March 24, 2020
Over the past three years, travelers have been making the trek to the small town of Palombara Sabina, about an hour north of Rome, to make pasta with an Italian grandma who goes simply by Nonna Nerina, according to a story picked up from the Matador Network by Business Insider.
It started when her granddaughter, Chiara Nicolanti, set up an Airbnb Experiences page. It quickly grew, drawing international press and groups more than willing to take a train ride to Italy’s countryside. Nicolanti even recruited other grandmas in the village to take part, and the additional tourists inspired the mayor to reopen the town’s castle, which had been closed for years.
Nicolanti, who runs the business side of the Nonna experience, had to cancel bookings starting in February. COVID-19 has hit Italy hard. First, the northern regions of Italy were shut down, followed by an entire countrywide lockdown. The elderly who are most impacted are some the very people who make the Nonna experience the authentic intergenerational connection that it is.
Yet Nicolanti still saw the importance of connecting with people through food. This being 2020, she realized there’s another way and turned to the Internet with a new message: If you cannot come to Italy, then Italy will come to you.
The online experience is called Nonna Live. It runs for around two hours and costs $50. Nicolanti sends a simple list of ingredients and tools to pick up (eggs, flour, something to roll the pasta out with), and then sets a time to meet virtually. The time change has proven to be a bit of a hurdle but not an impossible one with a few adjustments. Nicolanti runs the classes on weekdays while Nonna Nerina, who is 84, joins on the weekends.
“When we opened up class and started having some bookings, the most beautiful thing happened,” Nicolanti says. “In two weeks, we had hundreds of messages from all around the world from people who I met once in my life and they text me to tell me we are praying for you, we love you, we hope to see you.”
Relationships have been at the heart of the pasta making experience from the start. Three years ago, Nicolanti was pregnant and her life was rapidly changing. Spending time with her grandmother forced her to slow down and realize that traditions were disappearing — especially among younger generations. Nicolanti, who is now 30, says the way people her age pile on work means there’s less time for the much-needed family connection that ties generations together.
Nicolanti eventually hopes to bring the other grandmas in, but for now, it’s just the four generations of Nicolanti’s family. It’s enough during a time like this. During a recent 1 a.m. experience, Nerina, Nicolanti’s mother, Nicolanti, and her daughter were teaching pasta making online together. (Nicolanti’s daughter was supposed to be sleeping but decided she wanted to play, so “we finished the last part with her playing on the table,” Nicolanti says.)
“I think that this moment is forcing us to stop, and we can use this time to speak and share memories and share traditions and good bites,” Nicolanti says. “I think it’s very important in this moment when everybody is forced to stay alone to not feel solitude.”
Research contact: @businessinsider