When you get old, time and pleasure seems to warp. At one time gathered friends and work buddies milled around the kitchen gulping from glasses of wine while I cooked for them. They’d watch me chop the garlic and somebody would yell out, “ho, boy, the garlic king is at work!” Glasses would clink. Someone would bump the onion off the cutting board and I would yell bloody murder and the perp would pick it up, smiling, and rub it on his flannel shirt and say, “good as new, gov” and everyone would laugh and secretly wonder if I would give it a proper “wash” or just peel it or something. There was tension in the room. It was a good tension. I did nothing to soften it.
Nowadays folks still stand around, but they sip tiny sips of wine. They exhort me not to put salt in the dish. They speak to each other in hushed tones, “heart attack on a plate” they murmur softly, mimicking every food writer who’s ever watched a pat of butter disappear into a sauce. It’s a wake for the meat. The animal has died for fuel.
So I, the old and cantankerous cook, declare the joy of feasting dead in America.
Which is why I’m looking forward to the feast today at Francesca’s house.
Feasting is still alive in the rural Lunigiana. I was reminded of this the other day when we turned into the parking lot of the Azienda Agricola La Valle. It’s the “outlet store” of a farm that produces good things to eat. Where once there was an open field, there is now a butcher shop and more.
You see, it is as if the Azienda Agricola La Valle had made a pact with God. “You will live a happy and prosperous life and I will reward you one extra year of it for every new thing you add to this place that brings increased pleasure from My animals who have given their lives for your joy and sustenance.
Once there was a butcher shop with cheese and eggs. Then there was a picnic table and grill added. Then more picnic tables and wood-fired grills. Local wine. Then a vegetable stand was added. Then artisan beer. Then a dry-aging machine for enhancing those t-bone steaks. You can get one that’s hung for 30 days. Imagine. And more people were added behind the counter.
And now you can feast. You can take advantage of the benefits of a true civilization. Tell one of the young and enthusiastic folks you want a board loaded with cold cuts and cheese. Pick out some meat, perhaps some wild boar sausages, perhaps a thick t-bone. Get some vegetables so people don’t look at you like a meat-eating monster. Go to a grill the kind folks have already fired up and cook to your heart’s content while the kids boot a soccer ball in the immense green space. This is why you work. Friendship, comradery, good eats. What else is there worth toiling for?
Oh, the joy of it all. What if everyone could play like this in the fields of the Lord? Would the guns of the dispossessed still ring out in a frenzy?