In the 1750s the Venetian Senate granted young people a room – a space – in the palace where the Magistrate of Flours was located, so that, under the guidance of the Masters, they could become familiar with the art of drawing. The Church and the School of Santa Maria della Carità, which were next to it, later became the Academy of Fine Arts of Venice.
Many were the illustrious artists who crossed the great gate, which is now closed and visible from the homonymous Campo. In this long list we can also find a young Amedeo Modigliani. It was the year 1903.
The large, heavy wooden doors at the entrance of the Basilica creak a little.
I have to push them hard to enter into the typical darkness of many Italian churches. My eyes – dazzled by external light – need a few seconds to adapt to that new condition.
The pungent smell of liturgical incense, a mixture of natural resin and myrrh, overwhelms me immediately, as soon as the doors close with a slight blow behind me.
Recently I found myself giving some thought to data accumulation, in my case photos, ideas, recipes, notes of all kinds.
The more my life becomes exciting and animated by new travels, adventures and opportunities, the more my hard disk (and not only that) gets filled with things.
Things I cannot forget to tell, things that can be useful to me later.
I recognize my own hoarding nature also from the shelves which are loaded with props and stacks of vintage clothes that make my home everything except a Zen or minimal kind of place.
The idea of the essential has not yet reached myself, although the Bauhaus motto “less is more” contains a great truth in a small sentence that I have always liked very much.
The correspondence that Claude Monet kept for many years with his friends of the time, today known to us thanks to the numerous published collections, and which I read as a teenager with a certain romantic feeling, has forever influenced my way of thinking about colors around me.
I don’t think the color of the atmosphere is something most people wonder about, yet the idea Monet couldn’t get out of his mind – the idea that would then become a real obsession, which he experienced with some kind of manic frustration – was born from a genuine desire to understand. Monet wanted to understand the light, the color of the air, the fleeting and changeable first impression of what is around us, in order to tell it and interpret it in the most honest way possible.
In my olfactory memory, the intense scent of some ancient varieties of roses is associated with secret Venice, that of the hidden gardens, those that you spy through the cracks of the old doors of noble palaces.
Behind those gates there is a whole world, which is made of often uncultivated green areas, where forgotten species of plants and flowers have been preserved to this day in the stillness of courtyards.
In a moment everything has changed. Spring is gone, like Grandma.
While the garden was at its best, giving clouds of white flowers and miles of new grass to be cut, I sat down under the pear tree, in a sea of newly fallen white petals, with the phone ringing in my hand.
I already knew, I didn’t need to answer. That night my Grandma had stopped by to say hello and she had made a big mess.
It just fades when the waves breaking at the foot of the snow-capped mountains break a silence that is now rare to hear. I’m in Norway and I’ve never been further north than that, and the cold air burning my lungs reminds me of it as I open the window of my room.
I breathe deeply the smell of the North Sea, and I look at how the landscape is finally letting new colors emerge from that almost perennial white mantle. Spring has lazily arrived here too, without haste. It’s such a different Spring from the one we know in Italy, but even here it coincides with the lengthening of daylight and the awakening of nature. It’s still very cold and there’s a bit of snow, but that’s nothing compared to the usual winter temperatures!
Whenever I am asked about typical Venetian recipes, my list starts from “bigoli in salsa“.
Perhaps to me, this dish of bigoli is the pasta dish par excellence, the first I think of when I see spaghetti on the shelves of the pantry, and what I’ve probably eaten more in my life, even more than the evergreen pasta al pomodoro.
Bigoli are a type of thick, fresh spaghetti made just with two basic ingredients: whole wheat flour and water, and their origin seems to date back to the 1600s.
Originally the fresh dough was kneaded at home and then hand-pressed through a specific pasta machine with large holes to get some very thick and long spaghetti, but in more recent times it’s common practice to use the dry bigoli you can find at the supermarket.
During these first days of 2018, which I am living as in a retreat – a new time in which I can finally explore the pleasure of doing nothing, I’ve been thinking of everything 2017 has given me and what it has taken away from me.
It was a decisive year for me, from many points of view, and I did not really realize it until I could stop and relax completely, finding myself here, in front of a crackling fireplace in Tuscany.
My dear friend Valentina (Hortus!) wrote a book, and after a year of hard work, research, intuitions, doubts, shared inspirations and support behind the scenes, today I can flip through its pages and feel proud almost as if it was my own cookbook!
In these pages, I can even see the story of our friendship, together with many nice recipes and pictures, timed by seasons and food, the same who Valentina sometimes cooked for me as well.
I recognize her mother’s hands mixing the pasta dough, surfaces and textures of old tables where I happened to eat and/or shoot, flowers and plants of her garden, props (including also some of our TheFreakyRaku ceramics!!), details of her life… of which I am lucky enough to be part of.