June 21, 2014

ROME (PART II): Our Daily Bread

Ciao Bella,

When you and I first met, back in January 2010 in Dublin’s dirty ol’ town, I was experiencing Europe for the first time. I remember the first night you and I frequented Beggar’s Bush. You had a Guinness. I had a cheese sandwich. In the pub. At like midnight. 

Ali on left, Marley on right. Two beautiful brews about to be demolished.

Here we are over 4 years later, and little has changed. Substitute Dublin for Roma, and you will see me sitting in the bar there with my (not-nearly-as-satisfying-as-Guinness) Italian beer and (already being digested) cheese platter. 
High Point: Finding Sierra Nevada Pale Ale! Low Point: Six euros a pint.

I realized with grave sobriety this Tuesday that I had actually eaten an entire pizza margarita at the last 3 meals IN A ROW. Accounting for 5 meals out of the last 7. And thanks to the hefty amount of beer consumed during the first week of the World Cup games, that is the extent of my food-related memory. Probably for the best.

Don’t take this the wrong way- the food I have eaten in Italy the past month has awakened my spirit and stomach and senses previously under coma conditions. No complaints on quality here. But… come on… pizza 3x in a row? I actually think this may be blatant evidence to have me expelled from my MSc. nutrition program. But there’s another reason I eat so much bread with various toppings on it: denaro.

Or rather, lack thereof.

It’s true that Roma is an unrivaled exploration of gastronomical proportions (bring it you Frenchies), but you didn’t need me to tell you that. What I CAN tell you about is the provocative, borderline masochist experience of inhabiting a space such as Rome, or Italy (or any f-ing place where olive oil is said to spring from the ground) when you have no income. Cue mini violins.

It doesn't take just money to unlock the wonders of this bizarre-o country's cuisine. It’s about having a kitchen to cook in, or at least a cutting board to chop garlic. It’s about having to ignite the pre-WWII oven in my apartment with a zippo lighter (and I really don’t think renters insurance would cover hand-replacements even if I HAD invested in that shit)… it’s about living alone in a beautiful place where everyone sits down with families to homemade meals. It’s about really, really loving the tender movements of a well-trained pizza maker, and watching him only slightly creepily from across the restaurant until you are, in turn, stared at creepily.

Last weekend I visited a colleague’s villa in the outskirts of Lazio, the county surrounding Roma. We stumbled through medieval church ruins and drove to various farms and markets to collect that day’s meal ingredients. As we prepared the family meal, I got to see how they made bread in the house, pouring carefully selected whole grains into a small mill and their fire-burning oven that sparked the delicious chemical reaction in the water, yeast, grains, and salt. 
My lovely date and the bread we ate.

Each of these sacks contained different grains for grinding.

The end result, before demolition.

We ate the bread on their stone patio, staring across the untilled land and watched as an isolated thunderstorm rolled towards us. This agreeable cat joined us. It was a very beautiful day. If everyone could have a day like this.. we'd all have cats as best friends.

I have been fortunate to host visitors from Berlin, Brussels, and London thus far into my Roman Holiday. Each time a friend arrives, I try to imagine the best possible mealtime experience for them. I try to find this one pizzeria, I think we are close, we get lost- then it appears. Like an Italian magic trick that never gets old. One one trip to said Pizzeria, we ran into the Pope as he was zipping thru Trastevere in his Ford Focus. Life here is simple, continuous disarray. I cannot remember my (2) phone numbers and can barely remember what my address is (forget being able to pronounce it). With the chaos that this environment ensues it is only natural to gravitate towards the welcoming. The known. The comforting. The Pizza. 

And if one of my guests says they don't want pizza.. like they really don't like pizza.. we have larger problems. Call it snobbery. Call it gluttonous craze of carbs. But no matter what you call it, come to Roma and tell me in person so that we can cheers over a pint of (mediocre) Italian brew.

Arrivederci my dear Marley, and bon weekend! Always yours, broke and happy.

- Elizabeth

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