George's Farm Blog

Weekly stories from the farm
My Tre Spade Italian coffee mill

15 September, 2022
Neverstill Ranch, Birkenfeld Oregon

In 1997, my sister April, my brother Justin and I embarked on a three week journey to Italy.  Arriving in Rome on a Friday afternoon, we were dismayed to discover that every hotel room in the city was occupied for what turned out to be a major Italian holiday weekend, "Primo Maggio", or the first of May.  Not having the foresight to make lodging reservations in advance, we were contemplating an unappealing offer to sleep on the floor in a vestibule of a hotel lobby when the concierge directed us to a nearby convent, a short walk from the Roman Coliseum, which was known to sometimes offer accommodations.  In what was to be one of the most fortuitous developments during our delightful travels in that enchanting land, we were welcomed graciously by the Sisters of the Domenican Charity at their Casa Rosario on the Via Sant’Agata dei Goti.  Once we clarified that we were indeed siblings, and not, as it appeared to the gentle nuns, attempting a promiscuous sleeping arrangement, they escorted us up the stairs to an expansive suite overlooking the most beguiling courtyard imaginable.   The intoxicating fragrance of orange and lemon blossoms blended with the rustling of palm trees, the comforting twitter of songbirds and the gentle burbling of the quintessential Italian marble fountain adorning the masonry wall beneath our “camera”.  After explaining the timing and location of “colazione” the next morning, the sisters bade us “buona notte” and we quickly retired our travel-weary bodies to the cool, crisp cotton sheets and were promptly llulled to sleep by the enchanting scene. 
The following morning, we made our way down a spiraling stone staircase to the underground dining hall.  The cheerful, lilting banter of feminine voices echoed musically upon the cool stone walls in a singsong mélange of Spanish and Italian.  Bubbling with salutations of “Buongiorno” and “Buenos Días”, the caffeine-giddy nuns gestured insistently for us to make our way to the front of the line where was situated the object of their frantic chatter.  The latest addition to the convent, enshrined upon an ornate iron table as if it were a sacred relic worthy of the deepest reverence, was a gleaming contraption of stainless steel, incongruously modern and sleek against the backdrop of rugged stone walls, hefty timbers darkened by centuries of smoke and cooking vapours, and the rich, regal tapestries adorning the dining tables.  Gesticulating wildly, the effervescent sisters commandeered us, plying our hands with delicately curved cappuccino cups, urging us to partake of the sacramental beverage.  With the push of a button, the semi-automatic espresso machine whirred and pumped as it deposited a fragrant elixir of concentrated coffee into our awaiting receptacles, accompanied by a reverent chorus of “oohs” and “ahs” from the gaggle of spectators leaning forward in their crisp, pious habits of black and white.  As we reveled in our communion with the nuns (punctuated by insistent and frequent admonishments to replenish our caffeinated libations) they informed us that most of them were visiting from a convent in Madrid in order to attend the beatification of one of their beloved sisters at the Vatican that Sunday by the Papal Court.
I do not recall when I first enjoyed an espresso beverage, but I do know that scarcely a day has since passed that I have gone without an espresso shot of some sort.  Indeed, for the remainder of that seminal voyage, heading South from Rome to Napoli and the Amalfi Coast, East to the Adriatic and the dry-stacked stone houses and ovens or "Trulli" of Alberobello in Puglia, North to the charming canals of Venice, westerly to the culinary capital of Bologna, the Parmigiano caves of Parma, and finally to the modern beauty of Milano, we religiously imbibed the sacred beverage three or four times per day, as seems to be the creed of the Italian people.  In a particularly enchanting village in Emilia-Romagna, not far from Lucca in Tuscany, we stumbled upon a sprawling, antique “flea market”, overflowing with the most intriguing relics, antiques and antiquities; marble columns, decorative mantels, iron finials, statuettes, door latches, brass hardware, window fittings and the like.  It was glorious.  Of particular interest to me were the vast collections of kitchen paraphernalia, aged, worn and burnished by time.  My most treasured kitchen possession, procured from that lively bazaar in the village of Fontanellato, is a stout “Moulin à Café” or coffee mill, crafted of wood and steel, embossed with a small, brass plaque bearing the faint logo of “Tre Spade”, an image of three crossed swords.  Painted in a delicate, creamy, yellow paint, faded and chipping with age, and equipped with precise, conical burrs, I have employed this trusty mill in my sacred morning coffee ritual every day since.  Being several decades old when I procured it, my guess is that the faithful unit has milled thousands of pounds of fragrant, roasted coffee beans.  As with my kitchen food mill, I find great solace and comfort as I methodically grind my coffee each morning, relishing the peaceful, quiet pace of the process to reflect on life’s many travels and journeys.  This is what I refer to as “Moulin Nostalgia”, or the Memory Mill.
Just six years hence, on 8 June 2003, Kristin Thompson and I welcomed our precious daughter, Adela Mia Thompson Page, into this world.  At nineteen years, Adela has travelled the world broadly, and we have a friendly rivalry regarding how many countries we each have visited.  This past month, Adela embarked for Amherst College in Massachusetts to begin her own seminal life journey.  I am bursting with pride at her accomplishment.  Last week, I shipped a care package to her dorm to accessorize her first year of higher education.  I carefully and wistfully packed my prized Tre Spade in puffy bubble wrap and laid it in the box, alongside a jar of coffee beans I had just freshly roasted, a flame-orange Le Creuset Coffee Mug, a hunk of salami, a wedge of cheese, a replacement for her crippled iPhone and a stack of sweetly scribbled notes and drawings from her brother Roman and sister Madrona.  I trust Adela will wax nostalgic and reverent during her daily coffee meditation as the burnished wooden knob of the Moulin à café glides beneath her palm each morning.
I love you Adela.

April, Justin and George.  Central Italy, May 1997.
Adela Mia Thompson Page,  circa 2004.
Adela at my birthday dinner this spring.
Justin and April flanked by wheels of Parmigiano Reggiano, May 1997
Entrance to Casa il Rosario Convent, Rome, 1997
April, Justin and George in the Italian countryside, May 1997