaking, four people were simply not enough. Not that anybody would have wanted to trade their food with mine anyway, and the reason for this takes me to the second myth.
These peach and amaretti popsicles are very much inspired by a traditional summer dessert from Piedmont called pesche ripiene (stuffed peaches). Ingredients and flavours are similar, but here you have the added bonus of a refreshing, light, sweet something that goes down all too well when it’s scorching outside.
I made meringues for the first time.
I made them on a rainy, damp day. The egg whites didn’t get as fluffy as I hoped, and in their raw form, they looked more like melted marshmallow. I was already discouraged, but I thought to bake them anyway. I spooned the liquid, pearl-white, thick mixture into my muffin tins so that it would stay in place. I turned on the oven at the suggested temperature. I waited. And to my big surprise, I saw them growing rapidly inside their beds. They grew and formed mushroom tops that became increasingly golden and firm. I removed them from the oven with a mixture of fear and hope. I thought they were too pretty to be true, and that given how it all began, they would collapse as soon as they were out.
The most fascinating side of an enlarged family is usually the one which lives far from the rest. My family is no exception. As a kid, among the whole lot of aunts and uncles all born and raised in Veneto, I have always been intrigued by that aunt who chose the alternative path, married a man from the South during her graduate years and left the native soil to follow him in his social and professional climbing.
They lived in Palermo, Reggio Clalabria, Naples, Udine, Varese, Florence and who knows where else in Italy. My aunt would follow her professional, upscale engineer husband wherever his career would take him without objection, even after the birth of their (only) daughter. They would show up sometimes at my grandma’s house for a weekend over Christmas or Easter or some other public holiday, have lunch with the rest of us, and then leave right after in their shiny new company car.
What was most striking was how much she had changed and moved on from her Venetian country origins. Far from using any dialect, her way of speaking had a strange inflection, a mixture of accents and local usages that made her even more singular before my eyes. She would discuss literature, philosophy, religion, art and music with her very puzzled mother and sister –all subjects that she probably had time to dig in her long days at home alone, with her husband away for work, pressured by the idea of pleasing him and be presentable at one of the many social events they had to attend.