Just in time for Valentine’s Day, I am reading a real life story of love, tragedy and devotion. Released this month in paperback, Keeping the Feast, Once Couple’s Story of Love, Food, and Healing was written by Paula Butturini, whose husband, John Tagliabue, a New York Times reporter, was shot and nearly killed while covering an uprising in Romania. It happened just twenty three days after the couple was married.
Written with heartbreaking honesty and courage, Paula details the couple’s struggles in the aftermath of John’s shooting, his ensuing depression, and the loss of her own mother who also suffered from depression. Destined not to let her husband head down the same path, the couple moves to Rome, where they first met, hoping that the happy memories, the city’s natural splendor and its simple bounty would work its restorative ways and provide the healing they so desperately needed.
Toiling through the unbearably long days, Paula began to mark the passage of time by the day’s meals. Supper meant that they had made it through another day. Morning after morning, for an entire year, she awoke early and walked through the narrow passageways to the outdoor market. There, she would select the day’s sustenance, slices of Milanese salami, crusty fresh breads, and slender green beans. Each day, it became a ritual, the buying and preparing of wholesome foods. This simple act of nourishment would prove be to a lifeline for the couple, holding them steady as they learned to accept all that had happened, and find their way to a new normal.
Each chapter is framed by one of Paula’s food-centered memories from her Italian-American upbringing in Connecticut, and is then tied to the current narrative. These remembrances, told in mouth watering detail, are consoling and beautifully wrought. Who among us has not turned to a favorite meal to find some solace in a time of crisis? I have long found consolation in food and its preparation. At the first sign of distress, it’s the creation of comfort food that heals our bodies and lifts our souls. Food represents so much more to us than simple nourishment. It represents our family traditions, our heritage, and the joy of being with others around a table. Paula Butturini’s wonderful prose captures the enjoyment and curative nature food can bring to our lives. Keeping the Feast is a true testament to those healing powers, the strength of love and how routine tasks can help you find your bearings even when you have almost lost all hope.
I highly recommend this book. And a box of tissues.Disclosure: I received a copy of this book for review purposes. I was not compensated in any way to write this post.