Postcard from Italy: About all that food…

Dear 49W Friends,
I’ve been back from Italy for well over a month, so this second postcard is pretty late in arriving. But I thought it might have a Thanksgiving feel. Hopefully these photos will add to your appetite over the next two days.

One of my aims in conducting in-country research for my novel-in-progress, The Discus Thrower, was to guide myself away from cliches. I didn’t want to write, out of ignorance, about a country where people say things like “Mamma Mia” and eat pasta and drink wine all the time.

Well, funny thing about that. I did keep hearing people say things like Mamma Mia, even before we landed in Rome. And we did see — and eat, and even learn to make (see photo above) — homemade pasta (and gnocchi, and risotto) everywhere we we went. So maybe the cliches are true.

The main focus of my research was art, especially classical art. But each day we spent many hours obtaining, cooking, and eating great food. Of course, food can LOOK like art. That photo above, utilizing figs and a fig leaf picked from just outside our Tuscany apartment door, reminds me of a Caravaggio still-life.

Sometimes, it felt like the whole day was structured around the morning trip to the market (whether in Rome, or down a steep hill from our apartment in Tuscany, or in the Piedmont city of Asti). To get supplies for a day or two, we’d hit about six or seven different vendors, and be forced to practice our minimal Italian. In Rome, my 11-year-old daughter wanted to be set free in the Campo Fiori market square to fend for herself. She came back proud and mentally tired, having used just enough Italian to procure just a few too many strawberries at a fairly steep price. Good enough. (Now she could sympathize with the pains Brian and I took to plea for a small wedge of cheese or string of sausages. Everything cost so much that we didn’t want to make any mistakes!)

Then we’d come home, which usually meant a long walk wherever we were based, usually some kind of apartment we’d rented (often for less than a hotel) via the internet. We’d cook lunch, recuperate, and just a little while later we’d be planning dinner. Restaurant meals were a rare splurge, but to be honest, it was our home meals, built from a foundation of great ingredients (the cheeses! the fresh herbs!) that really set the tone for our trip.

Italy is the land of tiny, cute cars, and the little produce trucks are cutest of all. Just don’t get in the way of one.

If Italy taught us anything, it was to slow down and savor the small differences — in just-picked rosemary, or garlic that has a bit more bite than we’re used to, or olive oil and eggplants that seem more flavorful than what we get on this side of the world. Wow, that reads like a cliche. But Italian cliches are sometimes true.

Happy Thanksgiving!

3 thoughts on “Postcard from Italy: About all that food…”

  1. Great photos! I've made gnocchi several times. It's one of my favorite pastas to make.
    Happy Thanksgiving!

  2. Daniel is right, many tourists find after trying the gelato they must stop at every opportunity for some more!

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