Thursday, September 29, 2011

pinkies held high in definace

I've written a bit in the past about the ongoing food revolt in my family since we moved to the US a few years ago. Well, nothing has changed. In fact, the situation worsens by the day, and no matter how creative we are, how much we pack our suitcases with when we return from our trips to Italy, how great we are in the kitchen (my husband is a chef, after all), the general lament running through our family life is LOUD and getting LOUDER.

I know food seems like a frivolous topic, but the truth is that it played such a central role to our lives, to our living, for so long. And it's not just the actual food I am referring to... the beautiful, fresh, light, delectable food. It is the ceremony, the ritual of what food represents in Italy that we miss. It is the art of doing the daily things in life. It is constant work to recreate that feeling here. It is so absent outside of our door.

The result is that we never eat out, and if we do, we are always, always disappointed. I usually leave with a stomachache to boot. The giant portions, mysterious fatty sauces covering everything, the ever present CHICKEN in every dish, even salads, has conquered our desire to go out. Not to mention the molestation, violence and perversion of Italian cuisine! The rubbery mozzarella, goopy Alfredo sauce (Who on earth is Alfredo? I never met him in Italy...), the burnt garlic, sugary marinara, crazy pseudo coffee combinations... it's all way too hard to bear. The grunts and moans of my children when they try eating out with friends, especially a pizza, make us sound like the worst of snobs. And I know it is true. And I have become the absolute worst of them all. The expat turned food snob forever. I have actually considered accepting some interpreting projects in Italy lately... let me explain by saying interpreting is truly one of the most demanding, brainy, exhausting jobs in the world, especially in the fields I work in, and almost never goes well with an 8 hour jetlag in tow. But the thought of the cappuccino and warm briosche in the morning is enough to convince me. I'm going to Rome in February.

Many years ago when I was traveling to Nepal with my husband (he was still my boyfriend then) we had a layover of several days in Moscow, where we met two young guys from my husband's city traveling to Nepal on the same flight out with us. I remember that I was still learning Italian, and had just begun to get the swing of the language. I had spent about three months in Italy at that point. I did not know what that word, Italian, really meant when applied to a person yet. I was still a tourist. In Nepal we separated from our friends in Kathmandu, only to meet them again by chance in another smaller Nepalese city before our trek. We went to a cafe, and we all ordered a cup of coffee. The lovely waiter brought our coffee, and as I took a sip of my somewhat watered down, but flavorful enough coffee, I looked on at my future husband and two friends as they clutched their coffee cups with their pinkies in the air, the involuntary gesture of the Italian coffee connoisseur, and tasted the coffee. The expressions that spread from one to the next went from puzzled, to startled, to downright afraid, and finally to disgusted. The pinkies in the air combined with the pursed lips, furrowed brows, splotched cheeks and despairing eyes had me laughing until I almost wet my pants. I will never forget it.

We ordered an espresso machine when we returned from Italy in July. We always drink our coffee (brought over from Italy in our carry-ons) from our moka coffee maker, but this time we decided desperate times call for desperate actions. Our machine is a jewel and makes espresso and cappuccino just like an Italian bar. Every morning, the four of us gather round, no words spoken, sleepy and needing courage to face the day ahead, smelling the glorious aroma from our tiny espresso cups. The Snob family, my two towering boys, my ageless husband with his crazy curls and me, sleepy and dreaming of that warm briosche, with pinkies held high in defiance.


Anonymous said...

Guess that's the downside of living in a place like that. If you were in a big city like LA, Chicago, or NYC (or even smaller college towns), you'd be overwhelmed with amazing food choices. I never realized how dismal the food situation was in middle America until a few years ago when I was there for work. Everything was covered in cheese sauce, ranch dressing, and bacon. For this vegetarian it was a nightmare!

Julie Smith said...

By the way ... this is completely unrelated to this post, but you seem to be an Enneagram type four (out of nine types -- it is sort of a spiritual horoscope that has been very helpful for me), and I really appreciate the creative energy I see in your posts.