Oh I don’t know. Something about intimacy and vulnerability. Bodies and hearts becoming more forgiving as they recall the calm of sleep and other good things that tend to happen horizontally. Plus it’s nearly impossible- and feels completely ridiculous- to cross ones arms while lying down. Or maybe it’s simple biology- a redirection of blood flow? I’m open to any theories, I just know it works. Prickly diplomatic deals and peace agreements should be done with both parties lying flat on their backs.
Forgive me readers for I have sucked. It has been over a month since my last real post. And even though a loyal reader and friend told me he assumed my return to the states would cause some “virtual tumbleweed,” my negligence of this blog has been gnawing at my very soul.
I don’t feel bloggers guilt because I presume my life to be so fascinating that everyone cant live with regular updates, I just recognize that most of my readers work in offices and I too used to be strapped to a rolly chair for ten hours a day so when formerly reliable bloggers went MIA, thereby robbing me of 1-5 minutes of critical distraction, it corroded my sanity almost as swiftly as that time the office manager tried to be eco friendly by eliminating paper coffee cups and someone had stolen my “grab life by the beans” mug from the kitchen and all other caffeine receptacles vanished and I found myself eying the space where the coffee came out of the machine, wondering if my face would fit in there.
But I am only home for two months before i leave again for Italy and as soon as i felt how fast the first week went by and how hard it would be to get any footing at all, I promised myself that I would not allow this time to get lost as one big transition- a long hello and a longer goodbye. So over the last month I have selfishly and unrealistically skirted questions about my summer in France and avoided talking about The Next Phase or trying to explain what Slow Food is or what in hell one does with a Masters in Italian Gastronomy and Food Tourism. I’ve just wanted to Be Here Now. And somehow, instinctively, that meant not blogging. I would have liked to have had a record of all the places and people i have seen, delicious things i’ve eaten, but taking the time to properly document all of it would have taken precious time away from living it. And as fast as it has all flown by, this month has been rich and full and important and substantial and i’ve so fully committed to my life here that France feels like it happened four months ago and i’ve so deeply buried my head in the sand about Italy that it feels at least four months away. Success! …I think.
What i know for sure is that It Is So Good to be back with the boy. Oh it is so good. We create crazy mostly delicious concoctions in the kitchen. We take walks around the neighborhood at night. We lie down on our bed to discuss things that are too hard to talk about vertically. We make adventures out of trips to buy toothpaste. We laugh until we hurt and can’t breathe. We become more open and honest and able-to-fart-loudly-in-front-of-eachother every day. And sometimes we litterally have to pull the car over to stare at eachother and cry a little out of happiness and gratefulness and excitement and this fierce determined loyalty that i’ve never felt about anything in my life.
But. Italy and The Next Phase does loom near, and even though it will take me away from the boy and my beloved friends and family and peanut butter (yes, it’s a factor) I am getting distinctly excited for what’s to come. It is, afterall, a huge luxury and an incredible opportunity to be able to go to this school and do this program and I don’t take it lightly. In fact I feel a pretty big responsibility to milk it and part of that is documenting and sharing what this big experience that will undoubtably be mind, eye, heart and mouth-opening.
The breakdown of senses I invented for this blog was a way to, forgive me, make sense of my travels. It gave me a framework in which to process what could have been a disjointed and disorienting journey and I don’t think I could have traveled as confidently and openly as I did without it serving as my lifeline, base line, backboard, blackboard, headboard, mental external hard drive. But this next phase is different and I’m going to need a different structure to keep track of it. Food is about to go from a side interest to a full time occupation and I will seriously need a way to process that, academically, professionally and personally. Particularly personally. Because food IS deeply personal and no matter how macroscopic this program gets on the subject, I hope not to lose sight of that.
What we eat shapes and is shaped by our mood, self-worth, insecurities, mental and physical health, how we dress, relationship to family, connection to heritage, and perception of our individual place on this planet. The Food Revolution (or Slow Food or The Food Movement or whatever one wants to call the huge umbrella of food-system-reform-related initiatives) makes a lot of sense to me in theory, mostly makes sense to me in practice but I think it mostly overlooks the emotional element of what we eat: the fact that most of us are fallible, fragile and hungry for so much more than that which fills the stomach.
