How Do I Love Thee ? (A Story of Mud)

Italy, how do I love thee ?

Let me count the ways.

Or tell of one experience yesterday when, after tripping on stairs, I found myself with a swollen knee that looked like a model of the Pantheon’s dome. By great good luck, that same evening one of my son’s friends came to play, and later came his mother, Anna, a homeopathic physician. “Ammazza” she said (loosely, “Holy Cow”.)  She looked at my knee, prodded it, and took out a notebook.  Here were my instructions :

I was to take clay, mix it with water, add 10 drops of very low potency arnica (made from flowers from the Valle d’Aosta) and create a thick paste that I should apply to my knee. Cover with baking paper and tie with butcher’s netting. Leave overnight.

All of which I did.  It was charming playing with the mud. The children loved applying it to my knee with slaps of the spatula.  All night long, I could feel it drying and cracking.

The next morning I removed the butcher’s netting and the baking paper and the fully dried clay : my knee looked again like my knee.

I telephoned Anna. She was not surprised at all. Excellent.

And then :

Did I know about cooking with mud ?


And as quickly as she diagnosed my initial problem, she prescribed a recipe of her mother’s which she said I would find just as satisfactory as the last night’s therapy. Roasted chicken with star anise, lemon rind and olive oil in a clay crust. Did I have pencil and paper ? Good. Here was how I was to make it.


Italy is a country where we create and recreate continuously — a Roman capital is incorporated into a Renaissance door frame, a medieval palazzo is the foundation for a baroque palace. And here — thanks once again to Italian creativity and resourcefulness — therapy for my knee becomes a superb lunch. With clay and star anise.

Italy, how I love thee.

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