Virgilio between pens and cutlery
I’ve known this great interpreter of Venetian and Italian literature for decades and I always have in mind his incredible ability to synthesize intellectual, ferment, vitality, as if it were meant to be done quickly. But the appearance is nice, holding hands as a provost, he certainly learned in the seminary where he traveled, very young, only a section of his call, to return, soon, in the world of the Secular.
So we had a writer who won a grinzane Cavour, a Premio comisso, he was a finalist of campiello, he has published several volumes and never believed that you can learn to write by frequenting those who write literature, despite having had relationships with writers such as Comisso, Parise, Piovene, Neri Pozza.
He wrote a series of books that have traveled the second half of last century with wit, slight irony, testimony of people’s uses and feelings, wrote in a bashful, alien way of demagogy, made constant reference to memory.
He told me recently that he does not believe in “fantastic” writers, intending to speak of those who produce stories out of the past: he believes that, always, the resulting writing and narrative, cannot exist outside of the “personal experience” of the writer.
The problem, he says, is the sensitivity to the things that have touched you, or interested, or whatever happened to the spirit.
All this came to my mind at this moment that it am rewarded, in the beautiful Villa Cordellina, as a gourmet of clear renown. I had very long meetings with Virgilio, quietly accommodated in the low red armchair he had in the shop, that kind of theater in which he lived.
Marco Cavalli wrote, I was sitting “in a hermetic immobility” in the newspaper of Vicenza when he definitively closed the store at the end of 2003, for a long time without opening his mouth, until he resumed a speech first undertaken and soon blocked. Here I knew him as a gastronomo, as a gourmet and even more like gourmand.
“I am not a gastronome,” he said to me, “you are. I was interested in gastronomy thinking about my childhood. My grandmother had a nice chicken coop and when a chicken hatched, she gave a piece to my father and one to my uncles Mario and Bortolo. It was hard work to square the circle of a chicken in three pieces.. In the partition of these chickens we also had our grandchildren our good: there was the chicken trippette. She took the guts and cleaned them well using a stocking needle, then cooked them with onion, tomato and spices.
That gift remained with me, I never thought it was a trivial dish. It was a real dish that helped me to look at real things. So I am a lover of tradition and I love the dishes of our gastronomy that are popped, suddenly, in my life, sneaking, like a rediscovery.
When I came back from boarding school, my mother, prepared twelve eggs and it was a riot. I still love the Tajadele, the maridà soup (risi e tajadele), the Risi e Bisi, the Bigoli, the Polastro in Tecia, the Guinea-fowl, the spontaneous herbs. There is a direct line between food and the growth of my fame as a writer: invitations have started throughout the city and food has become a binder, an excuse, an opportunity for me to be a guest. I went everywhere: Prosciutto di Parma and the cooked shoulder of San second I have eaten on site and with Beppe Maffioli, whom I loved and whom I was very close friends with, I was a companion of raids for Trattorias. She was also extraordinary as a cook. A real “ras” that has supported and relaunched the gastronomy of Treviso. I went about all the trattorias of the province with Tognazzi, with germs, we went often entto Alfredo Beltrame of Toulà’s.
So not many years ago since Zanatta I was elected “Holy Eater”. In my life I never accepted any gastronomic modernism of any kind. Take the polenta: let he who cannot do it be damned. It must be a soda, it must be a sun. Once there were these “suns” in the country: We approached in silence to these huge “Panari”. Silent because everyone was hungry and with hunger no one spoke.
Nowadays they make the “polenta diarrhea”, soft in the spoon, and worthless. I saw in a magazine a polenta that looked like a huge “boassa” combed: They had engraved it with the grits of a fork. What a disaster!
As a young man I witnessed several times the scientific demolition of a slice of salami. A slice was to be warmed in an iron skillet, never washed and when it was warmed it gripped a slice of polenta and it was dipped in this extraordinary salami, warm and greasy. They ate four or five slices of polenta with this slice of salami, replaced, in sad times, with slices of huge sauces that were destroyed by carving in the same way.
I’m crazy about salami: The Sopressa is a deity. Culatello, cooked shoulder, hams and speck are at the base of an altar on which I see the sanctity of the Sopressa. And there is a vengeance on me (it seems people like tormenting me): I do not love cheeses. I only eat only, “obtoro collo the casatella” and mascarpone.
My grandfather had a garden in town, now they built a condo over it. He cultivated everything, he had a marzemino vine with extraordinary perfume and flavour, as we had the Clinto and the Frambuo. We had chickens, rabbits, bees and there at the bottom there was the gooseberry. When I go in front of it, I feel like the land is saying: demolish this damn condo, I want it to be a garden again.
In short, I knew nothing but tradition: how could I not love it? I have, among other things, a personal record of 54 fiste (Pispole) on a skewer, when the birds with a gentle beak were allowed. Now in a kind of historic nemesis, in a law of retaliation, I don’t live from much and memories and desires come out reinforced from my mind.
And so it is also my relationship with the Baccalà. I was born prior (Scapin is prior of the venerable Brotherhood of Bacalà alla Vicentina NDR) and the priory is very important. When I went to the campiello they asked me what I preferred between being prior and winning the Campiello. I had no doubts to answer: The Campiello is done once a year the prior is done for life.
There is no doubt that I have given visibility to the Brotherhood, of which, unworthily one also belongs to, and from it I have received fame as a gastronome. Everyone knows about my love for the Baccalà, the battles that I supported against the Demons of modernism (Vissani in the head who wanted to bake the baccalà in a quarter of an hour), everyone knows my repugnance for a world that wants to actualize everything. Could you imagine the Trippette de Polastro frozen?
Every year in September from Sandrigo I make a speech, addressed to the charismatic leader of the confreres, is a clear reference to the breakdown to which we are getting closer: a kitchen that no longer has a direction, which is addressed to every subject as if it were their own, that it is destroying the tradition and the memories, which is changing the flavors in an impersonal and damaging homologation.
He finished this conversation by saying:
“And then, Mona, what do you ask me?
We have, together, tried over twenty trattorias and made texts for my last book “I Magnagati”.
You were with me and you saw what and how I eat. Isn’t it enough to know me as a Gastronomo? “
In fact this book is so dedicated:
“I don’t have a car.
“I can’t drive.
“Alfredo Pelle has taken me away from embarrassment
“I dedicate this book to him.
He’s right, once again, Virgilio!