Before running off to Italy earlier this month, my dear friend Janet asked me to write about the first meal I enjoy in Italy. I thought you might like to read it. While it is from my journal, I have tweaked it a bit for clarity. Buon appetito!
Does Janet know that my first food to be enjoyed is the simplest thing? I come across a man selling roasted chestnuts, after, how many hours since I left home? What time is it? Am I supposed to be hungry now? It's dinner and breakfast and time zones and sleep, and ... and my stomach is telling me that time doesn't matter but that something else does, and I can't stop myself. "Quanto es?" I ask him in Spanish, an Italian accent pulling the vowels deeper in my throat, longer, hoping it is similar to the same question in Italian. "Five Euros" he tells me, the tendrils of steam dancing in the chill night air. Sigh. I wonder if he overcharges me, but I don't know, and I don't really care. It's more than food to me. It is a moment in time.
As he hands me the paper cone, the hotness washes my face, and I breathe deeply the nutty scent that now clings to my hair and skin. I imagine that the cool night air is now filled with magic. "Chestnuts roasting on an open fire," I hear in my mind. And I hum as I take the first one, peeling the shell away, the soft white flesh pops in my mouth, and I'm sucking cold air in to cool my burning tongue. Roasting, indeed. And then I begin to laugh for the sheer joy of my life - for taking chances, for being surrounded by his language, his people, his motherland.
I walk down the street, the chestnuts melting in my mouth like butter, the cone warming my fingers, and I am content.
*note... He did not overcharge me.
A couple days later:
So I think Janet would want to know about more than just chestnuts...
The cab ride to the club - oh the driver got lost two times, we had to ask several people for directions, even after we were dropped off. But we laughed, arm in arm, and coming around a corner, there it was! Alexander Platz! It's black door open, beckoning us in. We descend into the cavern, neon lights, walls of wood beams with whitewash covered in good wishes and gratitude from musicians, and our wobbly table, requisite checkered tablecloth and all. I look around as he orders in his staccato Italian; the name Diane Schurr has caught my eye. Wow! This is some swanky place!
Dinner - antipasto - three cheese dishes (he ate them, but oh how they smelled!). Full of butter! One I cut but we knew it was fromaggio... which reeks havoc on my tummy. Still the ooey gooey pull of it, hot steam rising, nearly did me in! But there were roasted peppers, the wood flavor skittering across my tongue and grilled zucchini limp on the fork but strong in flavor! The anchovies cut in paper thin slices, shimmering in the candlelight. Enough for both of us, that plate.
And then the risotto with chestnuts e funghi. Butter from here till tomorrow, no cream. Who knew rice could be so wonderful? Why don't Americans cook with chestnuts? We have a Xmas song about them for goodness sakes! And I groan the flavor is so good.
He orders wine, red this time, not bad, not great. Good food, good wine, what else? Ahhh yes, him. My Italian. "You are forbidden to drink anymore wine," he says to me after my second glass, a grin as he whispers in my ear, his beard tickling my skin. "I don't want you to get drunk." He'd been filling my glass, and he scolded me after I poured some in his glass and mine. "I pour," he tells me. "I was just being helpful," I pout. And then with a grin, he pours me another glass, winks, and clinks my glass with his. Saucy man!
It was the food and the freedom that made that evening extraordinary. I was free to touch him, to cuddle, to lay my head upon his shoulder, while the musicians played, the woman sang. Torch songs, English and Italian lazed together with the aroma of his steak and my risotto, the scent of his cologne, and the heat from our eyes.
It was a perfect night in the Eternal City. How could I not at least enjoy my meal?