So. I’m starting a new blog. What We Hunger For Most Has No Name. Just kidding. But on some level, that’s the concept. A place that will allow me to digest this next year by posting recipes and reviews of local dishes in tiny towns in italy and raves about fascinating subjects i’m cracking open and rants about the obnoxious michael pollan thumping eco-bag toting uber-judgy food purist who will inevitably exist in my program and who i will yearn to choke by means of a big mac. But most of all I hope to use this next blog to wrestle with the question of the hour: what it even means, generally and personally, to Eat Well.
I’ll be setting up this next blog over the next few weeks and I’ll make sure to send it around and post a link here. Thank you thank you thank you sweet readers. Your comments and questions and quiet support of me over the last months has been critical.
I’ll end it the way I began:
The Forgotten Dialect of the Heart
How astonishing it is that language can almost mean,
and frightening that it does not quite. Love, we say,
God, we say, Rome and Michiko, we write, and the words
get it all wrong. We say bread and it means according
to which nation. French has no word for home,
and we have no word for strict pleasure. A people
in northern India is dying out because their ancient
tongue has no words for endearment. I dream of lost
vocabularies that might express some of what
we no longer can. Maybe the Etruscan texts would
finally explain why the couples on their tombs
are smiling. And maybe not. When the thousands
of mysterious Sumerian tablets were translated,
they seemed to be business records. But what if they
are poems or psalms? My joy is the same as twelve
Ethiopian goats standing silent in the morning light.
O Lord, thou art slabs of salt and ingots of copper,
as grand as ripe barley lithe under the wind’s labor.
Her breasts are six white oxen loaded with bolts
of long-fibered Egyptian cotton. My love is a hundred
pitchers of honey. Shiploads of thuya are what
my body wants to say to your body. Giraffes are this
desire in the dark. Perhaps the spiral Minoan script
is not laguage but a map. What we feel most has
no name but amber, archers, cinnamon, horses, and birds.
By Jack Gilbert
it’s taken me two weeks to respond to this comment because it hits on the very reason i blogged while i traveled and the very reason i am finding it hard to continue to blog while i’m home.
Something about that chemistry of wanderlust and nostalgia and hunger and weightlessness that fueled my writing…it has been replaced by the feeling of fully inhabiting myself again- my own language fills my mouth, during the day my feet walk familiar streets and at night my hands move across terrain i know by heart. i’m still half expecting to wake up from what looks like a dream i had so many times this summer and find myself alone in a little room, dusty sunlight, raspy french and a rogue vine of bright orange trumpet flowers creeping in through the open window. but all of that is now the stuff of dreams, and home is what i wake up to each morning, sleeping next to me.
The last five days have involved an almost unfathomable amount of love.
I am almost ready to write about it.
Thanks for sticking with me.
The halogen lit inside of milan linate airport for five hours. i made the conscious and unadventerous choice to ignore drizzly milan and get myself somewhere that i could catch up on my internet life in preparation for re-entry mania. it’s fascinating to be still for that many hours in a place entirely occupied by movement. i was witness to so many reunions, departures, extractions, calculations, tensions, dramas and comedies; three movies in a row in my determination not to fall asleep on my eight hour plane so i could thwart jet lag. i’m pretty sure i was borderline halucinating by the time i sat there cross eyed watching iron man 2 at the equivalent of 5 in the morning; brittan, the dear sweet bright blonde ray of light i have missed in my life for three long months, waving like a maniac and crouching down in preparation for our mid-air-matrix-style reunion in the arrivals area of newark airport at 11:30 pm.
“Do you have any plants or food in your baggage?” (i cock my head sideways thinking about the kilo of herbes de provence, dijon mustard, bricks of camargue sea salt, dark chocolate, honey and walnut oil i’m carrying and weigh the possible outcomes) “nope.” *stamp* AND IM IN!; a pack of teenagers on the six train from brits uptown to dads apartment and i found myself saying, hey, look, kinsmen, until it dawned on me: i’m in america. americans are in the majority in america. im not a foreigner anymore. and i stood in the subway platform carrying my life on my back just as i had all through europe’s train stations, repeating i’m in america. and it still barely made sense; the sound of wind through the privet hedge and birds that only sing in southampton and the particular noise the heavy lock on our old door makes when you open it- all things i might not have noticed that rang out to me like i had been deaf and just had my hearing restored.
