Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Sand Bags and Survival Food

It is supposed to rain again, as I've said, but not just a light drizzle or a mist. The Ligurian Meteorological Society, or ARPAL, has given us their highest level of warning, a level 2, which is also assigned the petrifying color of fire engine red. Considering the evens of the past week, it's deadly serious. Most of the past two days has been spent moving what's left to higher ground, boarding upwindows, and sand bagging any area water could eventhink about getting in. That's the thing about water. It has a long memory and is stubbornly lazy. The old roads are build over creeks and canals, which in many cases, slowed to a trickle. Long forgotten to have been bodies of water, Via Roma, Via 4 Novembre and Via Molinelli are simply streets to us here. The water, however, didn't forget. In a deluge like last week's, water goes the easiest way it can, and follows those same winding streets, rendering them dangerous rivers and torrents once more. We are lucky, for many reasons, but now because we have seen how the water wants to move. Rather then fighting nature, we've shrugged and, with one eye nervously on the sky, thoroughly boarded up whatever cracks, crevices, doors and windows that water and mud got through last Tuesday. We are as prepared as we can be.
Even in terms of food. We have been getting hordes of food through the Red Cross and I don't know who else. Many of our vendors from the restaurant have been angels and sent us tons of food as well. Boxes of canned beans, dehydrated milk, pasta, broth, juice - all those "disaster pantry essentials" mean that Italians are, in this respect, more prepared for a devastating flood then many other cultures - though let me stress, it's not a situation ANYONE can be prepared for. A heavy reliance on pasta and jarred tomatoes, a notorious suspicion of tap water, and a penchant for storing what's seasonal means that we have full pantries of root vegetables, onions, garlic, oil and, of course, tons of wine. We are actually eating pretty well. Ristorante Miky and Il Gabbiano on Via Fegina are the ones making the food for us in our huge Red Cross tent set up in the movie theater, and everybody is helping out. There is another tent, just as large, set up in the Old Town right after the tunnel, taking over our open air buffet that we'd been relying on for a few days. Even the little girls are making panini with salami, toast with jam, biscotti, and walking up and down the streets through Monterosso making sure everybody is well fed. It's endearing, adorable, and it makes me so proud of these little 7 year olds trying to help out. Even the littlest ones, 4 or 5 years old, have little brooms or toy shovels, and through they might be playing more then helping, it's the thought that counts.
Someone scrounged up a wild boar today, so lunch was an option of penne with a ragu of wild boar OR pasta with treviso and cream, a sliced roast in a thick vegetable sauce, cima, an assortment of fantastic cheeses needed to be eaten at the restaurant, a salad, a fruit salad and torta della nonna. Wine, juice and water, and some fresh bread from Levanto brought by the volunteers who took the boat over in the morning. All in all, our survival food is quite good. And it has to be - even in situations like this, an excellent ragu of wild boar is met with tons of "complementi" from the hungry crowd. Running to get a fruit salad before it ran out, Manuel's Uncle was one of many who realized that coming early to eat in the Red Cross tent set up in the open air movie theater was the best way to get the prime choice of food.
The cheeses, a nutty aged parmigiano, a goats milk wrapped in grape leaves, a firm and tangly cheese with a wine stained rind - those went fast. The cheese plate at the Cantina sold for about 13 euro, so the assorted cheeses we have leftover are really great ones. The tofu that someone sliced and left on the same platter stayed there, friendless and lonely, until it was finally tossed aside. Apparently Italians have the same feelings many Americans do about tofu.
What I find to be incredibly interesting is the sort of "disaster food culture" I'm seeing emerge, and I'm wondering how these differences play out in other cultures. Here, we have a primi and secondi - a salad, a fruit, a dessert. We have water and wine, and tons of pasta. This is a meal, and when you feed tons of hungry, hard working Italians, you have to feed them what they expect to be a meal. That's different in different countries and regions.
For example, we've had cima a few times here - it's a Genovese dish sort of like a meatloaf. Traditionally, it's made in a variety of ways - a stuffed veal breast with vegetables - peas, carrots, onions- and more meat OR wrapped in prosciutto and baked, but we've had it as more of a mashed up meat mixture of all sorts of fun unknown parts of the animal, wrapped up in prosciutto, baked and sliced thin (photo courtesy wikipedia). Foccacia flies off the tables. Minestrone is slurped up happily. Trofie and pesto is handed out with heaping spoonfuls for seconds.
Italians work better, like everyone, with full stomachs. Also, thanks to the 1200 euros worth of free powdered coffee donated by Italcafe, and made by the fantastic group at Bar Gio and all their volunteers, Italians can continue to work better under that perpetual coffee buzz that fuels this country.
Whatever it is, it's working. Sandbagged, boarded up, warm, well-fed and safe for now, all we can do it watch the sky and wait.

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