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#FoodFiction: To Break A Curse. A Little Faith is All You Need

#FoodFiction: To Break A Curse. A Little Faith is All You Need

Questo racconto è il risultato della collaborazione tra SapereFood e Umbra Institute. Dopo aver visitato alcune importanti aziende della regione, gli studenti hanno scritto delle storie di fantasia sperimentando il “product placement”, ovvero l’inserimento di un marchio all’interno della narrazione.

by Kyndal BurdinInspired by a visit to San Biagio Brewery

It started with a curse. My family’s past is complicated, so I’ll just say that it has to do with an ancestor accusing a woman of stealing from their farm. The woman ended up losing everything, including her life, as punishment; back then it was a serious crime. As she was about to die, the woman put a curse on my family, saying this: “There will come a time when your family will no longer be able to live off its land and will be brought to poverty, to the point where stealing will be the only option.”

My ancestors never thought much of it since our land continued to grow and produce the most delicious food in Toscano. Until the day I was to inherit, and the land went barren. Dry as a desert; even with days of rain, the ground never even showed green. I went to my relatives for help, but they all refused to acknowledge the situation as the result of the curse. Some went as far as to blame me because I was the first female to inherit.

But when nothing I changed or did worked I became desperate. I sent out flyers around Toscano asking anyone who may have a solution to come solve my problem. I had some normal people suggest what I had already done, and then I had people coming with rain dances, supposedly magical potions and beans. When Giacomo, one of the land workers and an old childhood friend, came to me and claimed to have a solution, I begrudgingly agreed to hear what he had to say.

“I am not sure if you remember this book that my grandfather gave to me,” he said and held up an antique leather-bound parcel, “but we played with it as kids a lot. It has maps and descriptions about the land and towns, but also contains a myth about a healing water called aqua mada via.”

Giacomo handed me the book opened to a page with drawings and notes creating a border around the handwritten Italian myth. I took the day to look through it and read through the instructions; if the map was correct the water’s location was not far away. I told him the next day that I was going to try to find it, which he quickly took as an invitation to accompany me. Had I known it would involve hiking up mountains in neighboring Umbria, I may have taken a different course of action.

***

I tipped back my bottle and downed the last few drops of water. I wasn’t sure how much time had passed on our journey, but I did know that we were out of water, out of food, and out of strength to keep moving. I grabbed the book to riffle through the pages for any notes on local hostels or springs that would be a good stopping point, but there was nothing. All of the instructions were in rhymes and pictures; it was making my head throb.

“Well Giacomo, any other solutions to the new problems arising on this trip?”

Giacomo chuckled and turned his head to the sky. “My grandfather would always tell us grandkids a story about acquiring the water that healed his wife, my grandmother, and even allowed her, against all odds, to get pregnant.”

I gave him a skeptical look. Eyebrow arched, arms crossed–you know the drill.

“Why have you never told me this until now?”

“When we were younger, you ran the show. I was just there to take directions and play the prince, dragon, dog…whatever you came up with,” he said with a chuckle.

Maybe that was true. I do love bossing him around.

 “Look, I know it sounds crazy, and for the most part my family did think he was crazy. But perhaps it is true and the water is magical.” He scratched behind his head, avoiding eye contact.

“Are you telling me that you may have convinced me to go on this trip even though you, yourself are unsure that this magical water exists?”

“Maybe I am living proof the water exists. If my grandmother never had my dad I would not be here. Maybe I have some magic running through my veins.” He gave me a suggestive smile and took a step closer.

When we were younger Giacomo was shorter than me; now I had to tip my head back to look up at him. This close, I could smell his cologne, citrus and lavender, mixed with sweat.

“Magic or not, you know your charms never worked on me,” I said and pushed him away.

Giacomo laughed and shook his shaggy dark hair. “Come on we need to keep moving.”

As we continued ascending the mountain, out of nowhere near, to the top, a building took form. We decided to see if we could get any assistance there. As we got closer, it became clear the building was a monastery, one that had obviously been there for some time.

As Giacomo and I peeked in, we saw lit candles and then a shadow. We both jumped back when the main door opened and a man, or rather, a monk, in robes emerged.

“Can I help you all?” the monk asked.

 “I’m not sure,” I said. “My name is Serafina and this is Giacomo. We are looking for a water source called aqua mada via. Have you heard of it?”

“My name is Brother Stefano.” He stuck out his hand in greeting.

