When I was at the Whiteaker market, some people came buy to ask the meaning of the word ‘conviviality’ in my sign “Out of Tuscany/ Crafted for Conviviality”.
The English word “conviviality” was popular in the US in the 19th century but more recently has fallen out of common use. I wonder if our crazy lifestyle, with the rise of fast food, and with people getting their food more and more at drive-throughs, has something to do with it.
The word “conviviality” comes from the latin word “convivium,” a derivative of verb convivere that means “to live together”.
In fact, in Latin the term Convivium was used to refer to a ‘Banquet’ with an abundance of food and feasting. But I like the literal meaning better, “to live together”. For me, conviviality has actually nothing to do with fancy feasts and expensive drinks, it’s simply about a shared experience around food.
As Patience Gray perfectly explained in her book “Honey from a weed : Fasting and Feasting in Tuscany, Catalonia, The Cyclades and Apulia“: “Home-made bread rubbed with garlic and sprinkled with olive oil, shared with a flask of wine between working people, can be more convivial than any feast.”
A convivial experience that I vividly remember was eating biscotti with coffee on the grass with my colleagues during lunch break when I was in France. We talked about foreign trips we wanted to take. We cheered each other up if we had a bad day. Another such experience is when I was in a guest house in the Northern Indian region of Ladakh sitting on the floor chopping carrots with an Indian girl helping to prepare vegetables for the soup for dinner. Or when with my 2 German friends we decided to take a train on the island of Java, a train that was labeled as non safe for tourists by the Lonely Planet guidebook, and everyone on the train, as soon as was dusk-it was Ramadan season- was offering us their own food and smiling. I have no idea what I ate, but I was struck by the conviviality we all shared. In the US I found the same conviviality roasting marshmallows around the fire pit during summer nights. I’m maybe a little bit weird but simply eating watermelon with my hens in the garden feels very convivial to me too 🙂
Although the word Convivialità is widespread and commonly used in Italy it is not solely an Italian concept or idea. It’s part of each culture. It can be expressed in different ways of course but the feeling you get from the experience is the same. It’s about sharing and savoring the moment no matter where or with whom you are.