Amongst the ‘I miss you’ facebook messages and other random emails, several people have expressed surprise when they found out I was even coming back to America. I find it hard to explain why I am. I just feel “done.” Not ‘done’ in the sense of ‘I’m finished, I wash my hands of this place,’ but more ‘done’ in the sense of a ragù that’s done cooking.
Oh yes, it’s time….WARNING, the aforementioned long and involved metaphor post is approaching!!!
A ragù (recipe at end of post) has been described to me as basically a stereotype of Italian housewifery. A dish that takes hours to cook, heating up your entire kitchen, requiring constant surveillance, and everyone has a different way of making it and of course complaining about it. I feel that I gave myself a gift by coming here. I felt selfish about it at the time, but in the end just realized that Americans are programmed to believe that such flights of fancy are irresponsible and just downright unamerican. What do you mean you’re going to stop contributing to the country’s GDP?? Yes, the realities (and my certain financial ruin) of home will soon come crashing down around me once again, but I gave myself time. It’s like I sat my brain in a big stewpot on a stove, and kept adding things to it, until I realized what I was meant to understand.
By fate, the very book I had given MD on my last visit to Turin, was brought into the light again during one of my visits to her apartment. I had more or less forgotten about reading it. However, according to the Megamillions™ lottery ticket still being used as a bookmark, I read it on or about Friday, April 25th, 2008. Exactly two months before “the big decision,” and the subsequent mini-breakdown.
The section of “Eat, Pray, Love” on Italy is quite a bit heavy-handed and overly saccharin, but much like over a year ago, I can understand where Elizabeth Gilbert was coming from. Thankfully, I was not curled up in a ball of depression and guilt on my bathroom floor asking God to help me out with the decision to leave my husband like she was, but I wasn’t a bundle of joy either. She uses eating the food of Italy as a metaphor for part of her “journey”:
I came to Italy pinched and thin. I did not know yet what I deserved. I still don’t fully know what I deserve. But I do know that I have collected myself of late—through the enjoyment of harmless pleasures—into someone much more intact. The easiest, most fundamentally human way to say it is that I have put on weight. I exist more now than I did four months ago. […] I leave with the hope that the expansion of one person […] is indeed an act of worth in this world. (p.115-116)
Yes, I know, gag me with a spoon, but somehow it makes sense to me. Much like me, she only touches upon the more difficult aspects of living here, but they would have detracted from the points she tried to make. And frankly, people don’t want to read about them…Italy is Shangri-La to far too many, and there’s no reason to destroy their dreams. They are the things that everyone complains about, and that are slowly getting on my nerves, such as limited store hours, unreliable public transportation, strange perceptions of time and commitment, and the lack of CHOICE. What do you mean I have to buy all my groceries on Saturday to last all the way until Monday night?? I’ll just go to the 24 hour Kroger….oh wait…Also, unlike her, I’m not a spiritual quest. I just don’t feel the need to be on one. I control my destiny and my thoughts and feelings. I refuse to ask a non-tactile being for help. You’ve gotta suck it up and do it yourself people.
But, I needed time away from the crap in America, and time that required effort only in deciding what new gelato flavor to eat, what museum to go to next, and what on earth does this word mean in English. There isn’t any bad news here, because I have no TV. There isn’t any anger or sadness, because I can’t even understand what the homeless people ask of me, or what the two pizzeria cooks were yelling at each other about. There isn’t any complaining about completely pointless things. Here, a hand gesture is all it takes to express your dismay and frustration. I don’t need to listen to you complain about it ad nauseum.
Let’s take my flight home, for example. I despise flying. I’m 6 feet tall and but must travel economy which is akin to locking me in a spiky medieval torture cage, I KNOW how to travel on planes and to navigate airport security with aplomb, and my control issues don’t lend themselves to other people flying a tin can at hundreds of miles per hour through space with my tiny little life in their hands. And, I didn’t even have a valium to help me through it.
So, when people where complaining around me for HOURS about our flight delay, I should have been freaking out and figuring out ways to spill my soda on them. I mean, you’re alive people. I’d much rather have the captain cancel the flight because he smelled something funny in the cockpit, than plummet to the earth later. I have no problem waiting 4 hours for them to bring a new plane and load it up with plane stuff. I’d like my luggage to make it to Atlanta, thank you. It could have been worse (like in America)– we could have sat on the plane for 8 hours with no food and no A/C. Thank you British Airways for being very pleasant and kind about the whole situation. Thank you for the 10 bucks for dinner and drinks in the terminal, another dinner on the plane, AND as much free beverages as we wanted on the plane (unlike Delta, the flight attendants don’t vanish completely after we take off, they actually come around every 30 minutes with more snacks and drinks!!) I mean, one flight attendant noticed I hate eaten all my chicken marsala, and asked me if I wanted another one, and with another bottle of wine of course!?
