How was Italy? Well, reader. All the things. All the things you've already heard about Italy. The architecture! The art! The carbs! Italy captures people. I can see, now having been there, how one can leave drunk and high off of the physical and edible beauty. It's dazzling, honestly. And the food is good. Too good. I had bowls of pasta and scoops of gelato I wanted to bathe in, to marry, to go on a secret vacation with and never return so I could eat only that for the rest of my life. Italy is about the sensual, about what's good and honest. It has the power to snap us back into this business of really living and out of the mundane fog of the quotedian. That, I think, is the appeal: perspective. And also: pure hedonism. When we boarded the plane to Rome, I needed a heavy dose of both those things.
Adam and I moved from a city apartment we loved to be homeowners in what still feels like a strange house, both the noises and the suburban silences unfamiliar. I know I should feel accomplished, more grown up. But somehow I feel like a toddler wearing my mother's high heels. When I look at the knee-high weeds in my backyard (why do they keep coming back?!) or hear the high-pitched squeak of my bedroom door hinges that no amount of oil has been able to fix, all I can think is I am wholly unprepared for this. By the time our trip rolled around, I'd been spending six days a week working on my business and the remaining one on my house. I was tired and not a little defeated.
We landed in Rome at 3 pm, red-eyed, delirious, and happy. In the cab ride over to our hotel, we talked about beating the jetlag, staying out through dinnertime, finding ourselves a piazza to loiter in and a trattoria for pasta. Of course, faced with a bed and an opportunity to change into pajamas, we collapsed immediately, slept almost solidly until the next morning with the exception of asking the hotel kitchen to send up two plates of pasta and one very necessary bottle of Chianti. We ate and drank in bed, feeling like characters in a dream, and then promptly fell asleep again.
We woke up at 6 am, hungry. For breakfast, yes. But also for unstructured days stretched out before us, a sacred offering of time that belonged only to us. For not working and not feeling guilty about not working. For just existing. Italy is the right place for this, my friends. We walked thirty minutes or so as the sun rose higher and burned off the cool, salty humidity in the air, crossed the Tiber, and found ourselves in Piazza del Popolo. Our only company two old men reading the paper, waiters and busboys setting tables in the cafes surrounding the main square. From a table in one of those cafes, we drank strong cappuccinos and watched Rome wake up. A parade of girls wearing short, butt-cheek-grazing shorts walking right alongside clergy in long gowns and habits and families in their Sunday best, ready for mass. Men with neck scarves. A vespa rider ashing his cigarette with one hand, multitasking. Lots of small dogs and serious-looking footwear.
We spent our time in Rome getting on a more Italian wavelength, or at least our impression of it. In other words, we slowed down. We let our real lives get small beneath the possibility of the present. Every day, we walked until we couldn't anymore, until we felt every nook and cranny of the cobblestones through our shoes. We stopped in cafes to hydrate and caffeinate and rest our feet. At some point in the day, we switched from espresso to Prosecco. There were gelato breaks as well, moments of cool, velvety nirvana. We found our favorite places and stuck to them. I had an intensely fragrant, orange-almond flavor from this place three times in four days, so I'm calling that our winner. But we also loved this place and this place. We had outrageous lunches with salumi and rose and big bowls of pasta, the kind of lunches you stumble out of, slow and food-drunk. The kind of lunches that can easily derail a workday.
Roman food might be my favorite of all time. They have four classic pasta dishes: Amatriciana, Gricio, Caccio e Pepe, and Carbonara. They're all dead simple, a blank canvas ready and waiting to highlight the quality of the ingredients, which are essentially fresh pasta, tomato, egg, cheese, cured meat, salt, and pepper somehow varied enough to make four distinct dishes. My obsession with Amatriciana runs deep. The fatty intensity of the cured pork cheek cut so perfectly by the acidity of fresh tomatoes: I think it's the same chemical reaction that causes love at first sight. I had it here and here and several other times, including that first night at the hotel, although I barely remember half-sleep-eating it (true to form, however, I do have a picture of it). I also had caccio e pepe with outrageously floral pepper here during what was probably one of the best lunches of this trip, and if we're being honest, my whole life (which has obviously been a lie up to this point, without this pasta).
Happily, we caught the tail end of artichoke season. Yes: artichoke season. It's a whole thing here, and a magnificent thing. Artichokes are so plentiful and so good this time of year. They're on every menu and even stacked decoratively in baskets outside of restaurants as if to reassure diners that this establishment can indeed support their need to consume many, many plates of artichokes. We had them raw, sliced thin with shaved pecorino romano, lemon juice, and strong olive oil. We had them cut in half and baked with a tangy-lemon marinade. Every artichoke dish we had was worthwhile. But especially: just the tops, deep fried in olive oil, sitting on the plate with their stems up (which, it turns out, you can also eat). I know this is a vegetable we're talking about. But somehow that sumptuous salt-on-fat-on-crispy-skin combo tastes like the skin of a perfectly roasted chicken, better even. The shock of how good it tastes just reminds you why you're alive. Ironically, that kind of fried goodness will also kill you slowly... but in a nice way.
It rained on our last day in Italy, a change from all the bright, hot weather we'd had the previous week. The train got us back from Tuscany around noon. We dropped our bags and made a pact to stay out all day, absorb as much of the city as we could possibly take back with us. We wandered back through a lot of the places we'd seen already, through the ancient part of the city and through Trastevere, the old Jewish ghetto and possibly my favorite Roman neighborhood. We at suppli and fried artichokes in what is basically the Roman equivalent of Grand Central Market. We stopped to look at the ruins on the side of the road and wondered if Romans feel more rooted than the rest of us, living amongst constant reminders of their ancient and storied past.
We had drinks around 5 pm along with all the people ending their work days, stopping to catch up with friends before going home to their families for dinner. We felt relaxed, entitled to just sit there and talk about life, about what we'd seen that day, about whatever we pleased, negronis in hand. Hedonism, some might argue, is not a proper pathway to mental clarity. I beg to differ. In that moment, we knew Italy had done whatever it was supposed to do: lift the haze, make us feel alive via pretty golden buildings and prosciutto and fresh pasta and drinks at 5pm every day. In that moment, we saw the world through Roman eyes. And we vowed to take just a bit of that perspective back home with us.