“ La Miseria” ( difficult times) is the best teacher” were the words of my copper maker in Pescia. Giovanni, known to his friends as Nino, is the last of the 300 or more copper artisans that lived in this area of Tuscany. At 86 he still hammers away everyday to make the wonderful cooking pots, of which many can be seen hanging on my kitchen wall. He explains the word “La Miseria” which refers to the most difficult period in Italy when he like many others had experienced the most meager of diets. He feels fortunate to have lived during this period when one had to learn to survive with so little. He did add that as meager as the diet may have been, the food was genuine. His story as well as those of many of our favorite artisans which I wish to share, helps one understand the role of food culture played in giving Italians their passion for life, and its importance to a nation.
During the time of “La Miseria” it was the knowledge of the italian peasant farmer who out of necessity learned to be creative with what was available. These simple folks with no culinary school experience used all they possessed to transform the pangs of hunger and anxiety with their creative skills, imagination, and physical effort to survive on the only diet available at the time. Even the upper classes in the cities depended on the farmer to provide them with the basics for survival. Provisions for the elite were mainly greens and fruits that the farmer may have in his garden. Rarely available were meats. If the farmer was able to kill a chicken or a bird, it would not be for his family but to sell. Besides selling to the elite he also taught them how to use and cook with the items provided.
Never would I imagine that the act of walking through the warped with age, double green doors, of Nino’s bottega, would have so influenced my life. By sharing with me his philosophy of living, and his appreciation of life’s simple pleasures. He had me reflect on my surroundings, nature’s beauty, and the fortune I have in never being without food to nourish me or a shelter to protect me. I often have to be reminded of my richness, having family and friends to love and to be loved. What more does one need in life?