A friend once said ‘wow, you’re a true “renaissance woman“‘. I was mildly offended because I automatically assumed that that meant “old”. That said, I then turned to Google to ascertain exactly what that meant…(and then I thanked her for the lovely compliment…)
“A woman who has broad intellectual interests and is accomplished in areas of both arts and sciences”.
The words resonated with me, as for the first time in my 50 years, I could adequately define the loves of my life.
As a child, growing up in steel town Hamilton Ontario in the 60’s, I’d thought that the love of arts and sciences was something that was uniquely ‘Italian’ and not necessarily attributed to women. After all, there were carpenters and artisans who made beautiful homes and helped to build our city, and at the same time, many of them had dual loves and spent their days working in the steel mills to support their true passions of agriculture, art and architecture at home.
Back in the old country, these men had taken their inspiration from some of the great masters like DaVinci, Michelangelo, Gallileo, and of course Dante, who made amazing contributions to both disciplines.
Growing up, I always questioned why the women were not made more examples of? After all, they were equally skilled in the arts and sciences. One renaissance woman who sticks out in my mind was my Grandmother ‘Nonna Filomena’ or “Nonna Mena” as I called her. She was a miller’s daughter, who learned the process of making olive oil from scratch, who learned to colour the first commercially available fabrics in her town, and who could sew the most beautiful vestments out of those fabrics. Her needlework surpassed that of most women and she soon became the ‘dowry-mistress’ in town. The local ‘Lady’ who taught the art of fine needlework, of bobbin lace making (almost a a lost art) and precision embroidery to local young women, and brides-to-be. She could often command a high commission and projects sometimes took over a year to complete.
Nothing today beats her table settings of twelve, with beautiful embroidered tablecloths and hand-stitched trimming on embroidered napkins adorning the Christmas or Easter Buffet. It’s like my Nonna is still with us and it fills our hearts.
Then, of course, my mother ‘Lina’, who came to Canada in 1958 at the age of 29 with two young children in tow. She descended from a long line of cobblers, seamstresses and tailors. She can still sew like the dickens even at 85.
A few years back when I worked as an engineer at the local steel mill, I was invited to attend the annual shareholders meeting for our company. Our Vice President (a woman) came to me, took me by the elbow and whispered In my ear ” my dear” she said, “where did you get that lovely dress”? I looked at her and said “Joan, I’m 42 years old, and my mother still sews my clothes for me”.
At that moment, I’d felt so blessed to have such a wonderful, giving, and talented mother.
One of her greatest passions however is to cook, and especially bake. Her cream puffs are to die-for, as is her Easter Pastiera ( a baked rice pudding pie we will post later) and both Sicilian and Venetian Cannoli made with 60 year old hand made wooden forms.
Through my years growing up, I’ve often said she can rival the worlds greatest chefs. She is my own personal ‘Lidia Bastianich’ only with a twist. We call her ‘Nonna’, not ‘Granma’. And tomato sauce is called ‘Sugo’ not ‘Gravy’.
Then of course there is my best friend in life and ultimate confidant ‘ my sister ‘. She is who I truly dedicate this endeavour to, for I have always thought of her as a gifted artist, teacher, and sister/mother who has a lot to teach the world….who at the age of 13 could take care of a 3 month old baby while her mother went to work. Who could make chicken soup from a whole chicken and feed a family of five. Who ironed, cleaned and made her own clothes and who could do this having never attended brownies or guides.
In these pages you will be exposed to some of her wonderful recipes, and beautiful artwork. You will experience some nostalgic stories as well as share some of your own and lastly you will be exposed to our ‘online museum’ of works of art from some of the great Italian Mistresses of the past’. I have come to learn about, and honour these women who have inspired so much of what is sought after in art and science and culture today.
Abbracci e Benvenuti to our Italian Sisters!