So when the British people next to me started in on their disgust with British Airways, and how they were going to write a scathing complaints, I wanted to tell them to shut the fuck up. And when hour 6 of flying rolled around (and I realized I had now been awake for 23 hours straight) and I was bored and annoyed with the movie selection (really? ‘Aliens in the Attic’?Instead, I went to my happy place, and became calm and serene. I thought about Turin. I thought about the view of the Alps from my window. I thought about waking up in Genova snuggled next to someone else and staring out the window at the sea. And I was calmed. Mrs. Gilbert would call this meditation or something having to with god or the universe or something. I just called it happiness– and a gratefulness that I was no longer like the 3 people next me. Normally I tend to sob (just a little) when I get back to Atlanta from an extended vacation. But I was ok this time. I didn’t even want to slap that stupid smile off the obnoxious girl in the big “Welcome to Atlanta” sign at the top of the escalator like I usually do. I was fine.
[A brief aside: Good god, Americans are big. I mean SERIOUSLY. I was at a loss to explain how some of them even fit through the door to the airport train. Please sir, step away from the donuts….]
But anyways, back to Turin:
I required beauty, and I found it in spades. From the shape of a demitasse spoon, to the grand staircase of Palazzo Madama, to the Luci d’Artista, it’s absolutely everywhere. It’s a kind of regalness, age, and light that just doesn’t exist in America. But, there is only so much of it. Something I’ve known about myself and travel, is that the excitement of it is like a drug to me. I mean it literally causes the release of adrenaline, which as any adrenaline junkie knows, is a high that doesn’t last. There are only so many museums and historic sites to visit. There’s only so much 16th century portraiture I can stomach. Eventually I had to just ‘live’ here. This meant being bored sometimes. I started to become annoyed by the 5 straight days of rain, or that I’ve seen the sun twice in the past 3 weeks. I don’t like doing laundry and waiting for it to dry all crusty and scratchy without my trusty wrinkle-free setting on my dryer. Also unlike Mrs. Gilbert, I didn’t have an editor footing the bill for my travels, so eating out every night wasn’t a possibility. I still don’t like cooking, but I have a better understanding of it, and the pleasure the results can bring.
I required a self-esteem reboot. I thought that the best way of doing so was having lots and lots of sex, without any ramifications. No one in Atlanta would know the next day who I had slept with. I could sleep with a pair of boyfriends (separately) without any drama ensuing. I could sleep with someone’s ex-boyfriend the day they broke up, without an angry phone call within the hour. I wanted it without having to talk about feelings and the future. Often times I had it without even being able to communicate with words at all with the other person. I wanted to see if it was different here. I found a few (ok, many) who were willing to give it a go, and I am thankful for them. What I found out is that of course sex is great, and that feeling sexy is even better… But, it’s still not so incredibly important to me to where if I don’t have it for six months, the world ends.
I came for the possibility of love, but I didn’t find it. Would I find it if I stayed? Who knows. I’m just not the person anymore who sees it as a conventional next step in my game of life. Plus, being gay in Italy is just plain hard. The community is smaller, they have NO rights whatsoever, and they may never. I could never be legal via marriage. That being said, I am still truly envious of the people around me who want to stay with their partners for the rest of their lives.
I required art. I saw more of it than I imagined. I learned I enjoy writing, far more than I thought I would. I read books, I watched movies, I studied architecture and Caravaggio, I wrote half of a novella, and I am a richer more interesting person for it. I also learned that what I disliked in myself, I now dislike in others. I find I’m more attracted now to artists and creative and adventurous people, not to people who own condos and nice cars.
So, in conclusion, yes, Mrs. Gilbert, I fed my soul until it was almost literally vomiting (and without gaining a pound! Bless you Italy!). But, it’s time to figure out what to do next, which is an adventure in it’s own right…
Oh, and this isn’t the last post! I still have to write about my final days with Michele and Maurizio…coming soon!
Oh yeah, and here is a recipe for an authentic ragù, which I actually never got a chance to try. For a few reasons, including that I was still annoyed about being snapped at about toilet paper, I moved out of crazy roommate’s apt. without telling here. I just left a note. So, I never got to try the ragù she had made for me the day before. Oh well. Here is a yummy recipe via Mario Batalli of the Food Network. :)
- 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 1 carrot, finely, diced
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 1 rib celery, finely diced (except I hate celery…so I’ll have to figure out a replacement)
- 1 clove garlic, sliced
- 1 pound veal, ground
- 1 pound pork, ground
- 1/4 pound pancetta or slab bacon, ground
- 1/2 tube tomato paste
- 1 cup milk
- 1 cup dry white wine
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Parmigiano-Reggiano, for grating
In a 6 to 8-quart, heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat the olive oil and butter over medium heat. Add the onions, celery, and garlic and sweat over medium heat until the vegetables are translucent and soft but not browned, about 10 to 15 minutes. Add the veal, pork, and pancetta and stir into the vegetables. Add the meat over high heat, stirring to keep the meat from sticking together until browned. Add the tomato paste, milk, and wine and simmer over medium-low heat for 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Season with salt and pepper, to taste, and remove from the heat.
When ready to use, the cooked pasta should be added to a saucepan with the appropriate amount of hot ragu Bolognese, and tosses so that the pasta is evenly coated by the ragù. Feed your souls, people.