He had yet to answer my question, and I started to get worried. Please, please say yes. I needed confirmation that this had not been a waste of time.

“Why don’t you both come inside, and I can tell you what I know.”

The monk moved to the side with an arm wide open for us to enter. We both stepped inside to the smell of incense and a feeling of peace. We walked through a small chapel with a cross of Christ at the altar and small wooden pews worn from all of the bodies that had sat or knelt before them for prayer. Stefano ushered us into a small room with a simply wooden desk and a few chairs.

“Please sit.” Giacomo and I took our respective seats across from Brother Stefano.

“So, you seek aqua mada via. Do you know much about it?” the monk asked.

“We only know that it is meant to heal things.”

Brother Stefano smiled and said, “Yes, this is true. The name was given to describe the water source as un miracolo – a miracle. The water has particular powers. It was said that even St. Francis of Assisi sought it out to heal him when he was sick; however, because it is so sacred it is not so easy to obtain.”

“What must I do?”

Brother Stefano took a deep breath before saying, “The water, because of its purity, is guarded by a matron, one that can always tell when you are truthful or lying. They say to get to the water you must pass the matron’s test.”

Okay. Am I trembling on the inside with fear? Yes. Am I still going to do it? Yes. Do I want to do it? Not really, but this is the only option, and I have come this far.

“Alright, where can we find it?”

“The entrance is hidden unless you know where to look. There are two large trees twisted together at the top.” He rested his elbows wide on the table and intertwined his fingers. “It creates a canopy of sorts. That is the entrance. Once you move through it, be on your guard.”

Brother Stefano then offered to host us for the night to allow us rest and to prepare for our challenge in the morning.

***

We left at sunrise with the hope of finally reaching the end of our long journey. Following Brother Stefano’s directions, we found the entrance quickly. The trees were just as he had said, twisting between each other’s branches in a beautiful and mystifying way.

Giacomo and I stood at the entrance, staring into the natural gateway.

“Well, here goes nothing,” I said.

As I went to take a step, Giacomo grabbed my hand, stopping me. I turned to him and found his eyes full of worry. I gave him a reassuring look and squeezed his hand before taking another step forward and pulling him gently along. At first glance the area looked as a normal open glade would, but I remembered Brother Stefano’s warning.

“Keep your eyes open for anything that may seem off.”

We carefully made our way forward. The further we went, the pathway became more covered and the trees began to feel suffocating. Making it to the other end should have made me feel relief, but I actually began to feel uneasy. Ahead, there was a cave opening on the mountain slope covered with grassy moss. Giacomo and I exchanged a glance and nodded. We’d come all this way and nothing was going to stop us now.

“I’ll take the lead,” Giacomo said and moved ahead. As he went to light a match, the walls erupted in fiery light. With newly adjusted eyes, I could see now that there were torches along the path inside.

“Who…?” Giacomo quietly asked.

Honestly, I did not want to dwell on it or try to comprehend, so I just shook my head and walked. As we went further in, the torches’ light turned into natural light from a ceiling opening that revealed a small grotto. The water was pure blue and sparkled in the sunlight.

“I guess this is it.” I went to bend down before it with my water pouch, when Giacomo shot an arm out.

“This is too easy. What about the matron?”

I froze up. I had almost forgotten. I quickly stood and glanced around the cave, looking for anything.

Suddenly the water began to ripple and the sunlight seemed to be replaced by moonlight. Before our eyes appeared a woman in flowing clothing that emanated light. Her hair was twisted up, creating a golden halo upon her head.

My body went completely still and all the feeling went out of my legs–running away was not an option. Giacomo’s jaw went slack in wonderment. With the golden halo and the general glory, kneeling felt like the right thing to do, but, as I said, my brain and my legs weren’t communicating.

“Why have you come here?” The woman’s voice encompassed me in a cool breeze and whispered across my cheek. For a second, my words failed.

I swallowed my nervous fear and replied, “We came for aqua mada via. My family was cursed, and I need its power to make the land fertile again.”

The woman looked me straight in the eyes. I wanted to look away or even blink, but I did not want to seem weak before this being.

“To reach it you must fully submerge yourself in the grotto. If you seek the water with a believing heart you will succeed. However, if you do not believe in the water’s power you will fail. I warn you to search your heart for the truth.”

Fully what? I replayed the matron’s words in my head just to make sure I had heard her correctly.

“So this is a test of…what? Faith?”

