We have several Italian friends who we met through our former business, Bella Italia. We met them all right around the same time and have kept in touch with them over the years. Some are contemporaries, like Michelangelo, and some are much younger than us, like Barbara, Ludo, and Ilaria. Tim and Julie know them all almost as well as we do and have been with us every step of the way through the business ups and downs. So it was very fitting that our reunion occurred while they were here.
We met them all in 2003 at a trade show in Atlanta. From then on they were all integral parts of our business. Barbara, Ludo, and Ilaria were youngsters when we met and we have watched them grow and marry and have families. And this past Sunday we all got together at Barbara’s magnificent house near Lake Trasimeno – 10 adults, 5 children, and 3 dogs.
Barbara and her husband Giacomo bought a farmhouse near Lake Trasimeno recently and are renovating it into a bed and breakfast. They moved into the house in May and are still working on the guest rooms. It’s a beautiful place with incredible views over the Umbrian countryside. When it’s finished, it will be a fantastic place to stay. Peaceful and serene, the views from every direction are inspiring. They also have 1,100 olive trees and this year they produced their first olive oil which won an award in the local new oil competition. They have a 7 year old son named Andrea who just lost his first tooth and likes to have a drop of wine in his water.
Ilaria and her husband Sandro have two children, Michele, who is a carbon copy of his father, and Matilda, who is a carbon copy of her mother. Ilaria and Ludo started a business together and export Italian wine all over the world.
And then there’s Ludo. Ludo was with us every day at Bella Italia. He was as involved in that business as we were. There wasn’t a week that went by that I didn’t email him numerous times. When he came to Atlanta he stayed with us. He taught us how to make the best eggplant in the world and fascinated our grandchildren with his exotic looks and strange way of speaking. We watched him find his way to the love of his life, his beautiful Sonja. And now he owns a business with Ilaria and has two precious children, Chloe and Gioele.
We all gathered around the table and had a feast. Bruschetta with the fabulous new oil, a traditional Sardinian pasta dish with anchovies, peppers, tomatoes and raisins. Giacomo is from Sardinia and by all accounts is a fabulous cook. And two kinds of grilled pork. It was a fine Italian feast with good food, good wine, exceptional company in an incredible setting.
Giacomo cooked the pork on the grill and laid it across mirto wood that was passed down to him from his mother. We think mirto is elderberry and the wood is used to flavor meat. It’s traditional to pass the pieces down from generation to generation. One day Andrea will be using this same mirto wood to cook the meat he serves his family and friends.
I love these traditions and I love how different they are all over Italy. Each little corner of this country has its traditions and its ways of doing things. They’re passed down over the years and they really don’t change that much. I’m sure Giacomo’s grandparents cooked over an open fire when they grilled meat – he uses a fancy new grill – but other than that, the ways of preparing and the principles are all the same. Tradition.
It was appropriate that we had this reunion during Thanksgiving week. We are so thankful for these relationships and it was very gratifying to look around the table and see these people. who mean so much to us, with their families. They don’t celebrate Thanksgiving in Italy, obviously, but if you peel away all the folklore behind Thanksgiving and just know it for what it is at its core – a day to be thankful – then it’s universal. Tradition.