'You may have the universe if I may have Italy' - Giuseppe Verdi
In fact, my affections can be traced back to when I was a wee girl and realized that pan au chocolat is French and that some of the most beautiful shoes in the world were crafted in Italy. See chickadee, it doesn't take much to get me lovestruck! In fact, both my kitchen and closet are practically shrines to my two greatest loves.....food and shoes!
Once in a lifetime, a girl gets really lucky and gets the opportunity to spend some time in the company of "slurpingly" good-pasta, decadent gelato and a treasure trove of leather purses.
Darling, I'd love to serve you four generous courses from my recent adventures in the land of Amore, Italy.
Antipasto - Pescara
Picture a view of the Adriatic sea from a vintage hotel by the boulevard, in a city with tiny cars and cobble-stoned squares adorned with little cafes playing soft Vivaldi. Can you imagine it, chickadee? You can, eh? Then you're now experiencing my first awestruck moment.
April was just turning her pages, and the tourist season had not quite begun, so it was a wonderful way to make introductions with Italy and her delightful culture. Night after night of the freshest mussels, monkfish, razor clams and baby shrimp with a choice of two pastas, one red and one white.
You see, the Italians don't restrain themselves to just one carbohydrate; they'll have two. In moderation, of course. The wine was incredibly smooth and everything about this city and its inhabitants was laid-back and inviting.
During our first week in Pescara, my group tried to stay true to our dining traditions and developed various strategies to outwit the Italians. We tried to get to the restaurant at 7:30pm (when hardly any patrons were present) in the hopes of being able to get the cheque more quickly if we moved through the meal with precision and speed. We failed!
We tried a smaller diner at about the same time, the following night. We failed yet again.We tried doing dinner at 8:30 and then 9:30 but each time our quips were no match for the waiter. Stumbling back to the hotel's lobby at midnight was becoming a routine.Night after night of the same "Cheque, please" slow dance. Epic fail!
And so we conceded and accepted the Italian way. We were humbled but a greater lesson was being imparted, unbeknownst to ourselves.
A short hiking trip with a breath-taking view of the Alps, a jazz concert in one of the oldest theaters in Chieti, lace-adorned shoes, driving through a modern highway in a teeny-tiny car with vineyards and hundred year old houses on either side and many, many scoops of gelato later, I was smitten.
By Week Two, there was less scurrying and more savouring. We were enjoying the thrill of biting into a fresh, juicy tomato and greedily dunking fresh herby, focaccia into cold, fruity olive oil. And that was how this singleton truly started grasping the art of eating and eating well.
On a slightly different topic, I was in love with all the Italian boy names. Giovanni, Rafaello, Camillo, Gaetano, Leonardo...sigh! Someday my son will understand why he has such a unique name.
Primo - Rome
A new travelling companion made her way into Rome. She's one of my leading ladies and the woman who taught me that it was not a sin to not share ice cream. My mommy.
True to its place in our travel itinerary, Rome was a first course, indeed. It was heavy on the archaic and beautiful buildings: the Colosseum, the Pantheon. It was proud of its name in history, the epicenter of the Christian faith and the great Roman Empire. The fountains and the piazzas. Every historic turning point for mankind, democracy, free thinking, captivity, nudity, art, literature, religion ; all of it had its place in Rome.
The first favourite - The fact that Raphael painted a picture of his leading lady in his work entitled 'The School of Athens'. Every person portrayed in that setting is engaged in something: a conversation, a book, weariness. But not her, not Raphael's lady. She looks straight ahead outside that canvass and I imagine, into the faces of the crowds that are admiring her beau's work. Incidentally Raphael makes an appearance in that painting as well. To tell you where handsome Raphael is, would be robbing you of the opportunity to see this lovely work for yourself so I withhold that tiny piece of information and urge you to go and find him. Find Raphael and you'll know why he has a place in history.
The second favourite - Sitting across and gazing at Michaelangelo's 'Last Judgement' inside the Sistine Chapel. It was my absolute favourite spot to be still and ponder upon. Two hundred noisy adults and children were sharing that same space with me and yet it was the very first time and the only place where I'd experienced solace amidst chaos. Not a sound, not a cry, nothing was distracting me as I stared at Michaelangelo's impressions of God and man.
The third and my absolute favourite part about our Roman holiday- walking eight miles along the Tiber River hand in hand with mommy, under the canopy of trees along the embankment as we made our way towards the square of St. Peter's Basilica. Those of you who know me well, know that I am a lazy creature and hate exertion in all its forms. But this was the best walk. Ofcourse, we took plenty of breaks and soaked in the comfort of two icy, cold beverages, but it was memorable, this five and half hour stroll with my mother.
Secondi - Florence
She is famous for her Chianti wine and enchanting views of the Tuscan vineyards and hill-country side. Michaelangelo and Raphael had been in her company, for a while, perfecting their work and their art. Unlike them, we only had the pleasure of Florence's company for a day.
I mulled over my brief time in Florence aboard the train that was leaving the station and my parting words to her were:
Florence, you beautiful city. You beguiling lass. I am under your spell. You have bewitched me with your leather goods. I am hooked for life.
Dolce - Venice
I love dessert and you know that very well. How fitting then that we should conclude our week long taste of Italy by visiting this next city.
My very first view of Venice was from a train bound towards Santa Lucia. The landscape had changed very quickly before my very eyes. One minute, there was grass and fodder and the next minute there was a body of water. Our train boogie amidst a sea of deep blue. It was mesmerizing.
It was a cloudy afternoon in Venice and light showers were imminent but there was no better way to be greeted by the city of canals with its great lovers and love stories. Ma and I were spell-bound by the view of the dome, the canals, people hopping on and off the vaparetto, colorful Carnivale masks, gondolas and murano glass. This was a charming city with an invisible love potion.
If you think that's an odd thought, you need to get to Venezia, pronto. Something about this city makes couples hold hands and and exchange long, deep kisses. And you know this is a hard confession coming from a girl who cringes at all that romantic, lovey-dovey stuff.
My mother was taken by a painter who was standing before St. Marks Basilica and making a real-life impression of his view onto the little canvas in front of him.
It was still cloudy when we walked along St. Marks Square, its very narrow streets,window-shopping, enjoying steamy slices of hot, fresh from the oven, margherita pizza whilst standing at a bar table, running our fingers through Venetian cotton, entranced by the music from a quartet of violinists. This wasn't a movie. This was life in Venice.
I repeat, I am not lovey-dovey and not one for public affection but at the airport when we said our final good-byes, I couldn't let my mum's hand go. For the past week, we had discovered a lot of new things together. We had burnt our tongues on hot pizza, hopelessly twirled our spaghetti strands and devoured pistachio gelato. We had taken turns lugging bags of food and gifts for our important people. We helped each other carry and tow, three very heavy pieces of luggage both in and out of a busy train (I'm sure I heard some Italian swearing off the bloody foreigners who don't know how to travel light). We laughed a lot, my mother and I. She glowed and basked under the cover of trees and I loved making her pose for pictures . She unpacked and repacked in every city and organized things neatly while I muttered how I was never going to be like her. She held my hand when the crowds were large. We had exchanged scarves and lipsticks, secrets and some heart stories. We'd become closer. A lot closer.
That's the thing with mothers and daughters. As they grow older, the emotional distance between them wanes away. They become girlfriends. If only we'll let it.
On the train ride back, while the gondolas were quickly disappearing and the raindrops were slowly dripping down my window, I made a promise.
A promise to come back here again with someone. The Someone I was meant to share a lifetime of desserts and a closet space with.