Tuscany.....ah the vineyards, landscapes, frescoes, churches, history, people......but most importantly the FOOD! I don't know who was more excited about the food, the kids, Craig and I or my Moroccan intestinal parasite whom I've named Perri. All I know is there wasn't one second on our trip where I actually felt hungry, but that didn't stop me (or Perri) from consuming the most massive amounts of the best food I've (well...we've) ever eaten. Now as you know there are few things in life that we know for sure, but I'm going to add to that list because I'm now positive that Italians put crack in their food. It's the only possible explanation for why I am powerless to stop eating it and why my very next thought after eating it is when I'm gonna get my next fix. Hi, my name is Marie and I'm an addict!
The kids were so happy to go to Italy. I'm sure it had something to do with going on an airplane (they are much better air travellers than car travellers). And we weren't flying just any airline. We're flying Ryan Air. If you haven't been lucky enough to fly Ryan Air before it's kinda like the post office. It's not their job to communicate, be nice to you or in anyway helpful. Their job is to get your package (you in this case) from one point to another. If you make it to your destination anytime in the next 3 days or if you even eventually make it there, their job is done. If not, your tickets were cheap anyhow, you'll know better next time. Welcome to Ryan Air (sarcastic flight attendant smile). And if you haven't gotten on a Ryan Air flight (where they have the most exquisitely stressful open seating) at precisely dusk during Ramadan you have never experienced what must come closest to being squeezed to death in the angry mob of one of those tragic European soccer matches. As the Muslims on the plane break fast for their evening feast I realize for one week we escape the trappings of Ramadan. No more weird Ramadan store hours, no more being out of weird ingredients in the grocery store, no more closed liquor stores, no more slinking down in my car to hide that I'm (gasp) taking a drink of water so I don't get the evil eye AND we can eat out in public any time we want. Food freedom!
I booked an agritourisimo (like a bed and breakfast) on-line between two small towns outside of Florence. The owners have a vineyard, chickens, rabbits, and two boys named Ricardo age 12 and Alex age 9. We are their first American guests. They speak little English and all the Italian we know is boungiorno, cafe, spaghetti, pizza, vino rosso, gelato, ciao and grazie. I think that's enough to make it through the week. Right? Ok, sure it would have be useful to know how to say "do you have more toilet paper?", but is it essential? I suppose that would depend. So when we get up for breakfast we are greeted with Ricardo, a table will 6 pieces of bread, homemade jams, animal crackers and cookies. Guess what kids? Cookies for breakfast! Ricardo gets us coffee. Hmmmmm....I need to train my kids to get me coffee in the morning. They tell us we can have dinner at the agritourismo also we just need to let them know the morning of. So we go about two days of seeing the sights of Tuscany. Museums, walking, the train, that leaning tower, churches....more churches, more churches and more churches. My kids were totally sick of churches when we go to Siena and see the Basilica of San Domenico. It's not the most beautiful church we've seen, but he highlight here? They have the preserved head of St. Catherine from the 14th century somewhere inside. My kids have never been so excited to go in a church before. We were all enthralled by the morbid curiosity of it. We must find it. It was like seeing Lenin's glass entombed, strangely glowing irradiated corpse in Red Square, but alot older. I'm trying to figure out which is creepier. Newer (1920's) intact dead guy or 14th century severed head of a saint. I can't decide. We took pictures of the head even after many signs clearly forbade it. The photos didn't turn out because it's enclosed by some very reflective glass either that or it's a sign from god. Damn it. Shouldn't have taken forbidden pictures and sleuthed around with River and Sky while humming the mission impossible theme giggling and using my finger as a pretend gun in a church. I'm going to hell. At least I covered my sundress up with a sweater so I didn't show my shoulders like the sign said and I was quiet. Does that count for something? Like purgatory? (Just so you know you can google and see an image of St. Catherine's head and Lenin, however you run the risk of joining me.)
What do you do after you're condemned to hell? Lunch of course. Not that it made me hungry or that I was even hungry at all. But I can't argue with the clock. At any restaurant I order my own plate of risotto, ravioli, pasta with pesto sauce, chicken, boar whatever but at least one of the kids would order spaghetti at every meal. So I would finish my plate and then sample the spaghetti. The sauce was so unique at each restaurant. This one had more basil, another more garlic, maybe a pinch of sugar, a hint of some oregano maybe and yet another had a little more crack. You could not NOT eat it. And well when you're eating crack you need a little wine to chase it down...so a glass of your Chianti please. Great now I'm a crackhead, wino who's going to hell humming the mission impossible theme. Well....it's all over now so lets go get some gelato for dessert!
So after a few days of eating out, the day for a real home cooked dinner at the agritourisimo fit into our plans. "Dinner is at half past 8" she says. What? My kids usually go to bed then, but ok. Eight thirty it is. So all day we wonder. What will she make for dinner? Spaghetti? Pizza? Risotto? I can't wait! And even though I'm not at all hungry the thought still makes my mouth water. Or was that Perri's? I can't remember. It was a long day filled with many snacks so we could make it late into the evening. Finally it's 8:30. There is water and wine made from the grapes in their vineyard of course already on the table. Every other guest at the agritourisimo is having dinner there. I think we're the only ones not doing this every night and I'm totally self conscious and feel awkward and embarrassed by that fact. We are the stupid Americans after all. Ricardo serves us bread with a pate of something I try to figure out what it is, but it doesn't matter. It's gooooood. Then it's garlic bread. Then there were like 3 more bread courses including a pizza. The kids are shoving it in and we discuss the fine art of pacing yourself (which of course no adult can do let alone a hungry, tired, cranky kid). We have no will power over the food. Finally we take one of whatever and put the rest on the side table. Outta sight, outta mind. We tried anyway, even if we did sneak it off the side table. The rest of the meal was meat lasagna, chicken, potatoes and I don't even remember what else. After cake at 10:30 pm with River resting his head on the table because he was so tired we bid our hosts farewell and I gesture with my best "I'm so sorry we must go but my kids are exhausted and if I eat one more bite I'm gonna puke, but it was the most delicious meal I've ever eaten in my life" look. So maybe some more Italian phrases would have come in handy. They ask if we'd like coffee. I'm sure that there are a few more dessert courses to go with it? Crack dealers are persisent aren't they? That's it. Just say "no". No more guilt of not dining there every night. It was fantastic, but I can not eat a 2 hour long Thanksgiving like feast every night and then go to bed on it. Ughhhhh. I feel sick. In the morning the light breakfast of a little bread and animal crackers at 8am all makes sense! Oh my god. I don't think I can eat anything, but her plum jam is amazing. So I'll have just a bit and some coffee and oh yeah, I never tried one of those cookies...
So my advice is this. If you travel to Tuscany pack pants that stretch at the waist or loose flowy dresses, an extra suitcase to bring back the wine (and for that size larger pair of pants you will need to purchase), Metamucil or an enema might be advisable to help "move things along" after all that bread and pasta unless of course you eat alot of gelato and are lactose intolerant. That could be a very good plan. And a warning: be suspicious of the beautiful seductive Italians with their succulent food. They want to be your dealer. And once you're addicted you have no choice but to return to get your fix. And you'll remember who dealt you the good stuff too...
(Recommended reading: How Pleasure Works: The new Science of Why We like What We Like by Paul Bloom)