Only in Naples is a fun book with a serious message.
Author Katherine Wilson makes it clear that when families eat (and sometimes pray) together, they stay together.
As the great-granddaughter of Italian immigrants to the US, she soon understood on arriving in Naples for a stint as an intern at the local US consulate that she was effectively returning ’home’.
She learned also that Neapolitans consider mealtimes ‘sacred’; that food should be prepared fresh then eaten in company. This, she then began to realise , is why Italian women feel comfortable in their own skin and this is how she started to cope with her own poor body image.
There is surely another important reason why Wilson, also an established actress, grew up feeling lured by all types of food: Her paternal great-grandfather, Canadian Thomas Wilson, headed Wilson and Co, the second largest meat-packing company n the US. He also founded Wilson Sporting Goods and was a leader of the national 4-H Programme for positive youth development and mentoring.
“A lot of the meat that was unloaded by American GIs in the Bay of Naples and given to starving Neapolitans during World War II was Wilson, she writes.
“The hams baked by my maternal grandmother in a small West Virginia town in the fifties were Wilson.
“My great-grandfather, instead of throwing away the cowhides of the intestines of the animals, started producing footballs, baseballs and tennis rackets: ‘We use every part of the pig but the squeal!’ was the slogan. Wilson Sporting Goods was born. Thomas Wilson made the goods that American kids played with and the hot dogs their parents grilled”.
Books like Wilson’s abound. They remind me not so much of Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence as of David MacNeil Doren’s Winds of Crete and the entire genre always makes me muse how much Jewish culture and cuisine owes to its Mediterranean roots – and vice versa.
Moreover, Wilson has had an unintentional endorsement from UK nutritional therapist, Amelia Freer who almost echoed Wilson’s words when she said of eating: “Think happy – don’t equate healthy food with deprivation or misery … and eat with friends and family. Don’t starve yourself or make eating a joyless experience”.
Wilson’s story is now twenty years old and her Italian-born ‘babies’ are themselves on the cusp of young adulthood. I hope they, her parents and her in-laws don’t mind the irreverent candour with which she treats them. Her book may well prove a popular read but those who feature in it most, may also find it more than a mite disconcerting!
* Only in Naples – Lessons in Food and Famiglia from My Italian Mother-in-Law by Katherine Wilson will be published by Random House on April 19, 2016 at US $27.00 (£18.14; NIS 104.75 approx).
© Natalie Wood (28 December 2015)