Focaccia & Fortitude – From Scratch

From Scratch on Netflix is one of my serendipitous finds. Most entertainment feels too disruptive, volatile, jarring. There’s something angry & brutish about even supposedly happy/light content like comedy, food stories, design shows etc. So finding a show or movie that isn’t like that is always delicious. They don’t have to be about light topics, they don’t need to avoid scary issues or be PG rated. The treatment speaks about the underlying philosophy and when that is gentle & loving, the story turns out more healing than the most data-appointed, cutting edge woke offerings.

From Scratch starts us off in Italy, the romantic/decrepit side of Florence as opposed to the high-fashion Milan or touristy Venice. A young African-American law student, Amalshe, is there to explore her creative side. It’s just for a summer and she’s had to fight for it with her conservative Texan family who’d rather she build a steady career to ensure she won’t see the racial & economic challenges they had. There she meets and falls in love with Lino, a local chef. So far, a classic American-in-Europe romance trope. But the Italian is not a dapper dressing, flirtatious singing Casanova. He’s gentle & hesitant, a Sicilian who knows he isn’t welcome in the more affluent circles of Italy. His passion reveals itself over time on the show, not with loud proclamations or snazzy violence a la The Godfather, but with the intense ambition that took him out of his small village and beyond gender stereotypes to become a chef in a big city. Food fiction was my saviour in the first lockdown and now, nearly 3 years later, I find myself lifted once again by the making, sharing & enjoyment of food in stories. I don’t know how true this is to reality but the Italian appreciation for food is brought out so well on screen, you can’t help but feel hungry and happy. It’s sensual and ripe but in a warm, earthy way, as opposed to the cold, glamorous depictions of sexiness on screen. Wholesome, yes, that’s the word.

The story takes a heavy turn when cancer raises its head in this idyll. And still, somehow I found myself soothed with every scene I took in. It helped me process the two experiences of cancer I’ve been through with my own family. Even John Green, the master of exquisite pain in teen fiction, didn’t do that for me. One character tells another,

“When people are in deep pain, sometimes that is the only thing they are able to experience. It takes up all the oxygen in the room. And if you aren’t careful, you will lose yourself in it.”

I saw this happen to my family. Caregivers turning on each other. Social politics playing out in the most brutal of ways. And the ones who survived, permanently damaged, living out the rest of their days like wrecking balls, destroying everything that chanced upon their path. Did cancer do that? Did depression? Did financial hardship? The world still doesn’t know exactly why cancer shows up. We’ve just lived through a pandemic with no discernible guarantees of when it’ll strike, who it will hit and how badly. How can there possibly be any answer to why people turn out the way they do?

This is the first story I’ve come across that acknowledges what happens to the caregiver. The thing about being a caregiver is that it is usually not a role that you either signed up for or for which you have had preparation. It gets dumped on you, usually because of your role in the family ore relationship and your gender. Empathy is a human trait and it involves bleeding at the sight of another in pain. It is compounded when that other is a loved one. Then comes the complexity of the sufferer’s own behaviour (and misbehaviour) – their violence, lashing out. Most people can barely keep their heads above water in this situation. And then there is the cruelty of people around. People just do not understand. Or maybe they can sense there is something terrible happening and in their fear, they react with cruelty and judgement. Escape of every kind is cowardly, petty and cruel. What they’re saying beneath their dismissiveness, their gaslighting is “I want to get away” and that usually means they’re willing to throw you under the bus.

Some of us survive it better than others. This is not to say that we come out unscathed. I can’t even say I’ve emerged better or stronger. The story also made me reflect on whether I’m also drowning in pain myself and how some of the people who have left my life have just chosen to do so because they’d lose themselves in my pain otherwise. I cannot judge them for it (though I wish they would have been a little kinder about it). It makes me also wonder about the people that I do gather around me, the ones I’m drawn to. Are we just addicted to each other’s pain? A glamorised form of ‘let’s all drown together’? Suffering disorients you worse than long COVID or cough medicine. I don’t know.

I choose to believe (and it is a choice I’m making every day, not a fact) that life gets better with every minute. I hold close to my heart, the memories of people I’ve loved who died too soon. Each time I suffer, I think I’m getting a chance to experience something that these people never did. The gender cages have also gotten rustier and easier to break through with the years. I have a certain grim confidence now that I didn’t in my twenties. I’m more often able to remember that I cannot rescue anyone from themselves and I don’t have to. It is easier to be impervious to other people trying to latch onto me, feed off my empathy with their oppression olympics. The lashing out still hurts but it doesn’t devastate me as it once used to because I’m not surprised anymore. Just because I love and respect somebody does not mean that they are good people or even strong people, especially when they are in pain. There is narcissism and entitlement in any kind of lashing out and that is the reality of human behaviour. It hurts yes, and that is the price to pay for caring. But that’s not saying love is bonded labour and at some point, I’m finding myself able to say, “Enough now. Goodbye.” It is a big lesson to be able to do this carrying no hatred, rage or attachment on my part. It’s a loving gentleness but it’s also a detached intelligence. It is an unwillingness to suffer any more and it is prioritising my real self (caring, soft, brave, no bitterness, no meekness).

I have not finished the series yet because I am pondering each episode or savouring every scene, depending on how you want to look at it. The show is based on a memoir by Tembi Locke. I think for a change, I might not read the book the show is based on though. I’m not sure if I’m ready for the more intense experience that reading is for me, when it comes to this subject. Enough now. Well-loved and well told.

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