Hello beautiful reader!

I'll be short with the introductions, as this already is a Preface (as you could gather from the title of course).

In the last few years, as it happens, I wrote a book! I actually don't know if I can call it a book, it's just a sort of hybrid book-like tale/recipe book/autobiography/illustrated thing.

And as it happens, I've spent way too much time and money to get this 'manuscript' reviewed, edited, and submitted to editors, and published. After all of this, and about 10.000 rejections, I came to the belated conclusion that it's probably not good enough for anybody to read.

Commiserations apart, and considerations taken, I decided to give the finger to every publisher, reviewer, ghostwriter, or agent, and publish it here. At the end of the day, this is my blog, this is my own personal space, and if it's not good enough to read...well, I am really sorry for the time you wasted. Hopefully, you got a good laugh at least.

Every week or so I will publish one of the chapters, along with the illustrations that should have gone along with them. Here we are so, cum gaudium magnum let me introduce you to 'The Red Brick Stove' - Preface

There was a moment in my life in which I experienced the essence of magic, the pure, dazzling fragrance of bewitchment and sorcery.

The kitchen was big, warm, dusty, and filled with the most beautiful smells: logs burning in the old red brick-wood-burning stove, the gray and rusty coffee pot brewing for hours on the top, the essence of fresh oranges on the table. The room was like a big fluffy and mysterious cloud of steam out of a melting pot filled with exotic yet familiar spices.

My great grandmother used to spend her afternoons sitting on a tiny little wooden chair just beside the fireplace, minding that the fire in the stove always had at least a log to burn. While sitting in her little corner, she still sang a song from her old years - just because I had a boyfriend once, a beau more than a boyfriend. Every night he sang that one song under my window. For an entire summer, he’d been there every single night. So annoying! - She used to say - but I like the song very much because it has my name in it -.

O Angiolina, bela Angiolina, o Angiolina, bela Angiolina, innamorato io son di te, innamorato dall’altra sera quando venni a balar con te.

Oh Angiolina, lovely Angiolina

Oh Angiolina, lovely Angiolina,

I am in love with you,

I’ve been in love since that evening,

When I went dancing with you.

My great grandmother was eighty-four when this story starts, but she looked like one or two hundred. Her face was quite wrinkly, her hands thin and knobby, and her posture always bent a little forward. She used to wear a traditional alpine costume, all of the time, with a big black scarf on her head and a colorful apron always tight at her waist. Nobody could tell her age, and she never told anybody.

Although the mystery of her age, now and then a funny sparkle in her eyes suddenly appeared. Something like an unexpected sprinkle of youth, a malicious twinkle that springs on a child’s eye when they do something they really shouldn’t be.

On those moments, she used to stand up from her little sit beside the stove and look at me like to find some undisclosed, silent agreement - What if we make a cake? – She used to say.

And that was it, the witch crafting process began, and a very magic afternoon for me it was.

I am not joking when I say that it was magic. All the ingredients of magic-making could be found in that kitchen.

First of all, there was the book: like every good witch, my great grandmother had her very own spell-book. She kept it in the blue laminated cupboard beside the sink, hidden behind a pile of dusty, unused copper pots.

The book itself was an old weekly diary given to her by the bank, as a sort of branded advertisement for Christmas time. It had a very worn, light blue paper cover with a picture of a lovely lady sitting beside a tree, wearing a big fluffy end of nineteenth-century style yellow dress in the act of reading a book. The pages, yellowed by the age, smelled of vanilla essence and cinnamon dust, probably due to the time spent in the cupboard. On the inside, my great grandmother trapped dozens of colorful leaflets and loose pieces of paper, popping out like bookmarks.

In that bank branded diary, my great grandmother collected all of the spells her eighty-four years have taught her.

The book enchanted me, and I can’t hide. I had a sort of respect very close to fear for it.

Nobody was allowed to touch it. I can’t even imagine reading it!

There weren’t spells or instructions for black magic in the book but recipes, of course. The much part of which were cakes and sweets.

With a dramatic big theatrical gesture, the book was unveiled and positioned in the middle of the large laminated marble-looking kitchen table. Flour, eggs, butter, vanilla and sugar appeared as well right after.

I remember my great grandmother’s wrinkly but soft fingers going through the pages and finding the right one - what about this? No, better this one. Yes, of course, this one! – And she instinctively decided what cake, pudding or sweet to prepare that day.

I was usually the only other person in the kitchen. Although my great grandmother always sang or talked about the old times, it was the silence felled with expectation, that really made it a wonderful place: I was just a silent helper fascinated by the magic happening around.

At the time I am writing this book, I realise that what was happening there was a brilliant exercise of teaching and learning. My great grandmother was passing down to me all her knowledge, filled with stories from the past, from our family, from the war-time, spiritual and mundane tales, and I was learning and unconsciously absorbing like a sponge.

It is now, as an adult, that I find myself repeating the same actions, the same movements, remembering the same stories and it all makes sense.

She knew what cake to make, every single time.

I think every child should have a great grandmother like mine, or better, every child should meet their great grandmothers because I’m sure all of them are like mine.

The love great grandmothers have grown in themselves over the years is the love of being mothers, grandmothers, and grandmothers again. All of this multiplied by the number of children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren they happened to have. That is a lot of love, indeed.

Great grandmothers’ love is infinite and everlasting, and not divided by the number of people they share it with, but exponentially multiplied by it. Great grandmothers’ love is like the number Two: a tiny little number. Put an exponential or multiply the number Two, and it becomes humongous in no time. So are great grandmothers.

Then, great grandmothers also have the experience of being mothers and wives: in their lives, they face issues that make them just invincible. There is no trouble and no problem they cannot face, no case they cannot solve. Great grandmothers have seen everything imaginable: they lived through a world war for sure, if lucky two as the Europeans once. They lived through pandemics and massive societal changes. They have looked after many babies crying, nappies to change, dripping noses, a considerable amount of laundry to do, an astonishing number of socks to mend and fold, and breakfasts, lunches, and dinners to put together. Great grandmothers have become accountants and bookkeepers, keeping the economy of the family together even in times of difficulties. They have become a Jack of all trades, including engineers, fixing the unfixable in the house. Politicians, looking after the relationships with the neighbors, the teachers of their kids, the doctor, and the priest. They have become nurses and doctors themselves, understanding what is the matter with this or that type of weeping, or this or that sore and ache. But most importantly, they have dealt their entire life with husbands, sons, daughters, children-in-law, and grandchildren in law and a huge array of other relatives and descendants, keeping them all at peace…or at least trying to.

Have you ever noticed that great grandmothers never get ill? Not a cough, not a cold, or the flu? They seem protected from the worst of the plagues. They never leave the fort. They never leave their kitchen, their family. My great grandmother never left us. Even now, after years since mine passed away, she is still beside me every day.