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An Italian Cross-Stitch Sampler

December 7, 2010

In 2008, I lived with an Italian host family that had welcomed over 300 foreign students into their home over the course of 20 years.

Needless to say, Dallas and I felt that we had much to live up to.

On one wall in the kitchen where we ate breakfast and dinner each day there was a gallery of artwork created by prior host students (“le studentesse,” as my host parents fondly referred to them.)

Each drawing or painting depicted my host parents and certain of their memorable characteristics (il riso di Ornella, il motorino di Babbo), along with images of their children and grandchildren (“giocare coi bambini!”)

After staring at that wall every night for a few months, Dallas and I knew that we had to leave our mark there.  But how?

The answer: Punto croce. Cross-stitch!  Coincidentally, we both knew and loved this traditional craft.  So my mom sent us a bunch of colored floss and we were on our way to the best Christmas gift ever.

At first we weren’t sure what we wanted to say in the needlepoint.  It would be too difficult to recreate elaborate scenes from our lives with our host parents.  Simple icons or symbols would be more effective.

One night the idea came to me.  My host mom and dad taught us folksy sayings all the time.  Sometimes, they were in Italian, and sometimes they were in dialect.  There was no doubt that the wisdom of these sayings seemed to guide the spirit of the household life.

Their gorgeous simplicity mirrored the rustic elegance of the Tuscan hills and of typical Tuscan dishes like panzanella (bread and tomato salad.)  These jewels were so elemental in nature that they were almost obvious—almost, but not completely.

And so, in the tried-and-true tradition of handmade samplers, Dallas and I created ou capolavoro (masterpiece), with the following sayings:

Il Nutrimento per il corpo e lo spirito dalla casa Bandini”

(Nourishment for body and soul from the Bandinis)

Non ci si mette in cammino se la bocca non sa di vino: “Don’t walk through the world if your mouth does not know the taste of wine.”  (Note that in Italian, as in Latin, the verb for “to taste” and “to know” are almost identical.)  You have to be anchored and truly know goodness if you hope to have a direction in your life.

Non e` bello quel che e` bello, ma e` bello quel che piace.  Non e` buono quel che e` buono, ma e` buono quel che piace. Rough translation: Personal preference dictates what is good and what is beautiful, not the thing itself.

Al contadino non far mai sapere quant’e` buono la caccia con le pere. “Don’t ever let the farmer know how good cheese is with pears.”  Because then he’ll eat it all himself and you’ll never get to taste it!  In this case, we accidentally wrote caccia (meat) instead of cacio (cheese.)  Ooops.   Our host dad assured us that this error is what made the cross-stitch more special.

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