Friday, May 24, 2002

This is actually an old post, from March 28 2002, before I had managed to work out how to keep a blog.
Today I went in search of things to bake a pastiera with. A pastiera is a cottage cheese cake that's traditionally prepared in Naples for Easter, and therefore not exactly something I can claim blood affinity with. My friend Paola, who is from Naples (well, actually from the vicinity of Amalfi) used to prepare it for me, and now I'm returning the favor.

Padua was full of people shopping for pastiera. Cooked wheat was everywhere. All of them Neapolitans? Perhaps. There are lots and lots of them, just as there are lots of sicilians.

I'm not from Padua. I've lived here for more than fifteen years but, like the neapolitans looking for pastiera ingredients, I'n not one of _them_. I went to see my friend Riccardo in a play by what is probably Padua's most celebrated son, Ruzante, and I couldn't understand word one of it. I got the gist - and the final invitation from the whole cast to the public to come down and share in the food on the loaded table: "El pan! Vida! El vin! Vida!" - but little else. I've lived here most of my adult life but I don't speak the language. But then, I never did speak the language of the place I was born in, either.

As I was cycling back the moon hung in the sky, still meekly turquoise long after sunset, over Prato della Valle. It was a fat, serene, slighlty yellowing moon, and it hung there as if by her own determination. Prato della Valle always keeps some surprise in store for you, when the weather is like this, clear and luminous and soft. Soft may well be the word that sums up this land. Soft colors, soft voices, soft noises. Pale hues, slightly fuzzy edges. Two days ago I passed through here earlier in the day, when the sun was just beginning to acquire that pink-orange tint it has in late afternoon. The sky was clear, the facades on the east side of the huge round square seemed to strecht and blink in the soft light, for all the world like huge ginger cats sleeping in the last patch of sunlight.

There is something about Padua at his best that pierces you. The light does it for me every time. Clear days are not that common, but when one comes along it stops you in your track, forces you to look at it. The light is not the golden, glorious, almost palpable light that paints evetyhing in a warm clarity in Rome; not the windy and broiling crystal light of Palermo, with its hard edges and stark shadows; not even the dusty glory of ochre and tan and yellow that I remember from my one September in Brindisi. No, Padua has discreet hues, a soft blue, a quiet pink, a mild orange spread by sunset on marble walls. Fog is never very far away, or better still, nothing as decided as fog, but the haze, the blurring, that reminds you that the normal state of the sky, here, is a lowering white that lets no cloud formation be discerned, a stifling and depressing sky, softening everything into drabness.

This land is my land, whether I like it or not. Not in the sense I was born here. I wasn't. Not in the sense I speak the language. I don't. Not in the sense I am particularly proud of it, or that I like it in particular. In the sense that I have to care for it. Some corners I'm very fond of. Others make me furious. But they are my responsability, because I understand them.


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