fare la scarpetta

Full-leafed trees criss-crossed the Tuscan countryside, interspersed by flat fields of green. Every now and then the land was punctuated by grape vines.  There were hints of red leaves scattered in ribbons across the hills, and the taller cypress trees lined the roads to buildings or villages; first planted as landmarks to help find your way home. I read that cypress trees have been used as a symbol of immortality to signify sacred space and a detachment from the everyday mortal world.

For every meal, the truffle or porcini that accompanied meat or pasta was picked just that morning. “It’s mushroom season,” the locals would declare with a smile. Their happiness was infectious, as if they knew a secret. And share it with us, they did.

I return often to Pico Iyer’s reminder that our greatest aspirations and virtues have always relied on a measure of inner equanimity. Some of the best moments were sprung upon us without plan — the ones that, for example, found us gazing at a lightning storm during an otherwise calm night, all of us trying to take photos or video. Despite our varied success in capturing the lightning with our various cameras, the best success was watching it in each others’ company under the open night sky. 

Though we still had the occasional everyone-sitting-around-on-their-computers moments, there was something about the remoteness of where we were staying that reminded us to be present, to sleep in, to look up at the sky.

***

For our final meal, Francesco created delicious dishes that were served during sunset. A friend used his last slice of bread to sop up the juices of the mushroom broth. Francesco came outside at that moment and grinned while watching the sopping. “That’s precisely how to do it,” he said admiringly under his breath. “Scarpetta!”

I have heard “Scarpetta” used as a restaurant name and I don’t know enough Italian to know what he meant. I’m not sure anyone else heard him say it, but I noted it to look up for later.

The next morning at an earlier hour than we all preferred after several bottles of wine, we wiped away sleep as we said goodbye to the countryside and rode towards Florence. We watched the sun rise over the Tuscan hills, our eyes sweeping over the landscape one last time. The pink-bottomed clouds leaned against the edges of horizon and even the freshly-tilled dirt looked golden.

I remembered the word from the night before and looked it up:

“Fare la scarpetta” is a phrase in the Italian language that’s close to the heart of everyone who has enjoyed a delicious plate of pasta with sauce. Meaning “make the little shoe,” it refers to the small piece of bread used to mop up the last of the sauce on your plate.

It’s not only an essential part of an Italian meal, but it is seen as a way to extend the pleasure of the repast.

***

At the airport, we hugged each other as though we were scooping up the very last bit with all our might. Fare la scarpetta, soaking up every last drop. But also, we hugged like we knew that we’d be seeing each other again very soon. Our friends around us like cypress trees, their presence meaning we have already found our way home.


cheryl strayed on memoir-writing

There is nothing easy about doing all you have to do to make people and emotions alive on the page or screen while also scooping out the truth of your own heart, while also making a serious attempt to tell it like it actually was. And I couldn’t agree with her more about a good memoir being the opposite of narcissistic.

I’m so bored with arguments against memoir. They’re almost always simple-minded and ignorant. I tend to know people are in trouble when they speak in categorical terms about anything like an entire literary genre. Yes, there are memoirs that are narcissistic and awful! Just like there are novels that are narcissistic and awful and there are poems that are narcissistic and awful and there are plays that are narcissistic and awful. Narcissism and awfulness has absolutely nothing to do with the genre itself. I think some people are threatened by the idea of memoir. Like “how dare someone who isn’t famous get to write about his or her life and expect others to read it!” But the truth is, we’ve been using our lives as material since the dawn of literature, in every genre.

— Cheryl Strayed on memoir-writing via Lit Hub

The way in is not always straightforward. Truth appears and disappears under cover. Doorways have to be found—or created. Definitions presented. Still, words do not breach the distance between what is and what can be known. Poetry and science surge from the same source, seeking what cannot be seen or felt, unearthing strata of significance buried within a single observation, or word. Differences between words blur. (Consider “tool” and “weapon.” Does the truth ever not hurt?) Language conceals as much as it reveals, a renewable resource of morphing meaning. Sometimes the only way to understand something is to assemble fragments and hold them up to the light.

Emily Withnall

(Super apt quote after re-watching Arrival last night!)