It’s almost 4 years since Dad died and over 5 years since Mum died so Jeff, Kris and I thought we would go to Italy to scatter some of their ashes in their beloved Garessio, a small town in the Piemonte mountains, about 45 minutes up winding roads from the Ligurian seaside. Mum and Dad first happened upon Garessio in the early 80s when they used to drive us kids down through France in our brown car towing our folding caravan. We would be picked up from school at 12pm, giving Mum time to pack the car and get sorted and then we’d drive down to Folkstone, have an early dinner at a pub in Faversham along the way, then get a ferry across to France where we would unpack Mum’s karti-kebabs and tandoori chicken. Dad would then drive until late and we’d either camp in a random field (you could do that then) to break the journey or, sometimes Dad would drive all the way to Garessio (870 miles) and park outside the campsite in the small hours, pulling in the next morning refreshed and ready for the day. They found the campsite as they were heading down towards the seaside one year and fell in love with the place. As the story goes, in the first year they found the campsite sign in Garessio, they camped but needed some candles and went to the local hardware shop where they met an English speaking woman called Marina Ross (nee Canavese) who said she was married to a Scot who would be glad to meet them later that evening. Well, Ronnie Ross went straight to the campsite after work with several bottles of wine and the Griffithses, Rosses and Canaveses became firm friends for the next thirty plus years.
Every year up to the noughties, Mum and Dad went back to Garessio even when the allure of Spanish package holidays tempted us kids away from the sleepy, remote village when we were teenagers. But the golden age of Garessio for us was during the pre-teen years, when all we needed was a few other kids for playing games and running races and some pocket money for ice-creams and arcade games in town. I’ve recalled the great barbecues Mum and Dad hosted; Mum’s tandoori chicken and chops wafting exotically across the campsite, her rainy day beef curries, and the bountiful beers and wine served in plastic beakers. We loved our campsite breakfasts – Mum would pedal off to the local bakery and grocers for lashings of fresh bread (“bum rolls”), mortadella, prosciutto cotto and crudo, salami, cheeses, tomatoes and juicy apricots, plums and peaches. There would also be Nesquick, Nutella and Kinder bars, which we never ate in England. On beach days we would have pizza focaccia and warm chinotto. Once or twice a week we would have pizza (we went for three or four weeks at a time). Mum and Dad made annual friends and some families returned every year so we built lasting friendships. One such family, the Pruzzos, made friends with Mum and Dad by offering them a giant hollowed out watermelon filled with Italian sangria. Firm, firm friends they became.
I’ve been back to Garessio a few times in Pip’s lifetime. Fortunately, she has memories of Italy that include Nana and Papa, visits to Garessio but mainstay holidays on the coast or in Sicily. Going back to Garessio was always tinged with sadness after the death of Marina’s mother Seconda and on seeing the fissures that appeared in the Canavese family. But it was saddest when I first went back after both Mum and Dad had died and the campsite was overgrown and neglected. This time, we’ve made new memories and the sadness has turned into warmer nostalgic feelings: it was silly to think we could go back to Garessio and relive our shared experiences (and some were truly horrific like when I knocked four teeth out after careering down a mountain road on my bike) but it was a joy to find that the same grocery shop Mum used to go to is still in business and running in the family and certain landmarks are still standing, like the bombed hotel, still derelict after 75 years…
This time, we stayed in an apartment so we could cook lots of our meals using fresh local ingredients; Monika is vegan and gluten intolerant so it was brilliant to be able to source and cook delicious things she could eat – mushrooms being a particular highlight. Kris and Margo stayed in a B&B and we met for meals and wanders around the old haunts. Lara turned 6 so we had a cake made for her by the shop that makes Garessini, the chocolate truffles we adore. We went for a highly recommended meal that night but, sadly, it did not meet our exacting specifications although we did enjoy the wine. And we had plenty of it throughout the holiday and raised many, many glasses to the parentals. A gently fizzy red is perfection and Barbera wine in general is our number one fave. On the last day in Garessio (we went afterwards for a few nights in the Asti wine region) we picked cherries in the Canavese orchard and sprinkled the ashes. Pip made a little cherry headstone and we said some words.
Mum and Dad planned to retire to Italy but, when the time came, they depended on their local hospital in Suffolk and preferred to consider Garessio as their number one holiday destination, guessing that perhaps real-life over there is more political and complicated, and certainly more catastrophic in terms of weather. Garessio has experienced some torrential floods due to its position in a river valley surrounded by snow-capped mountains. In 2020, the town’s bridge collapsed, an iconic landmark that, to the Griffithses anyway, was famous as the site of an annual apple dumpling festival aptly called ‘Festa Sul Ponte’ (festival on the bridge). It was a wrench to see the bridge’s temporary replacement but a reminder that the town has changed, that we’ve changed, but it will forever contain our memories, and now a little piece of Mum and Dad too.
So then we came home after a few more days drinking wine (and some of us having food poisoning… poor Pip and Margo!) and all we fancied was Mum’s jalfrezi – dhal, rice, potatoes and devil. I’ve already posted these recipes but as I’m trying to be more Monika – not quite vegan but flexitarian – I used jackfruit instead of meat and it worked a treat.
Here are some snaps of what we ate. Buon appetito!