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:
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!