Accidental Hero

Written by  Pierluigi Masini

Mario Soldati, writer, film maker, journalist and - above all - the discoverer and champion of salama da sugo, is ninety years old.

The meritorious act: having told the rest of Italy about Ferrara through what is only apparently a minor symbol. In order to do this, to make sure that the operation was not labelled "commercial" or "cheap" he needed two things, both of which he has to this day: prestige and intelligence.

It all began in 1956. Soldati was working in television; while in America he had seen what it meant and he wanted to use it to tell a tale, to provoke with images, to create a mirror that might also serve as a kind of documentary on the soul of a nation.
He cast around for a theme and found it in the river Po. Soldati followed the course of the river, running through history, geography and anthropology. All the way down to Ferrara.

And there something happened: something he hadn't found elsewhere. It happened that his love for material culture and his personal taste for feeling well and living better contrived to ensure that Soldati did not tell the story of the Ferrara of the Estes and their court, of the silences beloved by Gabriele DAnnunzio, of the secret gardens and city walls but that of the city of good eating, and all through this humble sausage - the salama da sugo - that is in a sense a bittersweet metaphor of the city's own character.
And so the Italy of the great cyclists of the Fifties discovered salama da sugo, a curious food whose Italian name suggests feminility, appearances to the contrary.
Soldati met Tassi and they got to know each other through flavours: one prepared, the other tasted and marvelled. It must have been exhilarating to see them together at Tassi's restaurant in Bondeno, which Soldati still remembers well.

This brings us back to the present and to a date in particular: the 17th of November of last year, Mario Soldati's ninetieth birthday.
The secretary general of the Fondazione della Cassa di Risparmio di Ferrara, Alfredo Santini, and the Chairman of the Chamber of Commerce, Romano Guzzinati, decided to visit him in Tellaro - the village on the seaside where he decided to live long ago - to celebrate the event together with the local folks and authorities.

Soldati asked about Tassi, recalling various people and occasions: though ninety years old, his wit is still alive and kicking. And at the end, Alfredo Santini handed him a salama. Soldati caressed it lovingly and brought it to his nostrils, inhaling its strong aroma.
He must have experienced anew that tactile emotion, his taste buds must have recognized an old but unforgotten flavour, and he was moved by the enormous regard in which Ferrara has always held him over the years. Great loves never fade.