Italians, for obscure reasons best known to linguists, have two words for table: tavolo and tavola. They’re sometimes used interchangeably, but if you’re talking about a table for eating meals, whether at home or in a restaurant, the correct word is tavola. And then there’s the imperative “A tavola!” –worth obeying because it’s the verbal equivalent of a dinner bell.
I’ve always admired the beauty and utility of the marble-top tables found in so many Italian kitchens. They’re usually just large enough to seat family members for everyday meals and, in an old-fashioned kitchen, they’re also the best—and sometimes the only–place to prep ingredients, assemble a panful of lasagne, roll pasta dough or pastry. We once spent a year in a Florentine apartment equipped only with that kind of table and, truly, it sufficed.
Tavola can also refer to a more formal table that might be reserved for dining or, again, serve more than one purpose. In a farmhouse where we stayed one spring, the big wooden dining table did double duty as a desk, cleared only if guests were invited for dinner. When the weather was good, we preferred the rustic picnic table in the garden, a pleasant place to sit and shell peas, eat a meal…and talk for hours.
It goes without saying that spirited dinner-table conversations are central to Italian life. Sports, politics, the day’s events, family disputes: Everything is fair game. Quite often the talk centers on the food itself, comparing tonight’s minestrone or risotto to other renditions. Fortunately, you don’t have to be in Italy to live this way–spending time at the table is an entirely portable idea that works just fine wherever you live.
I can think of few things more important than table talk, and my intention in Tavola Talk is to celebrate that tradition by sharing opinions, cooking or travel tips, recipes, whatever happens to be on the menu that day.
Back to tables. As a new apartment dweller, I’ve recently experienced the pain (and liberation) of downsizing. The six beds that made sense in an earlier stage of life just weren’t going to fit in a two-bedroom condo. Now there’s one, plus a sleeper sofa on order. In the war between objects and space, however, the tavola prevailed. Tables we already owned went in the kitchen and dining room, and we added a third for the terrace.
Entertaining was the excuse but the truth? I imagined a future with even more opportunities to linger at the table.