Stale air of the plane and the bad breathe of the girl next to me who had apparently taken a horse tranquilizer before she got on because she was knocked out before we took off, head back mouth open, and when i needed to extract myself to get to the bathroom i hopped up on the seat rest and climbed over her, pretty much sat on her head and she still didnt stir; that smell that’s so unique to manhattan- that human rubbing against human roasting sweet nuts sewer water manhole smoke and pigeon smell; fresh cut grass and salt water and white flowers as i stepped off the bus into the southampton sun.
Airplane food- why, no matter what it is, no matter how little of it i eat, WHY does it instantly give me indigestion? it’s cruel. i’m trapped in the middle seat of a middle row with a pencil thin arm rest and a girl’s head flopped over into my territory and i’m writhing in gut pain just from two bites of a frozen roll. and of course it would be easier to refuse the meal but with zero mental stimulation and iron man 2 showing on loop who has the will to reject the meal before one has even investigated what lies beneath the tinfoil?; a carefully wrapped chicken salad sandwich on whole grain bread brought by brit to eat on our bus ride home. this is why i love her. and why she’s going to make a wonderful mom; welcome home breakfast the next morning with dad at one of our staple joints, Neils coffee shop on lexington where i ordered a grilled cheddar and tomato on whole wheat, of course, which arrived in under two minutes, piping hot, butter soaked and grilled, gooey and melty, and for all the fancy cheese i’ve eaten over the last three months, this was heaven in my mouth; later that day, a beautiful meal with mom on the other end of the spectrum of food i love that reminds me of home: breadcrumb stuffed baked tomatoes, seared local tuna steak and my southampton version of the famous zucchini crumble with glasses of sweet rose.
Vaguely ecstatic- i’m thrilled to be back, i just also feel like i’m floating. like i cant ground myself in this reality; a jab of heartpain as i went through the list of people i needed to call or write to and assure i was safely landed and felt like my list wasn’t long enough and realized it was grandmother i was missing.
A list of flights cancelled from and to france, and thanked the patron saint of travel who truly has been on my side this summer. in all the moving around i did i didnt miss a single bus, train or plane and i never lost a thing. not a scrap of paper or a sock, nevermind a passport or a piece of luggage. Now that i’ve written that im going to miss the ferry to boston tomorrow, have a car breakdown somewhere in connecticut and forget all my chargers and my drivers license in southampton; An email of ohmygodohmygodohmygods written across scrolling about three feet. this is what the boy and i have been reduced to these days. fits of spasmic teenage excitement.
well hello, tumbrbot. surprised you came back for more, given my response to your last question. my mother still cant quite get over the fact that my first human memory has to do with defenestrating excrement.
lets see. that’s a particularly loaded question given my current situation. in some ways i’d most like to make it to new zealand so i can see the sweet family i met on my trip and check out a country i think i’d fall quickly in love with for it’s natural beauty. In some ways i most want to have the chance to travel around india, simply because i haven’t yet and it has been massively significant to many people in my life and it’s so complex and far from what i know and aesthetically rich and would probably make my head explode and i feel it pulling at me.
but right now? theres a little house in the somerville/winter hill area outside boston. i’ve never been there but i hear it’s really cute, and in it theres this little room i’ve never seen but can imagine, full of boxes and an old duffle bag and a bed just big enough for two people. and on that bed theres this boy…of all the places on earth, i want to be there.
this goes along beautifully with the last “question.”
