La Parola del Giorno ~ Tavolo

The Word of the Day ~ Table

Montgomery table- Beyond the Pasta - Mark Leslie

Leslie / Norris home, photo by William Abranowicz, House Beautiful, Feb 2010

I am sure you are thinking, “What is so special about the word “table”?” Being American, maybe that word doesn’t resonate for you, doesn’t strike a chord. I can understand that. However, in Italy, the word “table” has two meanings.

Your Italian lesson:  Tavolo is the Italian word for table – the word is masculine (notice the “o” ending). It means what it does in English – a surface for putting things on: a hall table, a coffee table, a folding table you out up to play cards on, or maybe one at a civic function to distribute pamphlets or other materials.

However, in Italian, there is also the word for table – Tavola. Notice this time that the word ends in the letter “a” making it feminine. Tavola means a table where you sit down and eat: the kitchen table, a dining table and a table at a restaurant. Put up a 6-foot folding table at the school for first day check-in – tavolo. Thirty minutes later, clear that same table, put plates on it, ring it with chairs and sit down to eat – tavola.

Now, do most Italians notice the difference or attach a special meaning to the word “tavola” every time they sit down for a meal? Of course not, but the fact that the Italian language itself reflects the special nature of gathering together and eating, on some subliminal level, implies its importance.

Recently in talking about my book Beyond the Pasta so much at book readings and cooking events, I am slowing becoming more aware of the importance of being at a table together to share a meal. I grew up in a family where, for the first 14 years of my life, we, as a family, all sat down around the kitchen table for supper. I’m from the Midwest; we say “supper.” In the South, where I live now, they say “dinner.” (The difference in those meanings is a whole other conversation.)

Each evening, gathering around the table, we would wait for my father to walk in the door from work (this was the ‘70s, not the 1950s, thank you). He would wash up, my mom would make our plates and together we sat as a family and ate. It was here where I learned what my family believed in, what we collectively shared as values in our home and as a larger family, which encompassed my aunts and uncles, cousins, and grandparents. It is here we argued, laughed, shared the events of the day, and slowly learned what it was to be a “Leslie” or a “Smith” (my mother’s maiden name).

Here was also where I decided how I wasn’t like my family ~ how some of the ideas that were shared were not ones that I felt were true or kind or “right” – whatever that word means. I am sure that I was not alone in feeling those thoughts at the table. After all, we are each individuals even in a collective whole.

Sitting at the tavola in Italy with my now adopted Italian family was no different. Here they argued, laughed, cried, shared stories and came to understandings. Each day as I sat there during the month I lived with them, I too was slowly brought into and included in that circle – that tavola and not just un tavolo. There was something special about being called to dinner – “Tutti a tavola!” –“Everyone to the table!” Maybe it was my own realization of the difference in the word “table” and how it reminded me of my nightly childhood meals. At 41, it was nice to be in a culture where gathering at a table for each meal was and is still considered the norm, the usual, and the common experience of families.

Halloween is a week away and, after being “trick or treat-ed” senseless, it is a quick downward slide – if not sprint – into all of the “family” holidays in November and December. I hope that as you gather around your own tavola, surrounded with the people that make up your “family,” whether you are related or not, that you will consider how meaningful those special occasions are and try to incorporate that experience into your every day, non-holiday, meals at your tavola a casa.

As Lidia Bastianich says, as she closes each of her TV cooking programs, “Tutti a tavola a mangiare!” –“Everyone to the table to eat!”

Buon Appetito ~


**This post is an entry for the Language Learning Blog Contest being hosted by Pimsleur Approach.