128. Around the Table

In my mind, it’s the most iconic image of Italy.

No, not the Coliseum, or a Venice gondolier, or the statue of David. To me, the most iconic image is people sitting around the table, often in a beautiful setting with rolling hills, blue sea, or vineyards in the background, eating simple, but great food and being together.

It’s a set piece of all the beautifully photographed Italian cookbooks. We long to be included at Frances Mayes’s table at Bramasole in Under The Tuscan Sun. Every Stanley Tucci’s Searching for Italy episode, whether he’s in the far north or the southern-most tip of the boot, includes a scene like this.

Tucci and a friend

So this is what I was aiming for the other day when I had my Italian conversation group over for dinner. For fifteen years, this group has met every Monday evening at 6:30 for an hour of tortured attempts to learn and speak Italian. For the first few years, we were in an Italian class in our local adult education program. When our teacher retired, we just kept on going.

I am not a naturally social person. In fact, I have found the COVID cessation of social life to be a blessing, not a burden. So family and friends thought I was nuts to take on a dinner party of this size and magnitude.

My inspiration was my two involvements with the Creanza family — first as a participant in their Puglian fresco-restoring program and second as a volunteer in the family’s olive harvest — where I have been struck by the wonderful meals of regional and family specialties they provided. Even more striking to an American was the elegance with which things were done — real china and silverware were carted along to picnics. Nothing was slap-dash; nothing was done for convenience or ease. An effort was made, without looking like an effort was being made. Why wouldn’t one do things in the nicest way, it seemed to ask?

A Creanza picnic lunch on the grounds of Pompeii. Note the eggplant parmigiana and the yellow-tinged Altamura bread.

As a person who gives new meaning to “slapdash,” I was nonetheless determined to do this dinner Creanza-style. I resisted the urge towards paper plates and cups. I had a cloth and even flowers on the table. I confess to not actually cooking, but instead had Talia di Napoli pizza, which is made to order in Naples, frozen, and shipped on dry ice, which I think made it special enough to pass muster. And the other group members brought delicious salads, desserts, contorni and antipasti. So it was a group effort.

Almost Tuscany?

How did it work out? It was lovely. We were graced by the presence of our retired teacher, who brought us together those many years ago, and his wife. The thunder storms dried up just in time. It was nice to be in each other’s presence in vivo, and not just on Zoom.

Professore Sal Faro, with Aperol spritz

It may not have been quite the same as eating Under the Tuscan Sun, but in its own way, it was fantastico.

Our group

4 thoughts on “128. Around the Table

  1. Grazie, Gigi. It was wonderful getting a taste of Italy after months of lock down. Thanks to you and Ben for your hospitality.


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