Like the author Elizabeth Gilbert of Eat. Pray. Love. fame, I’ve embarked on an international excursion that includes an extended stay in Rome. Unlike Ms. Gilbert, I’m not on a three continent journey in search of pleasure, enlightenment and emotional connections, nor will I be visiting any other lands beyond the peninsular confines of Italy. I’m here for five weeks to teach a creative writing class at John Cabot University, but I share a sense of her aspirations, if only in a somewhat adjusted manner, so I feel entitled to appropriate parts of her narrative into my CityLiving column while I’m here. This first dispatch will be about food.
A Sicilian Winery
As an Italian-American kid of Sicilian decent, I spent a lot of time around the table, eating mountains of southern Italian delicacies washed down with water-cut version of homemade vino rosso. The pleasure of drinking and eating has defined my adult life like few other passions. Italian food and wine is one of the rare things of which I can claim a semblance of expertise. I’ve previously visited Italy five times in the past dozen years, with one of those “visits” lasting an entire year. So, with my seasoned palette in tow, I didn’t arrive in Rome late last week expecting to fawn over the rows of proscuitto draped from ceilings or be dumbstruck by the assortment of vibrant fruit and vegetables displayed at outdoor markets in historic piazzas. Nor did I expect to marvel at the enormous wheels of cheese or stifle the urge to moan with every succulent bite of pasta or lightly fried fish or creamy spoonful of gelato. No gastro-orgasms for this Americano. Been there, yeah yeah.
Don’t get me wrong. I was looking forward to eating and drinking well in Italy, but, you know, the law of diminishing returns is for real. And I’ve done all this before, many, many times. I came prepared to appreciate the food as a sophisticated gourmet, deeply familiar with the majesty of cucina tipica di Roma, unlike the throngs of tourists from all over the world with less privileged pallets than I. Check that noise. I’ve been here five days and all I can say is f#%k the law of diminishing returns. I’m a fawning touristo dumbstruck by wonder, fighting the urge to touch myself with every bite of food and sip of wine while contemplating a new career as a wild boar hunter.
The food and wine of Italy is simply the most exquisite in the world. And it just can’t be emulated anywhere else. I could share detailed experiences of each and every meal, but this isn’t food writing, it’s writing about food and what makes it matter in Italy. And that’s just it: food matters to the Italians, not just the wealthy can afford to eat very well, but nearly every single Italian has access to healthy, carefully crafted, lovingly prepared, fairly priced food of the highest quality. It’s automatic for the people, all people. This inclusivity into one of life’s pleasures feeds far more than one’s stomach, and it manifests in the flavors inspired by both heart and soul. And if I were on a journey in search of pleasure, enlightenment and love, I would have gone no further than Rome for all three since the food works on so many levels.
Images via WikiCommons
Andrew Cotto is the author of The Domino Effect and Outerborough Blues: A Brooklyn Mystery. He has written for numerous publications, including The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Men’s Journal, Salon.com, the Good Men Project, and Teachers & Writers magazine. He has an MFA in Creative Writing from The New School. He lives in Brooklyn, New York. Follow him on Twitter @andrewcotto