As I look at my well-stocked pantry, I release a deep breath. My gaze moves over the ready-to-eat sugo, vegetables in oil, jars of cured olives, dried borlotti beans, preserved stewed fruits, pickles, and dried figs and apricots. Everything is going to be okay. No, I haven’t been panic buying. No, I haven’t suddenly decided to learn how to make bread. No, I haven’t rushed out and bought seedlings for every winter vegetable you can name. Those are things I do all the time, not just because there is a pandemic. And I do them because my nonna taught me how.
My nonna was not one to panic and I wonder what she would have made of this moment in time if she were still alive. She had a slow and steady, or piano piano, approach to life. She would accomplish a great deal but she would be methodical and always allow for moments of quiet and dolce far niente (the sweetness of doing nothing).
My nonna was not one to panic and I wonder what she would have made of this moment in time if she were still alive.
I didn’t realise that learning to do things like grow my own food, preserve it and cook from first principles would hold me in such good stead for a pandemic. When everyone started buying up pasta from the supermarkets I wondered why it was one of the first items they turned to (and don’t get me started on toilet paper when every Italian knows how to use a bidet).
I love pasta, of course, but dried packet pasta from a supermarket is quite possibly the most boring kind of pasta available. Why wouldn’t you buy up all the semola flour so you could make fresh orecchiette and fusilli al ferro at home? Or the Tipo 00 for perfect, egg-rich pasta and crispy pizza? If it’s the end of the world as we know it then I don’t want to go out eating packet pasta. No way would Nonna approve of that.
The shortcuts of modern life have not made us happier, healthier or more resilient. Instead, we’ve grown to rely on industrialised processes and lose touch with first principles. Being able to bake your own bread, grow your own food and mend your own clothes means you can adapt to new and changing circumstances. Faced with the ongoing and unabating challenges of climate change and this current pandemic, I know I’d rather have some useful survival skills up my sleeve. The gift my nonna gave me in teaching me these things is suddenly the most valuable and useful one I’ve ever received.
Resilience isn’t only about food though; there’s also a mental aspect. My nonna taught me to be mentally strong. She wasn’t one to dwell on the past or think too much about her hardships. She simply celebrated what she had and focused on family and friendship. Now more than ever we need to appreciate our homes, our families, our friends, our communities. We might be apart but we’re all in this together.
Resilience isn’t only about food though; there’s also a mental aspect. My nonna taught me to be mentally strong.
Watching my husband, a doctor of infectious diseases, go to work every day at the front line of this pandemic has made me so proud to love and support a healthcare worker. While I get to stay in our comfortable home with our adorable dog, he is working long days at a hospital bracing itself for catastrophe. While the future is uncertain for us all, there is a great deal of comfort to take in focusing on the present moment. We have so little control over what happens next and all we can do is play our small part. As my nonna would say, sempre avanti mai indietro – always forwards, never backwards.
If I had realised my nonna was setting me up to tackle an apocalyptic future – one hotter and drier than anything in their lifetimes with a killer virus to boot – I wonder if I might have listened a little more closely to her wisdom.
Jaclyn Crupi is a bookseller at Hill of Content Bookshop in Melbourne and the author of Nonna Knows Best, out 28 April through Affirm Press.
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