Pizza Margherita and Philosophy
*Author's Note: I just want to thank everyone for the wonderful comments you are posting. Although the blog site doesn't have an option for me to reply, I want you all to know how much I appreciate the feedback and encouragement. Knowing people are reading this really makes a difference.
P.S. Shannon, yours are especially awesome and I miss you :)
"You have to learn to select your thoughts the same way you select your clothes everyday. That's a power you can cultivate. You wanna come here and you wanna control your life so bad, work on the mind and that's the only thing you should be trying to control, because if you can't master your thoughts you're in trouble forever." - Eat Pray Love
Even in Rome, it is possible to have "one of those days". I'm not sure if Filomenia doesn't understand that I don't understand about three quarters of what she says, or if she does understand and just likes to talk anyway. Over a Sunday breakfast of coffee and strudel, she chatted my ear off about Rome, about Napoli and Venezia and "il monumento" and I think the weather and the difference between Italian and North American breakfasts. I was sure she had no clue that when I nodded and enthusiastically repeated the last word she said, I was really just saying, "Uova! Yes, I know that word means eggs! Are you talking about eggs?"
One thing I did understand was that she and Mario had gone to "il cinema" the night before and seen a movie she synopsized in her best attempt at English: "Man...love...human computer. Capisci?" Then she talked about Los Angeles for a while.
I took it slow that morning, resolved to giving myself and my wallet a much-needed break since very little was open on Sundays, anyway. When I finally did venture out, I was pleased to find a pasticceria open that offered free Wi-Fi, and decided to stop and check my e-mail over a Sicilian breakfast specialty called brioche con gelato. A magnificently different take on the ice cream sandwich, brioche con gelato is a rich, grapefruit-sized bun, split in half and stuffed with gelato. "Did you like it?" The barista who'd provided the recommendation asked when she came by to clear my empty plate.
"No," I replied. "It was disgusting." And she smiled, sarcasm a universal language.
Waiting in my inbox was a message from the host of the next accommodation I'd booked in Centro Storico. He said that, due to some problems with his bank, he hadn't yet been able to register his account with airbnb.com, the site I used to find affordable guesthouses, and would I mind paying cash when I arrived? I replied no, I wouldn't mind, but I was going to check with Airbnb first and keep and eye on my online banking transactions to make sure my credit card wasn't charged as well. The request may have been legit, but, just as I'd done when I abandoned my train to Naples yesterday, I had to trust my instincts, and my instincts were telling me something about this was fishy.
Walking back to my guesthouse, I found myself despairing again. Although I'd managed to redeem my mood yesterday somewhat, I'd still spent a disproportionate amount of the last twenty-four hours fretting over how I was ever going to manage the rest of this trip. There were just too many minefields, too many things to think through with stakes that were far too high should I fail to do so. I was just beginning to wonder if this vacation-on-steroids was worth - at best - the stress, and - at worst - my life, when my ancient key snapped in the lock of my ancient building's front door. That's...probably not good, I thought for the second time today, and pressed the button next to my apartment number on the directory. Mario buzzed me in and I went upstairs, holding up the key halves and raising my eyebrows like, "WTF?" when he opened the door. Smiling, Mario handed me a new key and a pear and sent me on my way.
Planning for a quiet night in, put on my jammies and brought up Eat Pray Love on my iPad. After four days downloading via my guesthouse's spotty Wi-Fi, it was finally purchased and ready to go on iTunes. I got comfortable on my bed, pressed play, and watched my life unfold onscreen. That's when I got an e-mail from Marcello, the contact Cristina had given me. He was around, and wondered if I was up to doing something tonight.
I checked my watch on the nightstand. It was already 7:30. He wanted to go out now? I fired off a quick reply asking if he still wanted to, where and what time to meet him.
"Do you know Ottaviano Station?" He asked. "We can meet there at 8:40."
My heart leapt into my throat. He wanted me to take the subway? At night!? BY MYSELF!? Not liking this one bit but tiring of negotiations, I reluctantly agreed and sprinted to the bathroom to throw on a half-hearted coat of makeup.
I was physically shaking as I half-walked-half-jogged the three blocks to the Metro, my gaze darting around like a gazelle who'd lost her herd in lion territory. I should point out that this was my first time being out at night on my own in Rome. I carried minimal cash, the keys to my guesthouse, my phone with Cristina and Marcello's numbers, and my knife, making sure - perhaps wisely, perhaps not - that it was visible.
Each Metro station has four or five exits, each meeting the street on a different side of a city block. Having not been to this area yet, I arrived flighty and disoriented. Spinning like a top in hasty appraisal of my surroundings, it occurred to me that I didn't even know what Marcello looked like. I was just pulling out my phone in a near-panic to dial Cristina's number when he found me.
Suffice to say that everything you've heard about Italian men is true. Just as the pigeons and stone gargoyles and tiered villas really are that beautiful and charming, so are they. The only myth is that they are short. Maybe they shrink as they get older, but Italian men - at least the young ones - are very tall indeed. Marcello had almost a full foot on me in height, thick dark hair, flawless olive skin and eyes that looked like they'd been professionally lined. It was movie-star perfection that put the North American specimen to shame.