The matron only bowed her head in response. I had two options: call it day and figure out another career, or test my faith.

“What are you going to do?” Giacomo asked. “Maybe this is as close as we come. I don’t want you to get hurt.” Concern was etched into every line of his face.

“Do you trust me?”

“I do.”

Taking a step toward the grotto, I looked down into the crystal, blue pool.

Alright heart, I thought, let’s talk. I’m not sure why I agreed to come here, to do this. Was it solely because I was desperate? Was I just interested in a chance for adventure? I must have had some faith in Giacomo and some belief that the water would truly solve my problem if I came this far. And if I was about to step into this pool on the instruction of some shiny matron goddess-thing, how could this not be real?

“I have faith,” I said. “I believe the water can produce a miracle.”

The matron shimmered into nothing but thin air as I began my descent into the pool. I got all the way to my shoulders, and, for one moment, paused. This is it.

I took a breath then slipped fully beneath the surface. At first, nothing happened. But then the water began to swirl around me, pulling me deeper and deeper toward an opening at the bottom. I wanted to scream, but the air was taken from me as I was sucked down into the vortex headfirst. And then, instead of being pulled down, I felt my body rise until I broke the surface.

 How did I end up going down to come up? It was as if the world had flipped upside down, bringing me to an otherworldly grotto.

“Wow,” I breathed.

The walls were glistening as if diamonds were embedded within their crevices. Water was flowing between a stalacite on the cave floor to a stalagmite hanging above it. The water was defying gravity. I got myself out of the pool and reached the spectacle. I grabbed my water canteens and began to fill them to the brim.

After getting back into the water and going through the pool to the grotto, I emerged to find Giacomo pacing back and forth. At the sight of me, though, he went utterly still.

“No need to worry,” I said as I climbed out of the pool. “I have retur…” I didn’t get to finish the sentence. Giacomo took my hand and pulled me up the last step and into his arms, my free hand splayed on his chest for balance. Then he lowered his head and pressed his lips against mine.

When he pulled away, I opened my eyes to find his searching my face, as if looking for something he’d lost. It could have just been the shock, but the kiss left me more breathless than the water tunnel.

“What was that for?” I asked.

“I was worried. I was here, alone, and I began to think that if you didn’t come back I would never get the chance to do that.”

Somehow kissing Giacomo, one of my oldest friends, who annoyed me more often than anything, was more unbelievable than going through a strange pool-portal to find magical water. And yet, though it was unbelievable, it was real. As real as the heart beating rapidly in my chest, and the canteen of water I held in my hand.

“Well…” I paused. “I’m glad I came back then.”

A smile spread across Giacomo’s face, and I felt my own reflecting his. Maybe, I thought, the grotto can produce miracles of all kinds.

I waited until we returned to the monastery to share my experience with Giacomo and Brother Stefano, so I did not have to tell it twice. I thanked Brother Stefano for his help and promised him that I would somehow return the favor one day. We returned to my family’s land in Toscano and the water was dropped sparingly across every acre. To everyone’s wonderment, the land became prosperous again, growing everything from wine grapes to wheat, tomatoes and olives, and basically anything else we attempted. I sent a letter to the monastery, called San Biagio as I later learned, to inform them about the miracle the water had performed. With the water, our crops were purer than all of the other products in the region.

A few weeks later I received Brother Stefano at my family home. He said he was excited to hear of my good fortune and wanted to see the proof in person, so I gave him a tour of the land and fed him everything we had grown. Because the truth was plainly seen in every inch of the land, Stefano expressed his hope that we might become partners.

Called in that favor pretty quickly, I thought, but I was excited for the venture.

It turned out his monastery had been producing beer for centuries, and they were looking for a new grain producer to create new craft beers. Stefano also revealed that he’d had access to aqua mada via the entire time, but he was sworn with the responsibility of keeping it safe and only pointing those who sought it in the right direction. With the grain my land provided and the monastery’s pure water, we developed a beer that created a new and unique experience. It seems Italy’s land has the capacity to produce incredible beer, too.

Now, I have never been one to believe in things I could not see or understand, but that day was one that only deep-rooted faith could describe. I wonder sometimes if all of it actually happened. Luckily, I have Giacomo to reassure me it was not all a delusion. I know how it must sound—like I pulled this from a fantasy novel or a fairytale. But then I guess you’ll just have to have some faith in me.

Umbra Institute

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