Posts tagged: Italy
We travel to experience the unique culture of another place. We travel to explore history and to broaden our view of the world around us. But I’ve come to realize that there is another benefit to travel. At some moment, usually when we least expect it, usually wrapped in fragrance, color or some other sense, even the most seemingly insignificant moment is stored somewhere in our memory and can return like a gift.
It is winter here now. The days are short and sunlight is scarce. For weeks the temperature has hovered just over, but usually under, freezing. Fog rises and lingers. Clouds the color of lead hang over us. I’m not complaining. That’s just how it is in this part of the world at this time of the year. But the other night I reached into the refrigerator for olives to serve with our meal. As I put them on a tray for the table, I suddenly remembered standing on a pathway in Italy, just under the branches of an olive tree on a narrow terrace above the sailboats in the bay of Portofino. The ground around me was littered with fruit and leaves that had fallen. It was mid-October, just before the start of the Italian harvest season but there were already a few dark ripe olives on the pathway. I stooped and picked them up and held them in the palm of my hand, appreciating the frisson of pleasure at the memory of being in a beautiful place so far from home.
At home the weather was already beginning to change. Winter was only weeks away. But I’d claimed a few days grace in the sun by making the journey to Italy. I remember so much from that trip. The scenery was beautiful, the food was delicious and the climate was warm and hospitable. I remember the sun setting over Rome and the shadowy stillness of the Coliseum, the energy of Florence, and all the interesting people along the way. But I’d forgotten that moment on the path along the coast, in the shadow of trees that were heavy with olives.
Winter has a hold on us now, but the bowl of briny olives brought back the simple pleasure of warmer weather, of feeling the sun on one’s back. I’m always surprised by the way a travel memory can lie dormant, deep within us, surfacing when we least expect it. Travel brings many pleasures. But some take their time, finding the way home across the miles like a slow postcard, bringing with them the image of a beautiful place and another day.
Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer based in Spokane, Washington. Her audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of ‘Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons’ and can be reached at email@example.com
(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)
I have friends who actually plan each meal. Not just at holidays, but all year long. Even in the summer. Even on vacation. They look through magazines and cookbooks and pick a recipe because it excites them, not because it uses only four ingredients and the prep time is guaranteed to be less than fifteen minutes. Pushing a cart through the aisles of the grocery store doesn’t cause them to wilt like yesterday’s salad. They actually enjoy it.
I am not like these people.
And yet, by default, and I’m still trying to remember exactly how this happened, I am the person who has the responsibility of putting something (occasionally food) on the table each day. This is not easy. I like to eat. I love food. I just like it better when someone else figures out what it will be and then makes it happen.
As a young mother, with toddlers at my feet and a husband who was away three nights each week, we ate a lot of informal meals of fruit and cheese, hard-boiled eggs. Sometimes we added bread and butter to the feast. As a not-so-young mother working from home, writing around the schedules of four active children, I learned to love my crock pot.
It should be easier now but it isn’t. Now I lack any real motivation. And I still lack imagination.
I finally realized the real problem is that I’m just not a sophisticated foodie. I love to eat but, for me, the simpler the better. I can sit down to fruit and a little cheese (tossed with a good book) and call it good. I like a nice piece of salmon. A piece of crusty bread and good butter. A bowl of strawberry ice cream. In the winter, simple and basic vegetable soup ( the one thing I like to prepare) can make me happy every night of the week.
I was with friends not too long ago and the subject of memorable meals came up. I listened to the others rhapsodize about famous restaurants, Foie gras, thick steaks and various ragouts, reductions and complicated recipes. After thinking about it, I realized that, predictably, one of my favorite meals was one of the simplest I’ve ever eaten.
My husband and youngest daughter and I were in Italy several years ago, in mid-October, strolling through a beautiful village in Tuscany. By noon we were ravenous. As it happened, it was market day and the town square was filled with vendors. I purchased a roast chicken from a mobile rotisserie and three clementines from a fruit stand. Actually, when the man realized all I wanted was three pieces of fruit, not the three kilo he’d thought, he gave them to me with a smile, waving away the Euro I offered.
