My Sardinian friend Francesco, Cecio, showed up early Saturday morning for our yearly pruning of the fig tree ritual. Cecio learned from the old people in Sardegna how to prune and my fig tree wouldn’t let anyone else but him do the job.
The first time he did it the tree looked forlorn and hopeless. But I remembered seeing similar trees in Italy and offered up hope and trust that he was doing the right thing. He proved to be one who learned his lessons well from the old souls on that very ancient island. The fig tree has given back ten fold in fruit, much to the joy of the local mockingbird population.
But our morning together is more than a simple pruning. It is a way for me to connect with something old and ancient that I didn’t grow up with. Francesco came here twenty or so years ago, following his older brother who had established a successful Italian restaurant in town. They have since parted ways, gone on to do their own thing. I am not even sure they talk to one another anymore. They are both big trees and not subject to being pruned by one another. That seems to be the way of islanders. Fiercely independent, sometimes stubborn, but never unsure of where they are going. Sometimes it is over a cliff, but when they land at the bottom, it seems they brush themselves off and clamber back up to the top. Survivors.
Who is he? You’d have to ask him. He is pretty sure of that. But from this perspective, who he is one who was raised in an environment that was intimately tied to the rhythms of nature. And once he arrived in the big city, thousand of miles and centuries away from his homeland, another course presented itself to him. He went that way for a while. But it wasn’t really who he was. He is an earthman. He can grow anything; make delicious food from scraps about to be discarded. And his views on wine are very open. “I love wines from Puglia,” he has told me time and time again. He doesn’t favor Tuscan wines and really I have never seen him get too excited about wines from his native Sardegna. I imagine when he is home in his medium that those wines come back to him. But the versions that pass for Sardinian in the US, he’s not interested.
“I want wines from all over the world, international. There aren’t enough Italians here to support 100% Italian food and wine. And in this economy, now is the time for yes.” I understand what he is saying.
After 30 years on these shores, we’ve burned the boats. There is no going back. Our seed corn is almost done. But there is plenty here to make do with. And while I wistfully lament over the lack of authenticity in these parts, I get back to Italy often enough that it doesn't matter if I am away from it for 5-6 months. Hey, my favorite breakfast these days is a whole wheat tortilla with refried black beans, some home grown Serrano peppers, a little swab of hot sauce and a pile of arugula. You won’t find that in Italy. But I purr when I eat it, that is inhale it, in the morning. It is authentic to me. And it makes me happy. Maybe someday Francesco and I will be the old souls telling young folks about how to prune and grown and eat and drink. By then the traditions won’t be Italian, they will be this mosh pit of impressions and flavors that is America. And after all, that’s why we came here in the first place, wasn’t it? For the Yes! Yes!! Yes!!!