I love Italian tea towels, those traditional tourist tea towels that carry a label saying “100% cotton, manufactured to protect the Italian craft business with respect to the environment; souvenir is designed and made in Italy using no-toxic dyes”. My cousin Andrew, born and bred in Italy, always complains that these tea towels are just produced for the tourists, Italians do not use them. I wouldn’t dispute that but it is probably the same for most tea towels in England. It doesn’t stop them being beautiful. I like the Italian tea towels because they are so big, flamboyant, absorbent and therefore useful. They are brightly coloured, cheerful, usually with such a lot of information on them that wiping up becomes a real joy, a time to ponder on things that you were not aware of. For any readers of the Tea Towel Blog, they will know I already have one from Venezia (Blog dated 27/12/2016), from Toscana (Blog dated 15/9/2016), Lake Maggiore (Blog dated 12/6/2015), one about Pasta (Blog dated 12/6/2015), Italia (Blog dated 6/7/2016) and Sicilia (Blog dated 5/10/2016). When I visited Florence recently, I decided I just wanted one, in the same style, from Firenze; I needed to put a limit on how many I bought. What I hadn’t realised was that there would not only be the traditional, red-bordered tea towel but an identical one in brown (also one in blue but I didn’t buy it). I think the brown, sepia-like one is very stylish. So I have two tea towels from Firenze to add to the International Collection of http://www.virtualteatowelmuseum.com, together with classic images of buildings from Firenze, the Michangelo statue of David and the red lily, symbol of Florence.
So, what was I doing in Florence? I returned from a short-break there about a week ago. It was 25 years, to the day, since I had been to Florence for Andrew and Elena’s wedding. Twenty five years later, I went back to celebrate their Silver Wedding Anniversary. Florence is exactly as I remember it, old apartment buildings, narrow streets, a church at every corner, palaces, statues, art galleries, gelaterias, cafes and restaurants, the River Arno weaving through the town, with Piazzale Michaelangelo on the other side of the river overlooking the town. The biggest thing that has changed is that the centre of Florence is car-free which makes wandering around the the city centre a lot safer, and certainly more pleasurable, although maniacal cyclists have replaced maniacal car drivers, demanding the right to the road.
What has changed relates more to people. I’d never met my ‘First Cousins Once Removed’ before; Ferruccio and Emilio are Andrew and Elena’s children (hardly children any more, offspring is a better description). I reacquainted myself with my cousin John, a priest who performed the marriage ceremony 25 years ago looking no more than 12 years old. Today, he has the same youthful looks but the grey hair gives his age away. Time has meant that he has had to deal with the trauma of brain cancer, but with a good outcome. My Uncle Ferruccio, Andrew and John’s father, looks as trim and fit as ever; he wore the same suit, shirt and tie for the celebration as he did on the actual wedding day; not many people would be able to do that.
We looked at the wedding photos and there was my Aunty Eileen, so proud of her son, taking a leading role, yet today no longer with us. The photographs of me show my ‘Footballer’s Perm’, the most enormous papier mache earrings and dressed completely in black except for a jacket that looks as though it came from an old pair of Sanderson’s curtains. Clearly, in 1992, I thought I looked like the ‘Bee’s Knees’, so much so that I wore exactly the same outfit for my own wedding, three months later. And then again, John (my husband, not my cousin) is no longer with us. Elena doesn’t look a day older than in her wedding photo, although her hair is shorter; but you should see the ‘Elvis Presley Sideburns’ that Andrew sported on his wedding day, huge and black. Fortunately they have gone.
Time has taken its toll but the 25th Wedding Anniversary meal was delightful; I had thought that the original reception was in the open air but clearly my memory failed me and it was in a restaurant. This meal, too, was in a restaurant, a restaurant that specialised in ‘farm to table’, organic food; their own farm. It was a traditional meal, course after course, not rushed, freshly cooked; the ribboned zucchini was so light and refreshing; the beef with peppercorns had a taste that I had never had before. But no pudding. This was because Andrew and Elena decided to have the same cake as at their wedding; they ordered it from the same shop and Andrew collected it so we could all gather in his mother-in-law’s apartment, just above the restaurant, to share this wonderful creation. Another lapse of memory, I didn’t remember the cake from the wedding but when I saw the photos I realised what an amazing work of art it was: the Italian version of a towered Mille Feuille, looking more like a cream slice because there was only a top and bottom of puff pastry, no in-between layers. The creme patissiere was so smooth, creamy, tasty but not sickly. Delicious, delightful, heaven and something to be remembered.
This time I was able to meet, and talk to, Elena’s brother and sister-in-law, her mother (another tea towel and another story), aunts and cousins. It’s not often I get the chance to attend a family gathering, of my own family and it was very special. Elena is an opera singer and was appearing in La Boheme that night, so Andrew took us on a drive to San Miniato al Monte, to see the church and look across the city. We watched, as the sun went down, the different vistas that were created by the changing light.
The traffic, as always, was diabolical (and Andrew lacks a little patience when it comes to driving; it’s a good job I don’t understand swearing in Italian) but it was only afterwards that we discovered that the Rolling Stones had given a concert in Lucca that night and the police had closed some of the roads in Florence (not for sight seeing but to enable them to get to their venue). Even this did not appease Andrew!
These two tea towels will now always remind me of that great day celebrating Andrew and Elena’s 25th Wedding Anniversary, meeting the family and thinking that 25 years is too long to wait for the next family reunion. Thank you Andrew and Elena for the invitation and I don’t care what you say, I love the Italian tourist tea towels.