In Philipp Pullman’s vision of the afterlife, all human souls go to the underworld: a chilly place guarded by mean harpies who see every malicious twist within each soul, love to torture people, and are sensitive to lies. Those mistresses of the underworld have only one weakness: they have no idea of what being alive is like. So if you tell a truthful, honest, felt-through story of your life up here, they will listen to you, wide-eyed, and then they will let you go.
And do you know whose stories these immortal beasts love to listen most? Italian grandmas.
Yep. It’s not the story of a scientist deciphering the age of the universe, of a politician deciding the destiny of entire nations or of a successful entrepreneur that hook them the most: it’s the preparation of pesto sauce.
They want to hear it all, right from the midday when you collect the bunches of basil, warm under the sun and wash the tender leaves feeling how the scent of the plant, subtle at first, surrounds you like a cloud. How you grind them in a century-old stone bowl with rough grains of sea salt, by hand— because extracting the precious essence of basil can be trusted to no machine. And how your hands start to hurt, and the smell becomes intoxicating. Then comes the oil, the cheese, the pine nuts, and your blissful break on a shaded terrace, holding an aromatic dish.
If you ever find yourself in front of those harpies, you are free to use this as an opener.
When you are released from your earthly duties to unite with the Universe, don’t try to surprise it with your elaborate thoughts on the meaning of life. But if you really want the stars to listen, tell it about the pins and needles that seem to pierce your leg when you’ve sat on it for too long. Or better yet, tell them about scratching a mosquito bite. What a celestial body would ever know how it feels to scratch a mosquito bite?