THE ART OF ITALIAN DINING
Once again,I am stuck in the middle seat and I am hating it.
But, i have nobody to blame for but myself.
When checking in, the Swiss Airlines representative in LA did a great job at making me feel guilty and totally responsable for the lack of space i am now experiencing. After all, he did offer me a “cheap” upgrade to First class for only $800 instead of $1600.
But, i am a Chef and quickly did some math ending up with 20 which is the number of ‘Bistecche alla Fiorentina’ (Florentine grilled steak) i could have eaten for that amount of money.
I did not accept. So now the flight is full and this seat, 38F, is awfully small.
Am i getting bigger, or these seats are shrinking every time i get into them? The ail seems smaller too. Everything here seems smaller than what i am used to.
This is what happens to you after you live in America.
The idea of a 14 hours flight can only be faced thank to these football-shaped chocolate candies the stewart keeps offering me. He might have heard me when, talking to the lady sitting next to me, i pointed out the only good things about Switzerland, these being chocolate and…..it might just have been one thing.
The middle-age woman is carefully studying the book “Under the Tuscan Sun,” like if it was a bible and when she manages to suspiciously glance over my passport she asks me:
“Where in Italy are you from?”
When i answer her “Florence, Tuscany,” her eyes get bigger, brighter and full of excitement like an American college student who just found a BigMac tastes exactly the same whether you are in Rome or Dallas.
In a few minutes she throws at me eight different questions, topics ranging from our Prime Minister Berlusconi and his international gaffes , to how in the world I am able to take 8 weeks off a year to satisfy my appetite for discovering the world.
My answer to each of her question is systematically the same: “We are Italians!”
It is true. Italians are good at compromising. We are known to be a country where things somewhat work but never fully do.
Nonetheless, we, Italians, go by the day with the expectation that a job will always be done ‘cosi e cosi’ (so and so), that a government office will somewhat manage to give us the right information after our third or fourth visit, and that a train will almost be on time (+/- 45 minutes).
In fact, we do not expect anything to be working. Thus, when it only works halfway we are surprised and usually very happy with the outcomes. We might be efficient but we are definitely not effective.
However, if there are two things that we are not willing to even discuss…those are food and vacation.
It is not a surprise to see Italians still taking their traditional long vacation – practically everyone is on holiday for the entire month of August including government offices.
The offices, shops, and factories shut down at least for a whole month. Even if you wanted to enjoy the empty city there is no point in being the lone company to remain open: there’d be no one around for you to do business with.
Like a family recipe passed on to generation after generation, vacationing never changes. Grandmothers, parents and the kids have been going to the same place, to the same establishment for years. It becomes a ritual.
There is even a song ‘Stessa Spiaggia. Stesso Mare.’ (Same beach. Same water.) where a husband begs the wife to please not change beach and vacation spot. ‘For at least another year,’ he sings.
While in Tuscany most other foreigners head straight for the hills and the art-stuffed, inland cities, Italians families are all crowded together on the coastal beaches or in the mountains.
Now, stuck in between four people, i suddenly remember those summery days where my parents, sisters and brothers packed up and moved to Sardinia (a beautiful island just off Tuscany) or visited Viareggio with its beautiful majestic stretch of the Apuane Alps behind it, and Punta Ala, in the southernmost stretch of the Tuscan coastline, known as La Maremma.
I still can freshly remember the smell of stakes grilling on the charcoal, the wet grass, the late dinners and early rises.
The warm breeze.
The seat-belt sign is on. Twenty minutes and we will be landing. The woman almost finished reading her book. She looks at me, opens her mouth like she wanted to ask a question and quickly realizes she already knows the answer.
“They are Italians,” a little voice in her head tells her.
But, the reality is that if i wasn’t coming back to Italy year after year i would quickly forget those wonderful traditions, rituals and customs i naively grew up following.
Traditions must be carried on. Some more, some less. Peer pressure and countless jars of Nutella already made me drop the ball on one of Italian’s finests: the Speedo.
But those seven weeks made of good wines, relaxed dinners, and great conversations…no. I am holding on those very tight.
Time for one more chocolate candy and then I’ll be under the Tuscan sun.