I haven't experienced it in a year now, but a great Sunday for me flows with morning mass on West Adams Street followed by brunch on West Randolph Street with a swing by West Grande Avenue to pick up crusty Italian bread and a dose of cookies for the ride home. Bread. Bread. And more bread. This last stop for bread takes me back to the luscious loaves my grandmother made. It's the closest one I've found to hers. As much as I try, I cannot recreate her bread nor my mother's. There are days I wish I could ask each of them questions about their bread-making skills. These days I long for tasting home.
Presently, Sundays consist of brunch in the kitchen, followed by virtual mass on the sofa, and a return trip to the couch in the evenings to inhale Italy. This evening excursion has only been recently, and I have one question. Did Stanley Tucci know how many people he would feed through his Searching for Italy series? Did he envision the smooth chain of texting and phone calls that would unfurl like pasta dough ready to be cut into noodles while his first episode aired? I don't watch much tv. But the night my friend Antoinette texted me, "Quick, put Stanley Tucci on CNN," I felt the urgency and fumbled with the tv controller just in time for the juice of San Marzano tomatoes from the Italian fields to jump on my tongue. And this is how my love affair with Stanley started and is three weeks strong.
Yes, I'm craving hours of walking on cobblestone streets under personal laundry lines draping windows. Thirsting to sit at a table with an aperitivo observing the piazza in the late afternoon sun. Longing for a late dinner where the waiter expects you to linger for hours and the chef is married to his food creations. The travel bug is crawling through my spine. Italy is always beating in my heart. Stanley Tucci's Searching for Italy delivers more than a plate of love to soothe the wanderlust living inside people who want to go to Italy. With each episode, I see this show is offering more than my taste buds expected. It is filling not just the void of travel and the gift to experience beautiful Italy virtually. It is watering the roots of heritage and giving them the space to grow, be remembered, and stay alive. Instead of going home to my grandparent's country's soil to learn about my ancestral characteristics and history, home is coming to me and confirming who I naturally am.
My grandparents came from Calabria. Even though it's a region Stanley doesn't visit during this season, he does go to a southern part in the first episode. A woman he is cooking with mentions that southerners are known to fight. Did I hear her right? I listened again. Sure enough. With no hesitation, she says it's a trait southerners are known to have. Isn't that something I thought? It is merely something in the blood—neither right nor wrong. Now I've heard it twice. She confirmed what I learned from an Italian man I met about four years ago. He told me people from where my grandparents are from are testa durra which means having a hard head but a good heart. We are what we are. I am what I am. What more can I understand and believe about my heritage?
Perhaps something else embedded in my family, which exists in the form of a noodle. If a noodle identified my Italian family, it is one that Stanley made with a woman in Rimini. The strazzapreti noodle. As my mother and aunt taught me, the strozzapreti noodle means "choke the priest," which this Italian woman explained while forming her dough. My grandmother made them a bit differently, but the simple ancestral ingredients and story were there. I reminisced. My mouth watered with memories of the past. When I was growing up, my extended family's gatherings were not complete without my grandmother's handmade noodles made with her skilled hands. A dish my aunts and cousins have continued to carry on. I could taste them Sunday night from the table in Rimini. The aroma of my grandmother's kitchen and remembering family gatherings of long ago came alive. This series is life-giving in so many ways that run deep into my veins. Thank you, Stanley, for taking me and so many others home and inviting us to continue to preserve our traditions and family history the best we can.