"Alessandra!" He leaned down and kissed both of my cheeks, effectively completing the cliche. "It's so good to meet you."
After the obligatory introductions, Marcello got down to business. "I think," he said, his accent thick but more coherent than any I'd heard so far, "we should take a pizza. I know a good place."
As we walked, he asked in a way that couldn't sound impolite if he tried, how old I was.
"Twenty-two," I replied. "Ventidue anni."
"Ah," he nodded, looking slightly disappointed. "I am very little. Only nineteen." I gaped, finding this shocking. I'm not sure "little" is the word I would use. He was a man, by Canadian standards, certainly a far-cry from the lanky, pock-marked high school grad I'd run into at Adami. "Too young," he shrugged.
"No," I shook my head. "Not too young!" I was just thankful he hadn't referred to me as 'too old'. "There's no such thing as too young."
He flashed me a disarming smile. "I'm glad you think so." Oops. I promptly stopped talking.
A couple of blocks down, Marcello stopped and waved me into a recessed doorway leading to a charismatic little basement trattoria. "This is the place." There was no English menu. It had small, round white tablecloths and a live Italian singer. Absolutely perfect.
Marcello pulled out my chair and opened his mouth to translate when the waitress came by to take our drink order, but before he could say a word I replied, "Vino rosso della casa, per piacere."
Marcello looked impressed, and said I was the first North American he'd seen order wine in Italy.
"Seriously!?" I found this very hard to believe, but he nodded.
"Most want beer."
"I don't really like beer."
He said this was a good attitude to have in Rome.
Although everything on the menu looked good, Marcello steered me toward the pizza. Glancing at the plates on other tables, it became clear that the trattoria's "Napoli-style pizza" was, in fact, the thing to get. I had to admit it looked very appealing. I decided to try it while I had the chance, since I was still undecided on the whole Naples excursion.
Marcello ordered Pizza Margherita with buffalo mozzarella ("is more good" he said) and I followed suit.
Up until now I'd been under the impression that pizza in Rome wasn't all that great, at least not compared to home or other parts of Italy, and in general this was probably true, but, much to my surprise, this particular pizza was damn good. Considering I am from Windsor, that is saying something. The crust was soft and tender, not tough like North American pizza crust. It was puffier around the edges and paper-thin near the centre. The cheese, artisan-fresh, was chunked, not shredded, and the tangy tomato sauce had to be from scratch. It arrived in front of you whole, not pre-sliced, and sprinkled with fresh basil. Most importantly, you eat it with a knife and fork. To pick it up and eat it with your hands like some neanderthal New Yorker would, besides being sacrilegious, instantly and irredeemably label you as a tourist.
I finished my entire pizza, which was okay because, as Marcello rightfully pointed out, Italian pizza was much lighter than North American pizza. At least that's what I chose to tell myself.
I complimented Marcello on his English, saying it was the best I'd heard since arriving in Italy. He said he loved learning about language and culture. He was actually Sardinian, but was studying international law in hopes of becoming a diplomat or getting some other career that would allow him to travel and get paid to explore the world. He had no idea of the extent to which I understood this.
"When you learn a new language," he said, "I feel you gain another soul."
I agreed whole-heartedly and told him about learning Italian. All at once I was struck by the strangest sense of deja vu. This all seemed eerily familiar, as though I'd witnessed this scene somewhere before...then it hit me. I'd seen it earlier that very night, watching Giovanni give Liz Gilbert casual Italian lessons in a Roman trattoria in Eat Pray Love, over a meal and a jug of wine.
We talked passionately about how much better Italian food was than North American. "I think," Marcello reasoned, "this is because North Americans like to eat very...fast. Go go go. Always in a hurry. Italians take two or three hours. This is very important to them."
I conceded that North Americans were always thinking about the future, what they needed to do next, and worrying about it. "We worry too much," I admitted. "I'm particularly bad for this." Then I confided in him the fears concerning the rest of the trip that seemed to be hijacking my every thought lately. "I'm always thinking about where I'm going after this, how I will get there, what plans I have to make, but I have to stop that. That is no way to enjoy life." I flashed on another scene from Eat Pray Love, the lecture Richard From Texas gives to Liz about always trying to be in control:
"Stop trying," he'd advised. "Surrender. Go out into the garden and just sit there and still your mind and watch what happens. Why can't you just let it be!?"
Given my current situation, this seemed too much of a coincidence not to take to heart.
"Si," Marcello concurred, "you already understand the Italian...come si dice...life."
"Philosophy?" I volunteered.
"Yes, philosophy!" He beamed. "You are a philosopher. You must always enjoy this moment, right where you are." He waved his fork at my plate.
"You like the pizza?"
I nodded, acquiescent. "Yes, very much."
"And the wine?"
Marcello shrugged. "Then that's all that matters."