August 6, 2014

ROME (PART III): Home is wherever I'm with bread (and IPA)

Dolce Marley,

The words you wrote last month about our native land, the independence celebrations and beautiful brew discoveries… well, they gave this rambling girl pause. Said pause happened over a plate of Coda alla vaccinara // cow tail meat. It is a traditional Roman peasant dish, void of frills or fancy flavor and as my Milano-bred dinner companion exclaimed as we funneled the last of our red wine into our mouths, “… it’s comparable to pasta with broccoli in the U.S.”

Being nostalgic for the US is not a common phenomenon while living (aka eating) in Roma, but it comes from time to time. I miss the giant grocery stores with 5,000 granola bar choices. I actually had a dream this week about shopping for peanut butter (ohhh the European struggle)… I miss how people actually stand in straight lines and wait their turn and avoid touching each other if they don’t have to especially on a bus where there’s 5 empty seats and no I don't need help buttoning my jacket thanks but above all else.. I miss the beer.

There, I’ve said it. Mi dispiace. I really miss the IPA American brews.

Thus I give you, this: 

I found this here shop on a late-night meander with some colleagues. It is positioned kiddy-corner to a gelateria, so our group split: the beer drinkers into the bar, and the ice cream eaters into the cafe. I couldn't bring my slightly-sober self to decide, so I had both. Naturally.

I’m sure the store has an adorable name but I have no idea what it is called, nor can I tell you where it located except that it should be in the Monti neighborhood just north of the Colosseo. I drank an IPA brewed and bottled in England- again no recollection of the name but it had a mean-looking dog on the label and the aftertaste was like bursting fruit at the end of summertime.

..With this level of detail I clearly should have been a journalist.

Though Italy is not as well known for their beer as for other things (like vino and warm afternoon caresses and gelato), this little shop rejuvenated my fermented spirits and brought me back to the land of the brave- if only for 20 minutes of thirst-quenching bliss.

I meet new people every day at my job, and because the UN has a very international collection of folks, the first question (and second and sometimes third if you're really keen on geography) is always: Where are you coming from? We all love to talk about home, our most recent abode, the place we were born or the place we miss the most. We talk about how we want to go home, or don't want to go home, or cannot go home. Even if 'going home' is going just outside of Roma's city walls and down a quiet driveway.

So it's a really special thing to be invited into someone else's home for a meal.

Especially when that household is Neapolitan. #yum.

And yet, I don't know why people keep inviting me to dine in their homes. I'm too poor to bring the good quality wine, too unsophisticated to taste the difference... but it is always the highlight of my week when I share a meal with a family. So what began as a customary dinner party a few weeks ago turned into a life achievement moment: I was asked to make the pizza. In. A. Neapolitan. Household.

Of course, the dough had been made earlier that day by the host, as was the pomodoro sauce and the fresh Mozzarella di Bufala probably straight from Campana. But. I kneaded the dough into a roughly circular shape. Tenderly. With love and admiration to the interacting yeast and water and salt and flour. I kept turning around to check with the host if I was doing it right. "Si...that looks like a pizza," was the only response I needed before collapsing into a rapturous state of anticipation in front of the oven door, watching my masterpiece morph into edible euphoria.

After I achieved pizza-making Nirvana, we enjoyed dark German brews straight from the growlers and homemade limoncello, a sugary fruit liquor originating from the Gulf of Naples and the Amalfi region. 

With the spirits and sugars dancing through my limbs making room for more mozzarella and basil to take hold, I was reminded of the first time I ever left the United States. I was 16 and I flew to Roma, Italy and I remember very few moments clearly, except my first nervous attempt to order a drink in an Italian bar. I think I actually asked the bartender, "Ciao! Can I have some alcohol?"...

... Sadly I am fully aware that I have not come a long way in the past 9 years. This line will still work, depending on if the [Italian] bartender understands English and finds you attractive (actually, of course he finds you attractive, this line is foolproof).

But if you want serious cultural tips on the do's and do not's of eating in a foreign country, check out blogging soul sister Kate {In} Heritage who writes from Berlin and discusses the concept of being {In} Heritage, developing through interactive and engaging experiences in cultural and natural heritage sites all around the world. Because as Ms. Katherine states, "In reality, we're {in} heritage every day."

So what makes the travelers differ from the stationary? The scavengers from the cultivators? The expats from the loyals?  I conclude the only difference is the variety of foods we eat, and the brews we drink. This could be the reason for all pleasure-seeking. Also the reason everyone should have a beer and bread blog.

F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, "I don't ask you to love me always like this, but I ask you to remember. Somewhere inside of me there will always be the person I am tonight," but I think what he meant to say was, somewhere inside of me there will always be this baguette and pale ale. The Neapolitan pizza is as much a part of me now as the salt potatoes are that I grew up eating. And I am better for it.

The sweltering month of August has begun, and not only is my birthday a mere 4 days away, but I will be celebrating in proper Italian fashion, in the most stifling location this way of the Mediterranean: Sicily.

I will write to you from the other side of this Southern Italian escapade, once I am older and wiser (wider?) and can truly say, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Home is where the cannoli are.

Buonanotte, and happy drinking xxoo


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