From the Introduction
IN A QUIET CORNER OF VENICE, far off the beaten track and away from the crowds that cluster around the famous Piazza San Marco, stands a little house. Its walls are a dirty and crumbling pink plaster. Its windows, hidden behind watermelon-green shutters, look out over a sleepy canal. Were you wandering past, you most likely would not look at it twice, too beguiled by the riches and beauty the streets of Venice have to offer all around you. Were you wandering past, you might even be lost—few visitors
bother coming to this unpretentious part of town by intention. But were you to pause for a moment, standing just outside the green door, in the campo
where the cherry tree grows; were you to stop and look, what you would see is my home. The house where I grew up, where my husband and I celebrated our wedding, where my son took his first steps, and where I learned to cook.
The story of how the little pink house on a Venetian backwater came to be my home is a serendipitous one. Unlike almost everyone else in my neighborhood, I wasn’t born in Venice, nor is my family from there: we moved to the city when I was tiny and before I can really remember living anywhere else. I have no recollection of my first night in the attic bedroom at the top of our house, for example, or of seeing the city for the first time from the water. Most distinctly, I remember my mother telling me that we were to move there for a year—and my asking if this meant that I wouldn’t have to go to school. I was six.
I did go to school, of course; and we stayed longer than a year. We’ve never really left.
When we first arrived, I spoke not a word of Italian beyond ciao
. I went to the local Italian school, a charming old convent with vaulted ceilings and the prettiest of courtyards. My teacher was a petite nun with a kindly, creased face who wore an immaculately starched white wimple. We called her Madre Adolfa
and, with all the patience in the world, she taught me Italian. She spoke no English. I remember her running water from a rusty tap into her hands, jabbing her wet finger at me, and crying “goccia
!” the Italian word for “drop of water.” For a long time, I thought that goccia
meant “finger.” I soon learned to speak Italian, though with a heavy Venetian accent and a fair few words of dialect mixed in. And with time, the strangeness of living in a city with no cars, traveling everywhere by boat, and splashing through the streets flooded with water when the tide comes in high became my every day, though for me it has never lost its charm. As is often the way when you come from one place and live in another, I feel no identifiable nationality: I am neither wholly English nor wholly Italian, but I am much of both. Venice, really, has always been home; and with time, I have come to think of myself as Venetian, if only by adoption.
As is the way for so many of us who love to eat, my happiest childhood memories are centered on food. And as I’ve grown older, little has changed for me on that front. I remain the kind of greedy person who
remembers and feels life through what she ate and how it was cooked: veal scallops, rolled in crisp bread crumbs and cooked alla milanese
, on our wedding night; panettone filled with pistachio cream for pudding the Christmas before last; bollito misto
with a very sharp salsa verde
on the day my husband proposed; and cold tongue with heaps of Dijon mustard followed by a molten hot chocolate soufflé the night before our son, Aeneas, was born.
I live by the belief that food is so much more than necessity. It is memories and feelings; it’s both a reflection of and a catalyst for your mood; it is a profound way to connect with those we are privileged
enough to share a meal with.
As I was growing up, we cooked often at home. My parents loved few things in life more than to gather around a dining table for lunch and linger there until long past the sun’s setting. Meals were usually
chaotic: shared plates, hastily tossed together; flowers, cut higgledy-piggledy from the garden and plonked casually on the table. Sometimes lunch for six, though just as often for twelve or even twenty. The more the merrier—the hum of excitable conversation playing out to a satisfying chorus of knives and forks scraping on plates, and strains of Verdi opera blaring from the tinny stereo in the kitchen. To me the chaos was magic. My memories are fully of warmth, generosity, and, above all, fun. Our life played out around the dining table, and it was made richer by the food we ate and by the cast of characters who joined us there. Somewhere along the way, I learned both to cook and to love to cook.
Copyright © 2018 by Skye McAlpine. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.