Thursday, September 10, 2009

Just Yes

(MH) Before even arriving in Firenze, today I had already seen one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen, hiked a hike I didn't ever think I was going to hike (see steep stairs/uneven terrain up and down a mountain and narrow trails lining cliffs for an hour in addition to my determinedly non-outdoorsy sensibility for more details), and eaten the *best* baked stuffed mussels of my life for lunch. Yeah, so I was really all set. I really didn't need any more amazing in my day. I'd overcome self-inflicted limitations and delved into my oldest favorite pasttime: eating. Life was good. Real, real good.

Then Aqua al 2 wanted to happen. I may only need to say the bistek al aceto balsamico brought me to tears. This is not a euphemism; I took a bite and teared more than several tears, hiding my face from the three brothers sitting next to us at the shared table, from the family to my left and the table of college girls to our right, fearing that they'd see the indecent faces I was making. It's sorta just the truth of me that all my feelings are connected to all my other feelings, so when I'm feeling deliciously in the taste zone, well, I'm feeling deliciously in all other zones as well. So. That. In addition to the fact that the assagiato di pasta had already made me silent (al brocoli, espinacci, pumpkin, ragu con carne, and marinara with red pepper. And don't think we skipped dessert. It was the torta di cioccolato that I can now thank for renewing my faith in faith. You can think I'm exaggertaing, but we ate every table out of the restaurant. Even those that got there after us left before us. And it's not because we ate more than them (although I don't want to deny the possibility entirely), it's because we ate every single bite deliberately, pausing to consider each contour of flavor, each resonance. Because you have to deal with food like that in that exact way, honoring it as the accomplishment that it is.

And in this way, I remembered why Italy everything. Why Italy always everything to me.

To go on (I need to, I have to): the thing with eating in Italy is not that the food is just better. It's really as though you are actually learning what food is supposed to taste like. The tomatoes here are not just fresher and sweeter -- though they are that as well. They reveal to you subtleties in a tomato you didn't know existed: about two thirds of the way in to tasting it, something almost smokey comes to life, a taste that has to be what it means to have been grown in the Mediterranean sun.

Today in particular -- before even dealing with Aqua al 2 -- I learned what a white peach is supposed to taste like. Living in the Bay, I thought I already loved white peaches. Turns out, a white peach is not just more subdued than a regular peach, but it's also more related to flowers, and roses specifically. This particular peach had been warmed by riding along in my bag on the hike I never thought I'd hike from Corniglia to Vernazza and the regional train from Corniglia to La Spezia to catch the train to Firenze. So that when I got to him, the fuzzy skin was just softened enough to belie the cool, sweet insides. I love that fruit can trick you like that.

Belly, heart and soul-full after Acua al 2 changed our lives forever, we walked to find Club Yab was closed. A nice (read: handsome) man with an adorable dog (Jo called it, a "chick magnet") let us know after we were wandering around the same 4 streets for 20 minutes. So instead we settled into a bar that attracted the exchange student set ("All right, Mon, tonight we're 23." "Yep. Totally. Totally") I agreed not just because Ali laughed at my 28 waaay too recently but because a sweet Korean church teacher named Jennifer on the train to Firenze said, "You look so young. And you sound like you've accomplished so much." I dunno about accomplishment, I said, but "I'm not that young, I'm 28." "Oh. I'm 26. So not that far off." Three minutes before it had been, "I was sure you guys were way younger than me." I'm sorry but when did 28 become the new senior citizen?

Back to the student-filled bar (nb: I get a little hive itchy when I hear too many Americans around me when I'm on vacation. Ever since I was little, traveling with my family, I was trained to never speak English abroad, so I find myself shrinking away from Americans when I hear them nearby, afraid they'll out me.) So we're in another hectic life converation at a table outside the bar that's on it's way to closing up, when Giuseppe wanted to come make the friendly. "I'm the Italian boyz. South Italy, Italian boyz. No worries. So beautiful. I am Giuseppe. Long in Firenze? Stay long? Giuseppe sonno. Italian boyz. No worries." It is very likely homeboy tweezed his eyebrows, or waxed. They were so well manicured, actually, I thought of asking him for his brow stylist, mine are getting a little bushy...

Giuseppe's best line, and the one we're bringin back to the States with us was this: he was doin the ole lean-in on my cheek, I was shying away cause I'm a lady (read: old fogie who has grown out of the idea that any affection is good affection; yeah that's right, I said it). He was responding to my shying away by insisting that he would not kiss me on the mouth. "Only here," pointing to my cheek. "No, no," I said, "I don't know you." To which he delightfully responded, "It's okay, I don't know myself." Which, you gotta give it to him, is pretty much the truth. And pretty much the theme, in the best possible sense.

Jo is neatly tucked in bed now and I should probably do the same. Except that bliss and Firenze have me wired. But goodnight for now. And just yes, to all of it.


  1. Jealously living vicariously through you. . .there had better be some pictures of this food! Pretty please?

  2. Gorgeous, Chuck. Brought a tear to my eye as well. I can RELATE entirely, as you know. Beautifully written. Yeah, skeeze your way from the classic Napolitani, in those hawaiian camis, with the super slick geled hair.... But, by all means, LIVE through the food... LOVE YOU, your sister, m