La Bella Figura and La Bella Uscita

For over the last 30 years I have worked with Italians, mostly males, on both sides of the Atlantic.  They were all highly successful in the Italian pharmaceutical industry. One constant theme of theirs was the importance of la bella figura. One would guess they were dreaming about Sophia Loren and other voluptuous beauties for la dolce vita.  This may also be true, but la bella figura represents the face you show the world throughout your life and the importance of a well-respected reputation. If you lose that, it is very difficult to get it back.

La bella figura is important in both life and in death. I got to thinking about la bella uscita or the good exit after I read one last article about Nora Ephron’s memorial service at Lincoln Center this week. Apparently she kept up la bella figura and stoically hid her illness while secretly planning the memorial service that was to be a celebration of her life and a true “bella uscita”.

Her specific memorial plans were found in a simple file with the code word “exit”. I love that. About 800 of her family, friends and fans were invited to gather for her service in Alice Tully Hall.  Each guest received a recipe from her extensive collection and her favorite pink champagne was served at the reception. The New York Times Dining section this week shared her recipe for a traditional Jewish sweet potato stew with her humorous recommendation that it goes well with roast pork!  Here’s Nora Ephron’s recipe: 

tzimmes receipe

It’s never too soon to ask yourself, what you would want to plan for your bella uscita? When my father died, I negotiated certain things with my mom for the program that I felt my dad would love. I always teased him that he was a bit of a curmudgeon. My mom picked beautiful hymns and verses from the Bible. She was horrified at first when I suggested to our minister that we start the service with a bagpiper and his favorite “Scotland the Brave” and end it with everyone singing “When the Saints Go Marching In” accompanied by a trumpet. He always loved to jitterbug to that tune! Fortunately, the minister loved the idea.

My next suggestion was to make copies of a poem my dad would impressively recite by heart at our family dining room table, “The Cremation of Sam McGee”. He, like Sam McGee, was cremated and his ashes were spread in the church memorial garden. Be sure to read Sam’s story to find out about him.

I also lost my pitch to share dad’s recipes for making pickles after he retired. I wanted to just leave copies in the church reception hall, like Nora did in her program.

We called my father our sugar daddy because he was a partner in an international sugar brokerage firm and also he was sweet! We laugh now because he nicknamed my sister, Nancy, Snookie in 1953 and called her that until the day he died in 2005. He would not think the Jersey Shore Snookie is a new or improved version.

And so, dad did have a bella uscita or good exit with John O’Brien, the bagpiper who played at my dad’s 60th surprise birthday as a belly dancer grated, walking us down the aisle to Scotland the Brave.  Everyone swore it was the best service ever after we sang the final song “When the Saints Go Marching In” accompanied by a rousing trumpet. It was better than a funeral with a New Orleans’ jazz band! I do still regret we didn’t share the pickle recipe and the story of Sam McGee.

I will share dad’s pickling secrets with you below. Now I just need to figure out what music and food I need to plan for a good exit! I would like the music to be Edith Piaf’s “Je Ne Regrette Rien, ni le bien, ni le mal….I regret nothing, not the good, nor the bad.” And, maybe some pâté, cornichons, moutarde and good French bread for mes amis.

Let the good times roll and Brava Nora!

Pop-Pop’s Pickles  – (Makes three 1 ½ pint jars)

  • 12 pickling cucumbers
  • 2 C water
  • 1 ¾ C distilled white vinegar
  • 1 ½  C packed coarsely chopped fresh dill
  • ½ C sugar
  • 8 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 ½ T coarse salt (non-iodized)
  • 1 T pickling spice
  • 1 ½ tsp.  dill seeds
  • ½ tsp. dried crushed red pepper
  • Fresh dill sprigs

Combine all ingredients except dill sprigs in large bowl and stir.  Let stand at room temperature for 2 hours until sugar and salt dissolve.  Transfer 4 cucumbers each to three 1 ½ pint wide-mouth jars.  Pour pickling mixture over to cover and place a few dill sprigs in each jar.  Cover jars with lids and close tightly.  Refrigerate at least 10 days.  Pickles will stay fresh for up to one month.  Keep refrigerated. Thanks Pop-pop!


9 Responses to “La Bella Figura and La Bella Uscita”

  1. Pat, Good thoughts about remembering those we love and planning how we will be remembered.

  2. The "Original Snookie" Reply July 19, 2012 at 3:45 pm

    As the original Snookie named by my dad- he would have loved the “pickle recipe being distributed to all his friends, along with his gravlax recipe-he loved life, his family, friends and being Scottish. What a great idea as an exit gift- thanks for sharing Nora’s story-she was an inspiration just like my dad. Thinking about my recipe for life now.

    • Thanks Angela,

      I read an interview with her hubby, Nick Pileggi, and he said her computer file marked “Exit” had been in the works for 6 years after she was told by one doctor she only had 3 – 6 months to live. She left specific instructions that the service should be less than one hour long in addition to sharing her recipes and favorite pink champagne!

    • Dear “Original Snookie”, better known to me as my younger sister Nancy,

      I hope they have belly dancers and bagpipers in heaven plus pickles and marinated treats of all kinds. We did give our dad a great exit with all of his friends singing Oh When the Saints…..As our Pop-pop said, “It’s later than you think” so it’s never too soon to start jotting a few notes down. Nora planned her “exit” for 6 years! Love, Honey Bun

  3. Virginia Shanley Reply July 19, 2012 at 4:43 pm

    Patty, It sounds like your Dad had a wonderful “send-off” by loving family and friends. So glad that you had a part in contributing to his “bella uscita” and that you shared your experience w/ us. I could really learn a lesson from you and Nora and should begin planning for as good an exit as possible. After this past year’s health scares, I know I need to be ready for anything and everything!

    • Thanks Gin,

      Just keep in party mode with a tiara close by and enjoy every moment! I am glad you came through your “cardiac challenges” with a gold star. Read some of Dr. DeFelice’s articles about the heart, vitamin E, carnitine, etc. and let us know what you think in the comments boxes by those articles.

  4. Hi Patty,
    This was a lovely tribute to both Nora and your Dad. It made me remember some nice times shared at your home with him and your mom. I agree with you completely about “la bella uscita” and feel that if we can collectively change the current perception from a superimposed somber mournfulness to one of a more joyful celebration, “la bella uscita” might actually become piu bella for many more people. Nora was a great example!

    • Dear Shelley,

      You also planned a beautiful celebration of your sister Carol’s life last July 14 when she lost her battle with breast cancer at such a young age. I just received a response from a good friend in Italy, Bruno, who left his message in another article’s box, but wanted to share his thoughts too.

      From Bruno Modanesi – “Pat first of all thank you for including me in your team. I fully agree “una bella uscita” is key to end well a good life. As a friend of mine – left not long ago – said “not important to be a winner,important to have made a good battle e una bella uscita. I am adding that to my list of Italian proverbs.

      E allora, sempre avanti!

  5. Tomorrow is Father’s Day and I just happened by coincidence to reread this column. Then again, maybe it wasn’t by chance. It did bring back wonderful memories of my dad and the celebration of his life. I will probably listen to a little bagpipe music tomorrow. Happy Father’s Day to all.