Tag Archives: Italian

Figs

FIGO. Copyright 2024  Jimmy Reina

FIGO. Copyright 2014 Jimmy Reina

Normally my figs ripen around the third week in September (Happy Birthday to me), but three weeks ago, when I saw this Bluejay mucking around in my tree, I knew something was up. The figs are ripening already, and as my Uncle Carl would say, “They’re sweet as sugar”.   In my family, food was a big deal, but Figs were a really big deal.

Before I was born, my Grandparents planted a fig tree in our yard. Figs are Mediterranean plants, and are not suited to the cold, often bitter Midwestern Winters, so every year, prior to the first frost , my Grandfather had to build a shelter around this tree in order to protect it. I was a little kid, but I remember this structure being built from scrap wood, and I think I even remember him straightening out used nails to assemble it (the scars of The Depression never heal). I believe he also filled this shed with dead leaves to provide insulation. The effort involved meant that the annual harvest became precious, maybe two or three Figs per person. Because I lived next door, and helped him with both the shed and the harvest, I think got an extra one.

Something like this becomes such a large sensory memory that it becomes larger than life. My Grandmother sold that house in 1958 or ’59, but for us, that Fig, and the rituals that went with it became a mythic memory. Years later, one of her friends brought back a sapling from Italy. This particular tree had a tendency to send up shoots from its root system, and within a couple of seasons, Grandma gave my Mother one, and many years later, she gave me one. The fig in this photo is a descendent of that sapling from 40 years ago.

There are two more good stories about this tree, but they are for another time.

By the way, this is a Mediterranean Fig. Two other varieties of Fig are grown and marketed here in California, but they are quite different, and while tasty, they don’t push my same buttons.

My Grandmother used to sprinkle sugar on a peeled orange because she said that the fruit in the United States just wasn’t as good as what she remembered in Sicily. It could be an acquired taste, or nostalgia could be the artificial sweetener at play here. Either way, these are some damn good figs-sweet as sugar.

Fiatus Fiatus

 

Fiatus Fiatus. Copyright 2014 Jimmy Reina

Fiatus Fiatus Copyright 2014   JImmy Reina

The Fiat automobile occupies a significant spot in my memory bank.

For most of my life, my Father worked in automobile sales. Like other businesses at the time, auto dealerships were not the big box megastores that we see today, they had a scale that fit the neighborhoods that they were in. If you wanted a television, you went to an appliance store, and you bought your lawnmower at the hardware store.

In the mid 1950s, the European small car trend started, with Volkswagen being the most visible. In St. Louis Mo., there was a midtown dealer that sold a few brands-they also sold the original Vespa scooter.

My Father, ever restless, and usually impetuous, decided to open a Fiat dealership. I am certain there was a backstory, there always was. (Somehow Franklin Roosevelt Jr. was in the picture-look it up), but my grandparents were Italian immigrants, and he tended to gravitate towards things “Eyetalian” (his word, not mine) anyway. If he needed a plumber, he would open the Yellow Pages, scroll down until he found a name that ended in a vowel, and that was how he made his choice.

That cute little Fiat “Cinquecento” that is so trendy right now was our family car, our daily driver. I believe it is the car my mother learned to drive in and used to take her driving test.

“Foreign Cars” seeped into our culture very, very slowly, especially in the conservative Midwest, and it was not yet the right time for a standalone, single product dealership. There weren’t big advertising budgets and splashy product announcements like there are now. Each year, you just saw a few more Renaults, Vauxhalls, and Saabs (we thought they were Finnish, but secretly made in Russia) on the road.

Obviously, the U.S. auto market was going in the opposite direction. Bigger was better, and the 1957, 58, and 59 American cars began a trend that said “Bigger and Better” than just about anybody else.

The Fiat dealership was a financial disaster, it took its toll on our whole family. For years afterward, my Grandfather would spit on any Fiat he saw-his expression of contempt for the symbol my father’s financial problem.

My father was dramatic, had a huge, varied vocabulary, and he loved wordplay and verbal gymnastics. Aside from speaking two languages, he made up quite a few words of his own. He often Latinized words, adding the “-us” suffix, so he referred to this brand as “Fiatus”, and one of his conversational dramatics was to repeat what he just said. I often heard him say “Fiatus Fiatus”, and with this phrase in mind, there could be no other title for this photo.

This one is for you, Pop.