The Tree of Life – Part 2

Posted on 28. Jan, 2015 by in Culture, History

essiccare = to dry/desiccate
sbucciatura = to de-husk/peel
metato/seccatoio = chestnut drying barn
farina di castagne = chestnut flour
gràfié e bigungia = dialect name for a large pestle and mortar
malàta = hemp sack used for removing the husk from chestnuts
vasùra  = tray for winnowing the chestnuts, from vassoio = tray

In part 1 of this series we discovered how le castagne, historically one of the main sources of nutrition for many Italian peasant farmers, were essiccate in the metato, or seccatoio. This delicate and time consuming process was only the first stage in the transformation of the fresh fruit into la farina di castagne. Today we’re going to look at stage 2, la sbucciatura. Once again, I’ve taken excerpts from an in depth article that I recently discovered in the online news sheet TuttoMontagna and translated them into English for you.

castagne (5)
… armati di gràfié e bigungia … Photo public domain.

Appena terminata la fase di essiccazione, finché le castagne erano ancora calde, si doveva subito separare il frutto dalla buccia. Per questo motivo, nei pressi del metato, si radunavano molti uomini che, armati di gràfié e bigungia, iniziavano questa operazione per la quale è necessario dare qualche spiegazione.

As soon as the drying process was finished, and whilst the chestnuts were still hot, the fruit had to be immediately separated from the husk. To carry this out, lots of men gathered together near the metato and, armed with gràfié e bigungia, began the operation. This needs a bit of explanation.

Da sopra i canìcce le castagne venivano messe direttamente dentro la bigungia (recipiente in legno a forma tronco-conica dell’altezza di 50 cm. circa) dentro alla quale veniva fatto roteare il gràfié, un bastone di un metro e mezzo d’altezza con un diametro di circa 10 centimetri che verso la base si allargava, per poi tornare al diametro iniziale nella parte terminale, sormontata da una corona dentata in ferro.

From on top of the lathes (see part 1) the chestnuts were put directly into la bigungia (a wooden container about 50 cm high shaped like a truncated cone) inside which the gràfié was rotated. The gràfié was a stick 1.5 meters long and about 10 cm in diameter which widened towards the base, before returning to its original diameter at the end, where it was fitted with a toothed iron ‘crown’.

castagne (6)
Using la malàta to de-husk the chstnuts. Photo public domain

Con il preciso movimento che gli esperti raccoglitori riuscivano a dare al gràfié, le castagne all’interno della bigungia si sbucciavano senza rompersi. In epoca precedente, questa operazione si effettuava mettendo le castagne calde nella malàta, un sacco di canapa abbastanza lungo la cui estremità diventava il manico per battere le castagne int e pilôn, un solido ceppo di legno solitamente a tre piedi. Per evitare che i sacchi si strappassero, venivano unti con una poltiglia di farina, acqua e grasso.

With the precise movement that the expert (chestnut) gatherers were able to give the pestle, the chestnuts in the mortar were de-husked without being broken. In the preceding era, this operation was carried out by putting the warm chestnuts in the malàta, a quite long hemp sack whose end became the hand grip for beating the chestnuts ‘int e pilôn’ (against the pilôn in dialect), a solid block of wood which usually had three feet. To prevent the sacks from tearing they were oiled with a mixture of flour, water and grease.

… questa volta erano le donne a dimostrare grande maestria …

Il contenuto della malàta, come quello della bigungia, veniva poi vuotato nella vasùra (una specie di grosso vassoio di legno con tre bordi rialzati) dove questa volta erano le donne a dimostrare grande maestria facendo “saltare” con gesto ritmico le castagne che si separavano in aria dalla pula (poi raccolta e conservata per l’anno dopo) e ricadevano, pulite, nella vasùra, pronte a proseguire il loro cammino verso il mulino. Ma questa è un’altra storia…

The contents of the malàta, like those of the mortar, were emptied into la vasùra (a type of large wooden tray with three raised edges), and it was now the women’s turn to demonstrate their mastery by making the chestnuts “jump” with a rhythmic gesture so that they separated in the air from their husks (which were then collected and saved for the following year, see part 1), and fell back, clean, into the vasùra , ready to continue their journey towards the mill. But that’s another story …

to be continued …

A Poem For January

Posted on 26. Jan, 2015 by in Literature

Here’s a lovely poem by Giacomo di Michele (1280-1332), better known as Folgòre da San Gimignano, from the beautiful Tuscan town of San Gimignano, near Siena. Folgòre was a knight and courtier who wrote in the Tuscan language just before the time of Dante. He is famous for his set of sonnets known as La Corona dei Mesi (The Crown of the Months), each of which is dedicated to a month of the year, describing its particular beauties and pleasures. Let’s find out what the month of January has to offer:

Jan-08 051
Gennaio. Photo by Geoff

Di Gennaio di Folgòre da San Gimignano

I’ doto voi, nel mese de gennaio,
corte con fochi di salette accese,
camer’ e letta d’ogni bello arnese,
lenzuol’ de seta e copertoi di vaio,

tregèa, confetti e mescere a razzaio,
vestiti di doagio e di rascese:
e ‘n questo modo star a le defese,
mova scirocco, garbino e rovaio.

Uscir di for alcuna volta il giorno,
gittando de la neve bella e bianca
a le donzelle che staran da torno;

e quando fosse la compagna stanca,
a questa corte faciase retorno:
e si riposi la brigata franca.

Contemporary Italian paraphrase:

Nel mese di gennaio, vi regalo
una sala con fuochi di erbe secche che bruciano,
camere e letti coi più begli arredamenti,
lenzuola di seta e coperte di pelliccia,

confettura, dolci e vino frizzante,
vestiti di seta di Douai e di lana di Arras;
e in questo modo possiate stare al riparo
sia che soffi lo scirocco o il libeccio o la tramontana.

