Tuesday, June 23, 2009


The ritual of “mat” - or more properly “gerba maté” - is something that is known well in the heart of a true Giusvallìn, even if it‘s only a memory from childhood of seeing the grandmother or the aunts doing it. The “mat,” the cupeta and of course, the special “bumbiggia” …. this is the trinity that completes the rite.

Of course, I never had mat as a child, it was after all not for children. It wasn’t until my first visit with my cousins in Giusvalla that I actually tasted the stuff. But my father remembers it, and I've heard the older folks in my dad’s family talking about it, or more exactly the “ritual” of mat. It was something the older relatives drank, my great-grandmother would prepare it in the evening and then sit alone and sip it quietly, always seeming to go deep in thought. All the older Giusvallìn did it this way, Lalla Genia, Lalla Delaide, Lalla Secondina …. they all managed to recreate the ritual.

Perhaps it brought them back home to Giusvalla, to thoughts of the grandmothers that performed the rite before them. There is, after all, something almost tactile about the memories that arise from taste and smell.

The roots of mat are actually not Italian at all, but rather South American. It was the drink of those South American cowboys, the guachos, alone out on the plains. Uruguay and Argentina saw a mass influx of Italian immigrants during the middle to late 19th century, including many Giusvallìn. They discovered the natives’ taste for it and brought the “gerba maté” leaves back home with them to Giusvalla, and the stuff caught on, becoming in the dialect of Giusvalla, just plain mat. Soon the native Giusvallìn developed a taste for the stuff, and began writing to their brothers and aunts and cousins in Montevideo and Buenos Aires, asking them to please send a sack of magical mat back home!

In the picture (left to right): Paolina (Perrone) Camoirano; Josephine (Pesce) (Perrone) Rosaio; Carolina (Pesce) Baccino; Adelaide (Brondo) Pesce; Eugenia (Baccino) Pesce; Ida (Carozzo) Baccino

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