June 14, 2009
But here we are, catching up bit by bit.
June 14. Day 349.
I've mentioned before, though it goes without mentioning, that Italians like to eat.
This weekend, this tenet was applied to its most vigorous maximum, as I sampled the cuisine of the Italian countryside with La Divina and her beloved, Il Divo.
I wavered between nicknames for him -- Il Divo, I think I'll stay with. Other options were Il Grillo (the cricket, but also a reference to a movie character he loves, Il Marchese del Grillo, pictured here) or Il Papi (in local parlance, the affectionate name for Berlusconi -- and his idol.) Any votes?
After my business trip wrapped up in Florence, from Friday though Sunday we've been spending nights in Montecatini Terme, in a hotel that seems like it was designed explicitly for the purpose of housing one night stands between Russian aristocrats with diminished fortunes and their Swiss mistresses circa 1958. Double twin beds, chinzy wallpaper, undoubtedly the height of luxury about 50 years ago. And zee staff is very discreet, my darlink.
As for days? We've been touring Tuscany in La Divina's peppy MiniCooper, looking for food.
Yesterday we got up, decided whether to eat lunch sooner or later, decided where to eat lunch, drove toward lunch, where we spent a lot of time discussing when and where to eat dinner. Oh yeah, and somewhere between all that we saw Pisa and bought some leather.
Then we drove to dinner, discussing dinner and lunch, had dinner discussing tomorrow's plans (including dinner) and then drove back discussing future culinary plans.
Today, naturally, we planned the itinerary around where to eat, since Il Divo had read about a restaurant in a cute town.
Over lunch, I explained to them that in America, there's an intriguing group of people called "Foodies."
"Foodie? What is this?" Il Divo asked.
"They are a special group of people who will drive 100 kilometers to try a restaurant, they will buy a cow in the countryside so it produces milk for them, they only want the best ingredients and love to obsess over food -- the finest details, the quality of the salt. That sort of thing."
"Bello. But why this is special?"
"Special, because that's not the normal way. Foodies are rare, a minority. Normally, meals are more rushed, food is about ingesting and satisfying hunger between long workshifts. There's a controversy: to eat well or cheaply? eat at length or be efficient? Are foodies heroes -- daring to prioritize taste and company at the dinner table when fast food reigns -- or are they decadent snobs?"
We went on to talk about lunch time: In Italy, according to them, you must take an hour, by law. And they milk that hour. Eat a proper meal. See a friend. Sure, go home later because of that. But it's a pleasure, a right, not an obligation.
I confessed that when I've had desk jobs, I routinely worked though lunch.
But Italians are faced with the same dilemmas, in a grand scale: Eat well or eat affordably? Be productive or perish? Grocery stores deliver mass produced super cheap crap, and the cost of commodities make many better foods prohibitive. And it's not that they hold back -- eat less, to afford a good quality. As for productivity, lunch time in Milan is becoming more of a time for errands -- even if lunch is still sacred in the rest of Italy. So maybe, maybe the empire of calm, caring meals will collapse, there, too.
Despite all this, I suspect that for many people here, it's a moot point. If you can afford it, of course you buy the hand sliced prosciutto. And even if it cuts from other options, you make the time. You take a day to visit the truffle festival three hours away. Pick up the tastier pesto, even if it adds 10 minutes to your commute. That's not time wasted, it's time that will improve the meal with your loved ones. Live to eat, not eat to live. Of course.
Am I rhapsodizing? Romanticizing? Am I just hungry again?? What are your thoughts, Italophiles, Italophobes -- and others?
As for what I asked: after dinner, which was a three-course meal of penne pomodoro, chicken, and tiramisu, topped off with coffee and liqueur, I asked the waiter for a slice of lemon. (Helpful hint: lemon works wonders against car sickness.) Because as much as I adore this lifestyle, as much as I enjoyed every bite and every conversation about every bite, there's one sad fact I can't ignore: Tuscan mountain roads in a Mini at 60 mph + La Roxy on a full stomach = a recipe for disaster.