This isn’t a post about food, not as such. I do think, however, that images that ‘feed’ one’s eyes and soul often have a way of eventually inspiring menus in the kitchen. The mild weather in Rome during October, with its piercingly warm palette of daylight colours, has given rise to the description “le ottobrate romane” – i.e. the typical Roman October days. ’Typical’ they may be in meteorological terms but they are most uncompromisingly not so in existential terms. Beauty is truth, truth beauty … I don’t care if it’s a ‘trick’ of the light, the beauty of Rome’s rooftops continue to engulf me with fervour and remind me of the beauty of Life. Yes, Life with a capital ‘L’.
If you can spare the time, and if you are willing, naturally, I would ask you to click on the following link and listen to the music as you read the rest of the post … https://soundcloud.com/alaraco/kronos-quartet-the-beatitudes .
There are two people whom I didn’t have the chance to meet in real life, but who have enriched my existence through their writings about food. They both died very recently. Not only was their written word permeated by a real grasp of matter and experience, but the manner in which they shared this knowledge spoke of an unstinting gentleness on their part, a givingness that is imparted by those who know how to live … and not merely exist. These are the sort of people who, though not necessarily shy, have no need whatsoever of seeking the limelight, their own lives illuminate their souls well enough, and they aren’t taken in by the trappings and maya of celebrity. Their names? Marcella Hazan and Kyle Phillips. I think that most people know about Marcella, she was famous world-wide for her teachings on Italian cookery.
Marcella was Italian and ended up living in the USA. Kyle Phillips, instead, was from the USA and ended up living in Italy, marrying an Italian and living in Tuscany. His father had been Professor of Classical and Near Eastern Archaeology at Bryn Mawr College and had led excavations at the Archaic Etruscan site, Poggio Civitate in Murlo (Tuscany), so who knows how and when Kyle became interested enough to want to live in Italy.
I don’t know enough about his backround. All I know is that he translated Artusi’s “The Science and Art of Eating Well” (I commented on this in a post I wrote earlier this summer. Quote: Mr Artusi’s seminal book, The Science and Art of Eating Well has been translated into English by more than one author … but I was on the look-out to spot the version translated by a food writer and blogger called Kyle Phillips, whom I admire very much and who I hope is blushing if and when he reads this. I’ve yet to meet him in person but, aside from knowing so much about Italian history, social mores, cuisine and wines, he comes over as being a real gentleman — and that would be most in keeping with Artusi’s demeanour.
End-of-Quote. Kyle Phillips was also a wine connoisseur. He was a food and wine writer and the brains and brawn behind “Italian Food for About.com”, the food blog “Cosa Bolle in Pentola” and the blog “ItalianWineReview.wordpress.com”. He was very good with his camera too and I noticed that these last few months he had been taking lots of photos of Nature. Perhaps he was aware that his disease was taking a definitive toll … and Nature was probably what could rivet if not assuage him during this time. The shots were definitely about the beauty of Nature.
I didn’t know Marcella, I didn’t know Kyle … yes, we exchanged the odd comment on facebook, but that’s about it. I was very saddened by Marcella’s death, I had read her autobiography a year ago and fell in love with the person (such a character!), and my heart went out to her husband Victor. I was shocked as well as saddened by Kyle Phillips’s death last Monday, a bolt from the blue, because I hadn’t known that he was ill and also because he was so much younger (probably about 50 years of age), leaving two children, Clelia and Riccardo, for his beloved wife Elisabetta to raise.
Victor has been writing some wonderful commentary on his wife and the effect she had on people, words that are more than merely ‘touching’ — they resonate with the atoms in us that tell us we are alive, even though we cannot sum up Life. And so too was I touched to the quick by Elisabetta’s words on facebook, graciously appreciating people’s condolences but not forgetting to exhort us to enjoy life to the full, the way Kyle did. Victor Hazan and Elisabetta Phillips … how can we even begin to understand the pain that you are going through?
There is a film I have to see … that I somehow missed when it came out a few months ago, called “La Grande Bellezza” (The Great Beauty), directed by Paolo Sorrentino. It is set in Rome. Robbie Collin at The Daily Telegraph awarded Sorrentino’s film the maximum five stars and described it as “a shimmering coup de cinema”. He likened it to Roberto Rossellini’s Rome, Open City and Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita in its ambition to record a period of Roman history on film. Cinema buffs in my family circle who have seen it admit there are aspects of the film that do not work but that, on the whole, what makes it gripping is the storyline’s attempt to take on that which is larger than life, bigger than us. It is set in Rome because La Grande Bellezza is Rome.
I spent a day last week in Rome, in the company of two close friends, lapping up the beauty that only Rome can offer, and can only offer on a typical ottobrata day. The temperature, the light, the architecture, the buildings and churches and roof tops — and not forgetting the full moon — made me realise that we all too readily forget that we need great beauty in our lives, the way we need food and drink, and close friends and relationships, as well as the comfort of strangers.
I dedicate the following photographs to two beautiful people: Marcella Hazan and Kyle Phillips.