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Window on Italy - The Long Table

Colleen Simpson

When we furnished L'Antica Vetreria, I knew I needed a long table for our magnificent villa. I searched and searched, but could not find one long enough. So I when I discovered a craftsman who creates furniture in the old style, called povera, I asked him to create a custom long table for the villa.

He made a long table that easily sat fourteen. Perhaps, that is not long enough, we thought when it was finished, so he made two extensions that added at least eight more people to the table. My preoccupation with having a long table was instinctive. My imagination created many guests gathered at my table just waiting to eat the delicious meals I would soon cook. We would drink the local wines and eat the freshest pasta we made by hand.

Getting the long table into the villa

Getting the long table into the villa

But first we had to get the darned thing into the villa! When the table was delivered, it took five strong men. It turned out to be so heavy that we struggled to find a way to even lift it up the stairs. Finally, after much discussion and five people suggesting at least four different solutions to the problem, we took the legs off and hauled it up.

In the three years since we so carefully placed it in the large dining room with soaring two story ceiling and beautiful curving chandelier overhead, my dream of wonderful gatherings has definitely come true.

The largest gathering was our magnificent "Buona Festa" when we invited the whole village to an open house to see our restoration. Having watched the works for two years, they were naturally curious to have a chance to finally peek inside. The long table was the center of attention, covered with a buffet feast for over four hundred people!

I soon discovered that my own dream of having a long table is deeply rooted in the Italian psyche. The concept of "il tavolo lungo" has many different meanings in Italy. A government official or corporate leader's power is measured by the centimeters of their desk. A short desk does not augur well for their authority. In the home, a long table represents inclusivity. The table is endlessly accommodating. There is always room at table for two more, four more guests. It is not unusual to invite six guests who bring along several more cousins unannounced. The philosophy of the long table reflects the importance of relationships Italians have with family, friends and even strangers. Four generations at table is the desired norm. Italians find it shocking that someone will wish to eat alone, such a sad situation, so lonely, and possibly unhealthy!

Tom and I were quickly included at the family table with an amazing Italian family who adopted us readily when we arrived in Piegaro. Three generations of our Mencarelli family live together and their long table is the center of family life. We make meals together at the table, heaping flour, eggs, oil into its center to knead into pasta dough.

Once I hauled my computer and printer to the table to create our information booklets for guests. Big “discorso” (conversations) took place among us and weighty plans and decisions were reached there at the long table.

Often, at restaurants in Italy, strangers gather at one long table to eat together.

Our villa guests have taken to our long table, sometimes sharing meals with our other guests who stay in our apartments. I often gather up all the children who are in residence for the week to teach them how to make the typical pasta of our region, pici. Everyone loves these lessons and then we all eat together.

Everyone loves to get messy and make pasta together!

Everyone loves to get messy and make pasta together!

I was delighted when I found 11th century church benches that exactly fit our long refectory table at an antique dealer in Cortona. Our long table, carefully crafted in the centuries old Italian peasant style, is perfectly paired with its ancient benches. There will always be room for another guest, or two, or four at our long table in the Villa dining room.

The villa refectory long table welcomes all!

The villa refectory long table welcomes all!

Colleen's Window on Italy is a series of monthly articles on Slow Travel. Read the article "Colleen's Window on Italy - Introduction" for more information.

Colleen Simpson lives in Piegaro, Umbria and operates L'Antica Vetreria (www.anticavetreria.net): a villa and four apartments for vacationing guests.

© Colleen Simpson, 2012

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