Last night I decided to open a bottle of homemade red wine. I wanted to have a glass with my penne al pomodoro e basilico
, one of my favourite dishes and recipes. As soon as I pulled the cork, the aroma of the homemade wine wafted to my nose like a genie coming out of its lamp. In a heartbeat I was back in my uncles’ cantina
as a young child. It was a magical place, underground, that you would access using a ramp, as if going into the launching pad for a space shuttle hidden in the ground. The room was big, lined with huge wooden barrels that almost touched the ceiling and that I used to climb as a child; they are now a play-scape for my two nephews. In the middle of the room is the press that still does its job of squeezing the good stuff out of the oblivious grapes. The distinctive smell of this special place, where wine has been made using traditional methods from the beginning of the process to the end for many, many decades, welcomes me every time I open a bottle of homemade wine. This specific bottle of homemade wine, however, does not come from my uncles’ cantina
, but from Leo’s cellar. Two places that are thousands and thousands of kilometers away from each other. My uncles and Leo have never met—they live in different continents—but they share the same passion for homemade wine. It is the aroma that I smell every time I uncork one of their bottles that unites them, bringing their worlds together. Leo lives in Dominion, on Cape Breton Island, a small community of about 2,000 inhabitants that overlooks the Atlantic Ocean. Once part of a dynamic system of mining towns that played a crucial role in the development of the Canadian economy, industrial Cape Breton became the home of many immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe. Dominion attracted many Italians arriving from the province of Treviso in northern Italy. The Italian community that formed and developed there during the 1920s and 1930s is still visible in Dominion, and has its physical manifestation in the Italian Hall built in 1936 as a social and cultural meeting point for the members of the Italian community. I have known Leo and the rest of the community since 2009, when I began conducting fieldwork with the purpose of documenting and writing their history, which I believe has been overlooked for too long. Speaking with the members of this community, either formally during taped interviews, or in a more relaxed setting with a meal and a glass of wine, I discovered that discussing food is an excellent way to break the ice. Coming from the same geographical area left by the immigrant parents or grandparents of the current generation of Italian-Canadians, I feel we share a common background of knowledge and memories despite belonging to different generations. My very first interview with a member of this community was also the funniest I have probably ever conducted. Gino Scattolon was born and raised in Dominion by his parents, who came from Albaredo, Treviso. Gino is now in his eighties and lives in Antigonish, on mainland Nova Scotia. After asking him about his personal memories of growing up in Dominion, we spent the rest of the interview listing names of dishes we both knew and that were part of our everyday eating habits. Gino would laugh with surprise at the name of each dish I listed. Everything was familiar to the both of us: polenta
. He had a particular ...
Giulia De Gasperi, from Treviso, currently lives in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, where she is an Adjunct Professor in the Departments of Modern Languages and Celtic Studies at Saint Francis Xavier University. Her research involves Italians in the Maritimes and oral narratives about farming life in the Trevigian Province. You can read some of her creative writing at www.apanera.com.
Originaire de Trévise, Giulia De Gaspari vit présentement en Écosse où elle a complété un post-doctorat en ethnologie à l’Université d’Édimbourg. Ses recherches portent notamment sur les italiens qui habitent les provinces maritimes et les récits oraux de la vie fermière dans la province de Trévise. Certains de ses textes de fiction sont disponibles à l’adresse suivante : www.apanera.com.