Once Upon a Time by the Fireplace

by Paola Emilia Rubbi

Cozied up in the warmth of the fireplace listening to stories and tales, real or imagined.


Once, when there were no convector heaters, sun panels, microwave ovens, the fireplace played an important role for the family in their home, so much so that its name was used figuratively as a synonym to “home”, “family”. It has always been important because around it gathered generations of people, providing warmth for everyone, and heating flames to cook the food. The fireplace's most shining moments were during the Holidays when, for the reasons just described, it became the focal point in creating opportunities to bring people together, to help in the preparation of meals for important festivities, making the home even more welcoming, with its burning logs and its brightness, its conviviality. Around the fireplace people gathered in the evenings all cozied up and in its warmth were told real or imagined stories and tales that those who came afterwards could call “fables of the fireplace”.Foto - Focolare acceso nel camino

“To me who has not seen the Colossus of Rhodes or the pyramids of Egypt, the kitchen of Fratta castle and its fireplace are the most solemn moments that weighs on the earth", as Ippolito Nievo described in "Confessions of an Italian”, summarizing an opinion once widely shared, that the fireplace was a presence in the kitchen, and also in the home, its dignity recognized for its irreplaceable duty. Many

 influential authors have used the fireplace as a descriptive element characterizing situations, settings, atmospheres, as for example, Umberto Saba when he wrote: “There was somewhat in the shadow, the fireplace: there were around it utensils of copper.
The mother was leaning over, with the bellows throwing out sparks.” To be specific, it is said that the hearth is the solid part of the fireplace: to the part above, the chimney, was linked an aura of mystery and magic. Black with soot, the darkness swallowed the brightness of the sparks freed from the burning logs.
Where do the sparks go? The children asked. Up there in the darkness up to the chimneypot that, on the roof, signalled the presence of a fireplace, and the smoke coming out that there were people at home.
An important and special passage, generating expectation and astonishment during the night preceding the Epiphany (the Christmas tree was not yet so popular): from there came down the Befana (but how does she do it with her bag full of presents in a space so tight and full of soot? Asked the children.) Foto - Fiamme che ardono nel camino

who filled the hanging socks with little gifts, sweets, and certainly a bit of coal for the pranks that had been done. How the Befana came down the chimney, the chimneysweepers would have been able to tell -- hard, unpleasant work, but how essential -- enveloped in a romantic halo pervaded with good sentiments that many children did and to whom, at the beginning of the 900s was dedicated a moving song:

“Little chimneysweeper”.The romantic halo was also around the small fireplaces, but with different implications. Smaller and more ornate than the larger one in the kitchen, it could be found in rooms to warm them up, but also to decorate them as Gozzano wrote in his verses in “La Via del Rifugio”. Now a day, fireplaces are practically found only in rustic style homes in the country (more commonly in the mountains and the presence of smaller fireplaces in homes conjure up the atmosphere of long ago when, around these sources of warmth, stories were told, similar to today's soap operas.

Foto - Caminetto in muratura