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#FoodFiction: Vittorio

#FoodFiction: Vittorio

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 Mary Clay KlineInspired by a visit to Fattoria Luchetti

Vittorio Luchetti rises this morning, like every morning, at 7:00. In his old age, it has taken him longer and longer to grasp hold of his wooden cane, but eventually, he stands straight and gazes out his bedroom window at the rolling Umbrian hillside.

It’s chilly this morning, so he throws a blue sweater on over his striped pajamas. He slowly, carefully walks to the kitchen for breakfast where scents of freshly brewed black espresso drift his way. There he finds Maria, the wife of his son Andrea. She’s commanding the kitchen and getting ready to wake her daughters for school.

 “Where is Andrea?” he asks, like always.

 “Oh, you know,” she inevitably responds. “Out with the cows.”

Vittorio smiles. He knows the bond between a man and his cows.

He thinks about one morning when he was ten years old. He woke up in the barn, not his bed. His old Chianina bull Luigi was nestled beside him, and they were both attempting to keep warm on a particularly cold February morning. He looked across the barn, which was actually the ground floor of their home, to see his little brother and sister running around with the chickens. His mother was trying to wrangle them for breakfast.

Vittorio sat up and dusted dried hay from his shoulders. He was excited because today was his last day of school — not for the year, but ever. Once he made it through one last walk uphill to his small schoolroom, one last class with that terrible Maestra Rivetto, and he would be free. Well, not exactly free. But he would be a real worker, not a student, and he would finally be able to help his sharecropper father. And, one day, Vittorio was sure the farm would be all his.

His daydream is interrupted by the sound of ceramic sliding across the tabletop.

 “Your caffé,” says Maria, haphazardly, with one daughter clinging onto her hip. Vittorio pats the young girl on the head. He takes a sip of his coffee and thinks about how proud he is of his granddaughters. They are so bright and full of life. They can be anything they want to be — doctors, teachers, maybe even farmers. They are hard workers, just like their father Andrea, just as Vittorio had once been.

Vittorio thinks of a day, years later. It was a normal day, a hot one, and there was much work to be done on the farm. The past seven years had been tough but rewarding. Work was his life, from 5 in the morning until 9 at night. He got up to feed the cows, the pigs, and the chickens. Then he checked on the fields full of wheat and barley. He alternated between these two jobs all day, only stopping to eat a few bites of food or gulp a glass of water before heading back out.

He only had a few helping hands: his father, his uncle, a few cousins, and a family friend. They all worked the same long, tiring hours, and they were constantly exhausted, but they were proud. Vittorio was a third-generation worker of this land, and he was happy to continue the yields of generations past. When he ate bread made from wheat he grew, he could feel his body gaining strength. When he sent animals off to be slaughtered, it was like shipping off perfect Christmas gifts to loved ones. Growing plants and raising animals was as joyful as it was draining. It was an inescapable drug, both because of the ways it made him feel and because it was the only profession he knew.

All the while, Vittorio couldn’t help but notice his father’s deteriorating health. Farming was what killed his grandfather, and it would probably take his father, and likely Vittorio himself. Vittorio’s father loved farming as much as everyone else did. He would never quit. What would he do with all of his time if he did?

So Vittorio wasn’t surprised that morning when his uncle came running from the fields to the cattle barn.

 “Your father’s been injured,” the uncle said.

 “How bad is it?” asked Vittorio.

 “Not good.”

The two farmers raced out to the field together. When they got there, Vittorio’s cousin was wrapping his shirt around his father’s head. His father lay unconscious beside a tractor.

 “He just fell off,” said Vittorio’s uncle. “I’m not sure what happened.”

His eyes looked downcast. “But I don’t think he’s going to make it.”

The voice of Vittorio’s granddaughter brings him back to the present. “You look sad, nonno,” she whispers from across the table.

La mia nipotina,” Vittorio says to her, lovingly. My grandchild. “You make me very proud.”

His grandaughter smiles and goes about eating her toast. Vittorio returns to his daydreams.

Several years after his father died, Vittorio was at the helm of the family’s sharecropped land. He was now married, too, with three extra mouths to feed. His work didn’t get any easier, but Vittorio loved it all the more. Being a producer made him feel strong and secure, even though he had to give half of the crops he worked so hard to yield back to his landlord.

The mezzandria, the sharecropping system in Italy, was changing, though, and Vittorio had heard that several friends of his were fighting their way out. His childhood friend who farmed land in Arezzo had written him recently about the land he’d won. The friend said he was happier than he could have ever imagined, and Vittorio couldn’t help but feel a bit jealous of his friend’s freedom.

Then one day Vittorio’s landlord approached him. The landlord was old with gray, straw-like hair. He limped when he walked and leaned on his cane when he talked. His wife had died years earlier. He had no children who wanted to take over the farm. He knew how hard Vittorio worked, and he he saw the farm thriving under Vittorio’s care. At the end of the year, the landlord said, he would hand the land over to Vittorio.

Vittorio stood stunned, but grateful, for the conversation with his landlord. In fact, he could hardly remain focused on the old man’s words.  As the landlord hobbled back to his car, Vittorio wiped away tears he had tried to conceal, and he rushed back to the barn to tell his cows the good news. He had to rehearse telling his family.

“Let’s go, girls, we have to get to school,” cries Maria.

“Goodbye, nonno!” says the first granddaughter, then kissing Vittorio on the cheek.

“Goodbye, nonno!” says the second, doing the same.

Ciao, regazze!” says Vittorio, waving, as the girls hurry out the door. He looks down with surprise to see a new steaming, chocolate-scented espresso. He takes a sip. He remembers all the days that he didn’t have any time to sit and enjoy his coffee. But he had earned this moment after over fifty years of hard work.

There was the one day, a few years into running Fattoria Luchetti, as they began to call it. It was the day they received fifty new Chianina. Vittorio helped the herders unload the cattle, one by one, yoking them together and leading them to the barn he and his cousins had built. The cows were angelically white and devilishly brazen, and they were all Vittorio’s. He didn’t tell his wife or children, but he had never been prouder than he was when he saw the new barn full of cows.

With the influx of cattle came a series of new responsibilities. No longer would Fattoria Luchetti be a small-operations shop. No, Vittorio had bigger plans than that. He planned to acquire more work, including his own family. Vittorio and his wife now had eight children. Andrea was his oldest, and at 17, he was an excellent farmhand. Family members who had gone off to work at other farms made plans to quit their jobs and work with Vittorio. And with more hands would come more cows.

Vittorio had also decided that self-sufficiency was key. Therefore, Fattoria Luchetti would have its own butcher instead of shipping cows away to be processed. Vittorio brought in a famous butcher from Chianti, and he had all of his workers watch the butcher’s every move. The best would be selected to become butchers themselves.

The farmhands and Vittorio watched the butcher’s knife clean the animals of fur and stringy tendons, then delve into blood-red flesh, separating foreshanks from short plates. He made deboning ribeyes look as easy as cutting fresh butter. At the end of the day, the men feasted on slow braised brisket in onions and tomatoes, with vegetables and bread and good wine. Vittorio was proud.

“What are you smiling about?” asks Maria.

Startled, Vittorio responds, “Oh, I was just thinking.”

“You need more coffee?”

“I’m all right.”

Crostata?”

“No, thank you.”

“You know, the girls were talking about you on their way out. They said they want to be just like their nonno when they grow up.”

Vittorio beams with pride.

Umbra Institute

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