Cultural lexicon

Roasted chestnuts

Originally uploaded by nonsonoitaliana

Last night my father in law dropped by with these: roasted chestnuts. It’s the season for them, though the warm days make me forget that it really is Autumn already. Autumn already because somehow in being away for six weeks I lost my rythym here and felt like it should still be summer when I returned. A strange kind of disorietation has resulted.

Roasted chestnuts are relatively new in my life, something I only discovered here in northern Italy. I had always read about them, and they are in Nat King Cole’s famous Christmas song, but they were sort of like olive trees: part of the cultural lexicon, but only in a symbolic way, nothing tangible or present in my actual experience. It is only since having seen olive groves, having learned of the time and effort required to nuture the trees, and of the variety of products that one can derive from the trees, that I truly begin to understand the depth of their concrete and metaphorical significance.

And the same is true for chestnuts. They are abundant here, relatively easy to gather (they simply fall off the trees when ripe, and then the scary, spikey casings neatly open on their own, begging you to take the glossy, smooth, brown seeds inside.). You can boil them or roast them, but the roasting gives them that toasted, nutty flavor that complements so well the mild sweet flesh. As I have an incredible sweet tooth, I am always feeling twinges of sympathy when I think about folks who lived before sugar, before easy access to honey and then sugar. I can imagine myself waiting for these sweet nuts, and then eating tons. Not that they are very very sweet, but enough to satisfy those kinds of cravings.

Now, I wasn’t trying to say that olives and chestnuts have the same cultural-symbolic weight, but I do think that chestnuts are representative of our idea of by-gone, quieter times, and simple pleasures. That kind of thing.

So thanks, Francesco, for the chestnuts. They momentarily diverted me from my anguish.


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