Gavin’s Gathering Guidance

From the State of California:

This guidance provides an updated plan for Californians to gather outside their household…

Mandatory Requirements for All Gatherings

All persons planning to host or participate in a private gathering, as defined above, must comply with the following requirements. Local health jurisdictions may be more restrictive than this guidance. Refer to your local guidance for what is allowed in your area.

1.    Attendance

  • Gatherings that include more than 3 households are prohibited. This includes everyone present, including hosts and guests.Remember, the smaller the number of people, the safer.

There is a lot more to this ‘guidance’. I will leave aside the question of how ‘guidance’ from the government can be ‘mandatory’. When the government makes something mandatory I thought that was called ‘law’. I guess my vocabulary is not as good as I hoped.

I will also leave aside the question of whether this ‘Guidance’ applies to politicians and lobbyists at The French Laundry. Remember, this is not a political blog, so we won’t go there.

I am wondering how this Mandatory Guidance is going to affect the Salami Making Season.

When I moved back to California in 1983 to start farming with my father, I began my apprenticeship in the art of salami making. The Avansinos have been making salami and sausage in the basement of their home on Comstock Road since the 1930’s.

My first tutor was Amerigo Cortopassi. At the time I was 25 years old and he was in his 70’s. Amerigo was known as a legendarily hard worker and a stickler for quality work. But he patiently instructed me and gently corrected my mistakes and put up with my fumbling fingers trying to learn a new skill. When I finally tied a salami with perfectly spaced loops he inspected my work and pronounced it “Number 1”. I had arrived.

Now when I say I make salami, I am exaggerating. I contribute my labor to the cutting and tying, but the organization and recipe and curing are the purview of my father’s cousin Ray and his sons and nephews. But I will say that over the 35 years I have been doing this, I have gone from the slowest salami tying worker to the fastest and neatest. No one ties more casings or does it better than I do. My one great skill! Useful only one day of the year.

The history of the people who have made salami in that basement is incredible. Mostly of Italian heritage. Mostly involved in agriculture, mostly family or neighbors. When I’m in the basement tying, I see ghosts. My Nonna Alma, Amerigo and Teresa, Luigi, all gone now. But I see them. There is a Genoa Bakery calendar on the basement wall from 1975. Time really does stop in the basement on Comstock Road on salami making day.

I could write much more about the Salami Day tradition, or about the really delicious cured meat and sausage we produce and enjoy through the year. But what I’m really wondering is if this ‘Gathering’ is going to happen in 2020. Or if it should.

This ‘Gathering’ is everything that Governor (French Laundry) Newsom and Fauci and the CDC abhor. It involves at least 25 people from 10 or more households, in a basement of about 900 square feet. It starts at 6 am and ends around 4 pm. There is minimal ventilation. We work shoulder to shoulder at two tables. We converse like Italians, at a high volume. Around noon we stop for a delicious lunch at a long table, again shoulder to shoulder. If there ever was an environment for spreading a virus, this is it.

Lunch Time at a Salami ‘Gathering’. Not CDC Compliant, but this is from 2003.

I can’t imagine that a mask would help much in this space, even if you could get everyone to put one on. And how are we going to eat Marilyn’s amazing lasagna through a face covering?

So far there has been no announcement from Chief Ray about the status of this ‘gathering’. If he says it can’t happen this year, I’m fine with that. I’ll just add it to the list of things I’m angry at missing in 2020. It is turning out to be quite a list.

Close Quarters in 2003
Chief Ray and my Dad settle the bill for our share

But if the event does happen, I have a dilemma. I personally am not too worried about getting sick. I know people who have had Covid and recovered fairly quickly and easily. But my father and mother, who also attend Salami Day in normal times, are in their mid 80’s, healthy but in the supposedly high risk group. And right now Stoker is not completely healthy either. I worry about all of them getting sick with serious consequences, either directly at the event or from me if I go and get exposed.

On the other hand, I don’t want to be seen as a coward, or a government toady, or Newsom’s serf either. Or lazy, which I think no one who has seen me work at the salami table would ever say about me.

Newsom ‘gathered’ at the French Laundry, indoors, and got away with it. And if the Salami Day happens I don’t think we will be arrested and jailed. But I don’t know if I’ll be there to find out.

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