What We Feel Most has been unexpectedly significant and sweet in so many ways, one of which is the fact that “comments” appear as public posts when i respond, which bothered me at first but overtime its made the blog feel less like a podium and more like a living room, more collaborative. for example im so glad you all now have the chance to enjoy the dad-of-the-boy’s words as much as i do.
thank you… having you so close is a pleasure for me, too. i guess i do wrestle with what the right thing to do is and then wrestle with whether such a thing exists and wrestle with whether it matters what i do and then wrestle with the wrestling. its ridiculous and it feels adolescent sometimes, for all the angst and idealism, but its impossible to ignore the nagging sense that i can do so much with what ive been given, i should take advantage of the luck i had landing into this particular life.
one of the best parts of my relationship with the boy is that we keep eachother questing, give eachother room to move sideways and backwards if necessary, as long as were figuring something out that’s important, fighting the good fight, as he says.
Complete and utter mayhem at the Nice trainstation thanks to the impending strike. it looked like black friday on the floor of the stock exchange. i took one look, abandoned all hope of seeing any more of the city, ran back to the hostel, repacked, checked out, and headed back to the trainstation with my world on my back, ready to get across the french border if i had to hitchhike it; a flicker of kindness in the otherwise indifferent eyes of the ticket seller when i finally reached the head of the line. she fit me onto the last train leaving for italy of the day and even though i had to stand the whole way, i am eternally grateful; the dark flickering insides of a lutheran church of nice that happened to be near the trainstation where i’d locked up my bag desperate to find a candle and a moment of quiet in honor of grandmother’s birthday.
A tiny elder lady who waited in line with me and out of what i think was nerves decided to recount her entire life story from her birth in vietnam to her marriage in saudia arabia to her sons recent decision to become a woman. whether or not any of it was true, it certainly made the time pass quickly. also she was kind enough to tell me my fly was down; an animated italian couple fighting on the train to ventimiglia that made me smile like a fool- god i have missed that language and the people who use it with gusto. enough of this pouty french business
Rain and smog and fast food as i walked the streets near the train station in milan looking for a reasonable semi unseedy place to spend the night- i realized this was my first time ever arriving somewhere without any plan of where to stay. that might not seem like a big deal, it’s milan after all, but it felt significant. as i said to mom later, maybe it’s appropriate that the plan on the last day, just like the first day of this journey, went to hell and required improvisation
Nothing all day and then, concave with hunger, a bowl of pasta with fresh tomatoes and mozzarella and an entire bread basket at a little no-name restaurant near the hotel that probably wasn’t as good as it tasted in the moment but hit the spot big time.
A sense of anticlimax. It was my last night in europe, the day my grandmother was born but no one to call to wish happy birthday, my partner at that moment moving into the house we will live in together that i’ve never seen. i sat on a hard bed in a colorless room in the lazily named “hotel italia” facing my packed bags and the facts of my life swirled around me like the water i listened to, rushing through pipes in the walls. and there was nothing to do but wait out the night.
Vanity Fair in italian and got excited to feel it all coming back. ive really struggled with french and worst of all, what part of it i got seemed to eclipse my italian. i had almost forgotten that i really DO speak this language. heck yes i do.
dear the (boy’s) dad- so glad you have been able to find the precious quiet space between those high speed trains- summer barreling off into the distance and fall thundering in around a corner. reading this i am realizing that this trip has been like your hike. with no routine and no pressing destination i have lived in the small universe of roots and stones, or in my case, warm croissants and sunlit cafes, the sounds of plants growing in gardens, the weight of my backpack, the scenery through a bus window, the way an unfamiliar mattress holds me on any given night. and there have been long stretches without speaking, either because of language barriers or lack of companions but where initially my brain held its own roundtable talk show, the longer i travelled the quieter the commentary became. i imagine i will have my own adjustment period as i come down off the mountain, so to speak. though hopefully always more aware of the balance of my weight over my knees than when i first started climbing.
last morning with the family and my arrival in Nice
Bonnieux and the luberon valley from the highest vantage point since Jacques lured us into the car with the promise of picking up the morning’s pastries but then parked the car at the bottom of the town and had us all walk through the woods and up the stone staircase to the bell tower- it was admittedly worth it and the croissants tasted better because of our hike; a town called Isle sur la Surge that we check out for the famed broccante (antique/flea market) that really was the best i’ve ever seen- and i went to three a week with brigitte and two with sylvie so i know my broccantes: printed potato sacks, linen aprons, stone angels, ancient patank (sp?) sets, fruit crate labels, posters from bull fights, yellowing lace, stuffed and tassled armchairs, piles of panama hats, mountains of provencal printed curtains filling stalls all around the S-shaped town that hugs a river bend; a dam and an out of work water mill both covered in bright orange flowers of fungus, a patena of rust and dripping with vivid green tentacles of algea.