Possiate uscir fuori qualche volta durante il giorno,
a tirare palle di neve bella e bianca
alle donzelle che staranno attorno;

e quando la compagnia fosse stanca, 
faccia ritorno a questa sala
e si riposi la nobile brigata

English translation:

In January I give you
a hall with fires of dry grass burning,
bedrooms and beds with the most beautiful furnishings,
sheets of silk and blankets of fur,

comfitures, sweets and sparkling wine,
clothes of silk from Douai and of wool from Arras;
and in this way may you remain sheltered,
whether sirocco or libeccio or tramontane may blow.

May you go outside sometimes during the day,
to throw balls of beautiful white snow
at the damsels around you;

and when the company is tired,
all may return to the hall
and may the noble brigade rest

Image: Public Domain

These sonnets have their satirical counterparts, written by a 13th century jester and storyteller from Arezzo called Cenne da la Chitarra (named after the instrument which he used to accompany his compositions). Cenne da la Chitarra wrote a series of poems based on Folgòre’s sonnets called  ‘Risposta per Contrari’ (Contrary Reply). Every pleasure described by Folgòre is transformed by Cenne into its opposite: an annoyance! Here is his satirical sonnet for the month of January:

Di Gennaio di Cenne da la Chitarra

Io vi doto, nel mese di gennaio,
corti con fumo al modo montanese;
letta qual ha nel mar il genovese;
acqua con vento che non cali maio;

povertà di fanciulle a colmo staio;
da ber, aceto forte galavrese,
e stare come ribaldo in arnese,
con panni rotti senza alcun denaio.

Ancor vi do così fatto soggiorno:
con una veglia nera, vizza e ranca,
catun gittando de la neve a torno,

appresso voi seder in una banca;
e rismirando quel suo viso adorno,
così riposi la brigata manca.

Contemporary Italian paraphrase:

Io vi regalo, nel mese di gennaio,
sale con fumo come avviene in montagna;
letti scomodi come hanno i marinai;
acqua con vento che mai diminuisca;

mancanza di fanciulle in abbondanza;
da bere, forte aceto calabrese,
ed essere nelle condizioni di un vagabondo,
coi vestiti rotti e senza un soldo.

Inoltre vi regalo un soggiorno siffatto:
con una vecchia scura, appassita e zoppa,
dove ciascuno getti la neve tutt’intorno,

seduti vicini in una stessa panca con la vecchia,
e ammirando quel suo viso così conciato,
in questo modo riposi la brigata che manca di tutto

English translation:

I give you, in the month of January,
halls filled with smoke like they have in the mountains;
uncomfortable beds like those the sailors have;
rain with wind that never drops;

a complete lack of of girls,
and to drink: strong Calabrese vinegar,
and you’ll live like a tramp,
with ragged clothes and without money.

Moreover I give you a living room made like this:
containing a dark, withered and lame old woman, 
and in this room everyone throws snow around,

sitting close together on the bench with the old woman,
and admiring her devastated face, 
this is how the brigade that lacks everything may rest

You can read Folgòre and Cenne’s sonnets for the month of June HERE

Our Italian Journey – Part 1: Venezia

Posted on 22. Jan, 2015 by in Travel

Photos and text by Bill Auge with an intro by Geoff

This autumn we had the very great pleasure of meeting Bill Auge a long time reader of ours, and his wife Victoria.
Recently retired, Bill and Victoria took a long anticipated trip to Europe, with Italy as their main goal. Serena and myself spent a lovely couple of days showing them another Italy far from the madding crowd, the relatively unknown area of northern Tuscany known as Lunigiana. It was during this time that I suggested to Bill that, as he now had quite a bit of time on his hands, he might like to write a few guest articles for us describing his and Victoria’s impressions of Italy.
Bill rose admirably to the challenge, and I’m pleased to be able to share the first of his articles with you today. Over to you Bill.

Vaporetti offer a wonderful and inexpensive way to travel the canals of Venezia

As the cold dark days of winter drag on, a smile forms on my face as I reminisce on the Italian journey my wife Victoria and I shared this past autumn.  On a sunny afternoon we landed at Marco Polo Airport and after a nervous search for our luggage, which had been loaded onto the wrong carousel, we caught a bus that took us quickly to Piazzale Roma, the entrance point of Venezia.  
From here one can only travel by foot or boat.  We proceeded by vaporetto (ferry), the public transport of Venezia, to our hotel.  The vaporetti are slow and sometimes it is faster to walk, but they offer a wonderful and inexpensive way to travel the canals of Venezia, especially if you buy a multi day pass.

salute and canal 2
… who would have the audacity to build such a city

I suggest taking a ride on a vaporetto at night when the palazzi lining the Grand Canal are lit up. Start at the train station and ride to Piazza San Marco. During the day the crowds of tourist can be overbearing especially around the piazza,  but at night its nearly empty’, so disembark at the San Marco stop, stroll around the piazza and treat yourself to a caffe or some gelato.
The beauty of Venezia can only be understood by standing on the water’s edge and experiencing it. Study the architecture and the masterworks of the great Venetian artists, which can be found in many of the churches and especially the Gallerie dell’Accademia, and contemplate who would have the audacity to build such a city.

ghetto retouched
 … we wandered the streets of Venezia in a light rain

The morning of our last day we had some free time.  So we wandered the streets of Venezia in a light rain, moving through the passage ways of the old Jewish Ghetto, across small canals, and down narrow streets, some of which end abruptly at the edge of a canal.  We absorbed this magical city of water, history and art one last time before catching a high speed train to Firenze.

to be continued …