La cena di Pitagora

There are two main reasons why people go to San Ponzo Semola, in the Staffora valley, on Sunday mornings. The more popular is the pilgrimage to San Ponzo’s cave. The other one is Maria and Davide’s vegan inn. To get to the cave you must cross a tangle of stone houses and then walk three kilometres uphill through the green wood. To get to the inn you have to cross the threshold of a pale grey gate. In June, the dazzling light hampers the vision: the gravel yard is a diaphanous fire where one can slowly recognize the features of a courtyard marked by a unique grace. Interior-exterior. Scent of mint and curry plant, buzzing bees. Humanity.

Maria and Davide are somehow foreigners too. Former artist assistant and taxi driver respectively, they used to leave Milan in the direction of this hamlet to get their weekly supply of locally grown vegetables and fruits. They moved to this farmhouse and barn conversion dating back to the beginning of the Twentieth Century only seven years ago. Their life project pays tribute to Erica Joy Mannucci’s famous essay “La cena di Pitagora, Storia del vegetarianismo dall’antica Grecia a Internet” (“Pythagoras’s dinner. The history of vegetarianism from ancient Greece to the Internet”, published by Carrocci Editore). The idea is simple: to offer every weekend ‘kind menus’ – i.e. vegan menus- designed using seasonal products on the very day they are gathered. Maria brought some recipes with her from Milan, where she was already studying and practicing vegetarian cuisine, but the rest is the outcome of incessant experiments and daily hard work. Meals are served in the inner room or in the garden, as a family would do, to make everybody participate in the same rite. Dishes are prepared without resorting to the animal world. They can therefore teach a lot about vegetables and plants. La Cena di Pitagora is exactly what an ‘inn’ should be: a mix of ancient and new stories, a meeting place and a crossing point. Possibilities. This is a domestic as well as ‘public’ place whose courtyard can host cultural events or small parties, while the so-called Elm room is the perfect location for yoga classes. La Cena di Pitagora is an example of perseverance, dignity and creativity. However, it also represents a recurring question, a necessary and urgent impulse to examine our lifestyle, that is our ‘kindness’. “The bedrooms were added at a later stage,” Maria and Davide tell us in a warm afternoon, after the last guests have left.  Some of them were headed home, others were taking San Ponzo’s way.

The cave became a place of pilgrimage after his remains were found here. Ponzo, son of a Roman Senator, converted to Christianity in the third century A.D. and spent his rough life wandering around to preach his faith. He also ended up in the Staffora valley, where he lived in the uplands as a hermit, eating only wild herbs and eggs.

Words by Meraviglia Paper, pictures Consiglio Manni.

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