Nov 2011

I Am Thankful

bus stop

It’s official. No turkey this year; at least not this weekend. Anna Maria and Giancarlo just cannot face all that food and Luciano’s godparents Assunta and Checco who are the traditional guests had not yet been contacted. I asked Luciano if he even talked to them.
“Well, I spoke some more with others who were invited. There was some discussion, some hesitation and doubts… and then I just ran out of energy. Besides I am having trouble with my phone.”
“What kind of trouble?”
“I am unable to make calls and talk to people.”
“How are we going to fix this?”
“I dunno…but in any case, no Thanksgiving.”

And with that, the whole event disappeared from my horizon. Truth be told, it did so quite easily and I have now set my sites on Christmas. Thanksgiving just doesn’t exist in Italy and so why force it? Recently I saw an article on line about the “hard to find foods” when travelling abroad. Besides all the obvious ones like Moon Pies and Fat Tire Amber Ale, the writer included the classic most elusive trophy: the whole turkey.

Yawn. Not really, as we all know. And what is all the fuss?

After all Thanksgiving has become a bookend for the Christmas shopping season, even getting shouldered out of the way in favor of camping out in front of Walmart. With sadness I read of mobs rushing the doors, injuries and mad spending. Especially here, in the hills of the Veneto where the only Thanksgiving celebrated for miles around happened right downstairs in our dining room and which, I am sorry to say, only seemed to spark discourse among the cousins fighting for an invite to the only turkey in town. More fighting? What does it all mean?

Luciano and I went for a walk on Sunday morning. We visited all our dog friends in their yards, admired the yellows and oranges of this seemingly endless fall and laughed again at the strange construction decision of a Mareno bus stop. As we passed the Soffratta church, Mass was just ending and I watched as a throng of people spilled through the door, led by the priest who I did not recognize.
“Who is that?” I asked. The identity of the priest here is often a hot topic. But I was immediately distracted by what the priest was doing. Standing before a tractor-big, red, dirt-encrusted- that stood by the church door, he raised his arms “Wait, what is he doing?” I asked.
“He is blessing the tractor. It is Thanksgiving, Serena.”

Before the church, set up on folding tables was a collection of samples of the Mareno harvest: pomegranates, persimmons, pumpkins and chestnuts, Bottles of grappa and Malbeck lay against freshly killed pheasants and ducks and a heap of apples and hazelnuts.
“See Serena? That’s it.”
On that table, set up in the gravel in front of the church where we were married, were the symbols of what was really important. But not just on the table. Kids chased each other around the tractor and parents mingled in the November sun. Once again Italy brings it home. And not a cash register or turkey in sight. There must be these kinds of scenes going on in the US, but here it is the ways things are…not the way it used to be or a charming human interest story for the end of the news broadcast.

I realize in fact that I have a lot to be thankful for without having a dinner to celebrate it. I am thankful that the owners of the scruffy field across the street decided to put in a crop of winter wheat. A massive tractor arrived one morning, and passing back and forth across the field without stopping, and plowed the entire thing in one day in a relentless agricultural marathon. The earth, which for eight years had been untouched but for the occasional flock of sheep and our tossed apple cores, was pulled open to the sky, steaming in the early morning. Two days later it was already sown with seed and now it is covered with rows of delicate green, punctuated by mole hills.

I am grateful that my car Topo starts and goes; a streak of peppy blue across the farmland as I motor to Treviso. Ok, sometimes she is capricious as she was on Monday when I put the key in the ignition and got nothing but a whirrrr and a few clicks. It did not make sense, but I had a class to teach so I left her parked downtown and set off, prepared to deal with this later. As I said to Carlo my student, I did not really have to be anywhere for another four hours. He commented that I could be in
Rome in another four hours and offered to call the mechanic.
“No, I am going to try again after the lesson. Maybe she will start after she has a rest.”
“Serena, your car is not a cow.”
“This is true, but first I want to check.”
Sure enough after an hour and a half to think about things, she started right up. After I let his office know and without any more discussion, Topo and I headed home. I got a text from Carlo: “I was informed that your car is a cow. Good for you!”

I am thankful that the Italian government is such that one madcap leader can walk out the door and go home to dinner, and just like that there is a new Prime Minister. No campaigning, no chad checking, no drawn out discussion. We woke up this morning to a leader who is so sedate, intelligent and proper he may be run out of town for his lack of flamboyance.

I am grateful for the fact that the tractor which passed just our front door did not drop any of its suspiciously steaming load on the street.

I am grateful for Luciano who greets me at the door each evening with an embrace that melts away the stress of the day and notices that I sometimes touch him lightly in the night to be sure he is really there.

I am grateful for Anna Maria and Giancarlo. Today she carefully placed the salt and pepper on the table and hid the cheese spoon under a napkin so that we could not guess what she had prepared for lunch until she burst through the door carrying the plates of lasagna. She said she didn’t like to be predictable and so had thought up this clever ruse. I had no idea this was weighing on her. When I told her that now I knew she was trying to hoodwink us, I would need to be extra cunning in the future. She said, “I will change it next time.” Giancarlo grinned from his chair. What fun.

And honestly, secretly, I am thankful that I don’t have to cook a Thanksgiving dinner. I will roast the rich orange-red pumpkin, juice the pomegranates that our neighbors brought us from their trees and pour myself a glass of wine that I picked up on my bicycle from the winery down the street….and say thank you to Italy for once again putting things into perspective.