Myself and Nicola talking for three hours straight with barely a breath gasped between words as we walked around the antiques market barely able to concentrate on the wares for how much it seemed we had to tell eachother in the limited time we had. When we first met in Uzes kathy was struck by how my interests in slow food and creative work and italy all mirored Nicola’s , but the similiarities went much deeper, we found, as soon as we met and started talking openly about the role food plays in our lives; sad goodbyes mixed in with commands to visit “anytime” “you dont even have to give us any warning!” “just show up!”; the bus driver cursing with particular flair and venom as the bus became legitimately wedged on a tightly winding street in one of the small mountian towns we passed through between Bonnieux and Aix- the fiasco attracted a massive crowd of locals who didnt deign to be particularly helpful but eventually the bus was extracted and i made my next bus, the only one from Aix to Nice, with 22 seconds to spare; music , clanging dishes, peals of laughter and a lot of english wafting up from the street through the long open window of my hostel in Nice- the first place i’ve been to all summer that had “a night life.” something i immediately realized i hadn’t missed at all as i was almost trampled on the way up the hostel stairs- puffing and sweating after walking around Nice looking for the hostel for almost an hour- by a throng of bedazzled bespandexed and be-drunken american and irish girls .
Bread baking as we made our way down Bonnieux sniffing out the only patisserie open on sunday ; salt on the air as i stepped off the bus; mold and dampness in the “treehouse style” bathroom of the hostel, reachable by climbing a set of rickety temporary wooden stairs so vertical i litterally used my hands, like a ladder, and with a ceiling so low i had to crouch to shower. by the odd construction of the place and the fact that it was completley unmarked (hence why i got lost) i’d venture to guess that hostel smith, that looked SO NICE IN THE PICTURES WHY DO I EVER TRUST THE PICTURES, is also completely illegal; a salty breeze off the mediterranean that i sat watching, eating my dinner on the dark pebble beach, away from the crowds of tipsy tourists, flanked a few meters away on each side by murmuring couples, with the glow of Nice’s glitzy waterfront hotels reflecting in the gently breaking waves.
Pain au chocolat and muesli with fresh figs; a black olive tapenade, brie and tomato sandwich on nutty brown bread made by nicola and kathy for my busride; a basil chevre grilled panino that i normally would have chastized myself out of having for dinner because i’ve got a year of panini ahead of me but i was hearing just as much italian in the streets of Nice as french so i decided it was fair game.
Like my internal voice had materialized in front of me in the shape of a 5’ 8” 21 year old brunette as nicola opened up to me; seized by a desperate desire to share as much of myself as i could with her as if by doing so i could save her a heap of trouble over the years that seperate us; a mixed bag of fulfillment, gratitude and loss as i boarded the bus away from bonnieux. Why do the best people i met this summer have to live so far away?
An email i almost deleted before going to bed, assuming it was a confirmation of my travel plans for Tuesday, that actually turned out to be the french train operator union announcing that this years nationwide transport strike would fall on tuesday sept. 7, freezing travel between the evenings of Sept. 6 and the morning of Sept. 8. i had to read it three times to be sure my mediocre french reading skills weren’t playing a cruel trick on me. But no, in fact, the french train operators decided to “throw their toys out of the crib” as vince would say, on the one day where i had orchestrated a series of extremely tight and interdependent movements from nice to milan airport starting at 6 am, arriving with just enough time to make my flight. i.e france was giving me the ol’ arm over elbow. but i could feel my adrenaline pumping as i pulled the scratchy hostel comforter up over my ears to drown out Nice’s night life. nothing, certainly not a bunch of pouty french conductors, was going to keep me from home at this stage. id set my alarm for 6:30. i had a day of chop busting ahead.