Neron's Window

Neron's Window

Friday, November 26, 2010

What is this Thanksgiving event?

Neroni watches the TV intently everyday, especially the BBC. He, by the way, is a tri-lingual gatto, since he understands Cat, Italian, and English languages, although he speaks mostly in Cat. He listened and observed carefully all during the past two weeks as the BBC discussed Thanksgiving in the United States. Deciding to find out first hand, or paw, should we say,about what this event is really about,  he contacted his dear cousin, or cugino, in the US, Sylvan the Cat. Neroni found the traditions of the holiday very tasty sounding, and he wished that some year he might be able to share in such a delicious day. On the other hand, Sylvan asked what might be a similar event or holiday in Italy. Neroni told him in very clear Cat about the Olive Harvest, of which he has first paw knowledge since his umani family takes him and the children to their cousin's estate out in the Tuscan countryside every year to participate in this work and festival.

This special event also comes some time in November. First comes the harvest itself where nets are positioned below the trees which are hit with long poles of bamboo or metal to make the olives fall. If they do not fall, the gatherers must climb ladders to pick them one by one and place the precious fruit into baskets whose contents are added to the number of olives in the nets. This can last all day, and by evening the harvest takes on its festival atmosphere with a lucious dinner, perhaps in the olive grove itself, always accompanied by a rich local wine, toasting to the Earth, enjoying its gifts, and completed with laughter and songs. At the end of the harvest, the gatherers take their bounty to the press, where the first pressing makes what is known as extra vergine oil, so light, so delicious that it might be tasted right there on some Italian bread such as bruchetta, and a picnic begins. Then, carried by the press workers, the bottles of oil arrive in a basket, ready to take home to the sacred place in the cucina, or kitchen, to sit next to the spritely aceto, or vinegar, at the ready to bless the salads, breads, pastas, any ingredient that needs a bit of olive and grape for smoothing out and spicing up the day's meal, or pasto, a reason for grateful praise to the Creator.

In some Tuscan villages, this harvest might include a festival to commerate the life of a saint, such as St. Celement, whose special day is November 23, and who served as the fourth pope. In fact, cousins from Rome have reported to Neroni that ancient ancestors observed Christian worshipers in the second century who gathered quietly and secretly at an apartment to prevent being found and executed. Over this original building now sits the basilica which was built in the sixth century. The Christians dedicated this lovely structure to St. Clemente, and today they celebrate his special day with a parade with the church crucifix carried by priests and altar boys, his statue adorned with flowers, and food booths and singing, praying, candle lighting, and joy in the blessed harvest of both the olives and the souls who have been remembered earlier in the month at All Saints Day. These cousins from all over Italy love these festivals as the excitement to watch and the tid bits of food that fall to the ground allow for much fun, as well as all the children who are there to pet and play with them, the gatti of the region. No turkey and dressing, but Thanksgiving none the less. Then home to warmth, that special blanket, the rubs from loving owners, and at last a deep, autumnal sleep during the quiet night of November.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The aroma of bread baking

Nothing beats the wonderful aroma of bread baking. Neroni finds the aroma almost intoxicating, along with the lovely smell of seafood. And not being very far from either most of the time, has him running to the kitchen door of whomever is preparing such delicious treats. Now, it is unusual for a cat to love bread, but even cats in Italy love their daily share. When Mama or Papa take out the flour, cornmeal, eggs, yeast, and salt to make the rustic, Tuscan style bread, he comes running, ready to lie on the brown tile floor and watch and listen while the oven begins to hiss its warm-up sounds, and the flour falls into the bowl as it decends from the old tin sifter. He notices how quickly the cook's hands move to include the salt and to make a "well" in the middle to provide a warm place for the water and yeast. Then, after mixing, he knows that he must wait ten minutes for the lovely smelling bubbles to arise and for the flour sides of the well to be moved into the center with the yeasty water. Then after the current cook pushes it all around, a ball begins to form and Neroni looks with interest at what happens to this ball. Humans call it kneading, just like his kneading of the old carpet piece placed near one of his favorite sleeping spots, the south facing window, where in the afternoon between 2 and 5, nothing much passes by and he can get some needed rest.

Finally the ball goes into the old stone bowl, and the baker of the day places it beside the large, stone-lined oven to rise to perfection. Here, Neroni waits for the cook to turn to prepare other dishes for the evening meal and he hopes there might be some of his favorite included on the menu: seafood, especially octopus. Oh, the delight of those little fellows swimming in water, then gently placed on the cutting board and salted, cut, and ready to join the pasta in Mama's red sauce for dinner. If he is lucky, he just might be given a tid bit or two for his afternoon snack before that much needed nap.

After his sleep, Neroni comes awake with the sound of the dough ball being punched down on the floured counter top, then shaped by the knowing hands into a marvelous loaf to be placed in the cornmeal dusted pan, only to sit again by the warm oven to rise a second time to its rounded loaf shape and spread with some egg to add a glow,and then to be placed, finally, in the oven where the smell of fresh baking bread arises and travels out into the house and into the alley. This is where he must now go to make his early evening walk, or passegiatta, to check out the neighborhood and to confer with the other gatti as to what will be on their dinner tables and to assure them that his will be the best. Fresh bread, an antipasta, and penne and octopus, with lemon cake and espresso for afterwards, with a probable lick of cream from the whipping bowl for him, as everyone knows he loves that taste. Dolce vita.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Who is Neroni?

Neroni, the bello gatto, lives in a small hill-top citta and can be seen just turning the corner, his black tail held high. He commands the narrow alley ways around his casa and up the hill toward the church. Mr. Gray Gatto sits in the doorway and suns his old, grigio fur and warms his old bones as Neroni runs by, chasing a brown topo, or mouse, down the cobbled lane.

Many days, though, Neroni, too, feels the cold and decides that sitting in his finestra, a fine window, tall and elegant and shaded with a lovely Italian linen and lace trimmed tab curtain, is the better part of wisdom. For wisdom for both gatti and umani should come with age; whether to be off chasing the prize, or observing the movements of the day before moving, becomes no decision, but an instinct. Look out the window before moving out into the course of the moment.

So, from his window, Neroni can observe life as it drifts by, the other animals of lower case, and the other, higher case animals, the humans, umani,  that come to explore the bella country of Italy and all the gifts that she has to offer. Who is that walking by just now?

Friday, November 5, 2010


Home! We have returned from Italy! Ah, a sweetness fills us with happiness and thankfulness for a safe trip and return, but there remains the bitter part of such a return, a loss of anticipation of the unknown and the delight of the knowing. Italy took our hearts and minds, but we understand that the knowledge that hearth, home, and family will always have the better part of this experience. Going away brings new insights and memories, but coming home reminds us of the roots that ground us to a place and a life, one that must now incorporate all we have learned and seen.

The idea of sharing what I learned prompted me to begin this blog, a way of expressing the life we saw in Italy, understanding how we might infuse it into our lives here, and praising the Creator for allowing us the gift of travel over parts of this lovely planet, and the delightful gift of home.

Next time, I will explain Neroni's Window and how this picture will always go with me.