We took the warm, moist, roast chicken and the fragrant fruit to a small courtyard at the top of the city wall and sat looking out over the beautiful countryside as we ate with our fingers. My husband and I shared a bottle of local white wine as the sun warmed us. Bees droned in the flower garden and a local cat showed up to eat the scraps my daughter tossed to him. When we were done, the remains of the feast were rolled into the paper bag that had held the hen and thrown away. And that is my memorable meal.
I watched people smile and nod, imagining the day and the moment as I described it. I’m no gourmand but even I know the secret ingredient of any feast is the simple pleasure of consuming it. Especially when you share it in the company of friends and family and, occasionally, a very good book.
Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance writer based in Spokane, Washington. In addition to her Spokesman-Review Home Planet and Treasure Hunting columns and blogs and her CAMera: Travel and Photo blog, her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)
Maybe it's because I shoveled snow twice yesterday. It might be a reaction to my cold nose and hands and the pile of boots and gloves dripping on the floor beside the back door. Whatever the reason, I've been daydreaming about Italy. Remembering time spent in the lush, green, warmth of Tuscany.
When I was a little girl I loved to read fairy tales. I spent hours with my nose buried in beautifully illustrated books and my favorites were the classic stories of strong-willed maidens and castles far, far away.
To overcome whatever obstacle bound them, each woman used her wits, called on magic (there was always some kind of magic) and then fell for the handsome prince who came riding into each story just in the nick of time.
And each, by the end of the story, walked away with the keys to the castle.
The first time I opened the pages of Eat, Pray, Love I recognized a familiar landscape.
In it, author Elizabeth Gilbert writes about her failed marriage and combative divorce, her depression and tendency to repeat old patterns and, ultimately, her search for authentic self. That search, in case you’ve been on Mars and haven’t heard, took her to Italy for the food and language, India for spiritual solace and Bali for personal direction. At the end of the year, thanks to the magic of good food, a guru and a medicine man, and - the most magical thing of all - a lucrative book contract to write about experiences she had not yet had, she was whole again. And, coincidentally, in love with a hunk who’d come riding in and fallen head-over-heels for her.
That would be, by any middle-class, overworked, underpaid and under-appreciated woman’s standards, a fairy tale ending to a really bad year.
I’m not bashing the book. I read it and enjoyed it well enough when I actually finished it. (It took me two tries.) But at no time did I ever lose my head and believe that I can do what Gilbert did. Because, as it turns out, I am a middle-class, overworked, underpaid and occasionally under-appreciated woman. I may be able to get out of town for a week or two, when the budget and schedule allow, and if I organize things around the house and call home every night, but how on earth can I run away for a year to simply sit and think? I can’t. I have to take my peace and inspiration where I find them.
Now there’s a movie and Julia Roberts has made Gilbert’s story even prettier. Entertainment and enlightenment in 2 hours and 13 minutes. Another fairy tale ending.
The tourism industry is rushing to make Eat,Pray,Love packages available to women who want to retrace Gilbert’s journey. What do you want to bet well-heeled participants don’t have to scrub floors at the Asham.
Virginia Woolfe told us we need a room of our own and a little money. Those two things on their own are often hard enough to come by. Now, we need even more money and a trip around the world?
The thing I find most fascinating about the whole EPL phenomenon is that Gilbert, in true modern day princess fashion, has become a brand. You may not be able to book a flight away from the kids (children were a complication Gilbert didn’t have to work around) but thanks to the Home Shopping Network and Cost Plus World Market you can buy genuine Eat,Pray,Love merchandise to give your home that journey-of-personal-discovery look for less. Not to mention the jewelry, tea, candles and journals and perfume. All without a passport.
I guess the world hasn’t changed all that much since I read old fairy tales and my daughters watched spunky Disney princesses live happily ever after.
Can “Eat, Pray, Love” panties and Band-Aids be far behind?
Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance columnist for The Spokesman-Review. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at email@example.com