Monday, October 16, 2017

Lessons Italy and My Italian Friends Taught Me (Involving a Pizza and a Whole Roasted Scup)

It's been a reflective week this past week, these days following Chef Reiton's and my return from living in Italy for a month. I say "living" because that's what we did.

We didn't tour. We didn't visit. We lived.

And in those four weeks of first-time everything for me, I honestly believe I was transformed a little bit by the people and the places and lives I got to know while we were there. When you live, that's generally what happens, I guess. You learn from the experience. And I've heard that travel changes you. I guess I just wasn't expecting it to change how I think about so many things.

For one, I need to chill out. I'm serious. I am so much more chill than I was in a past life, but still, this trip taught me I can do way better. I was determined to not let anything stress me out from the moment we walked out the door (flying stand-by there and back, the driving of southern Italy's roads, only knowing a miniscule fraction of the language, etc., etc., etc.). I was pretty damn close to succeeding. Enough so, at least, to really learn that Life is incredibly more enjoyable when you allow fear and frustrations to roll off when they come sneaking into your being. Take a deep breath and a few seconds to look at how much worse something could be. Amounts of perspective and gratitude will shift dramatically in the right direction.

I also learned that I come from a country that really needs to get out more—and that includes out of our comfort zones. Traveling alone with my husband and staying in people's homes forced us to talk to Italians who spoke little to no English. Which meant we were cramming Italian lessons on Duolingo for a month and a half before we left. Which meant we spoke very, very little Italian. But you know what? It was enough Italian to fumble our way through ordering dinner, communicating with our hosts, and carrying on two-hour conversations with new friends who had the patience to let us speak like three-year-olds.

Frankly, I'd rather be embarrassed about my bad Italian grammar than the other incredibly rude behaviors I saw displayed by Americans who came to Italy expecting to get away with learning ZERO Italian beforehand. I'm sorry, but do the people who visit our country expect us to know their language when they get here? And don't give me the crap about the dominance of the English language. Show some respect for a different culture, learn to say and use "Hello!" frequently, and show some humility when you don't understand something. We saw three women hot off the cruise ship get irritated when our awesome friend, Salvatore, kept asking if they wanted 'pomodoro' pizza. They just kept saying louder and louder, "PIZZA." We finally had to intervene with their obnoxiousness and tell them that 'pomodoro' means 'tomato' because not all pizzas in Italy have tomato on them. We also pointed out as Salvatore calmly and coolly walked away down the street after they placed their order that Bar Max was a COFFEE SHOP and didn't sell pizza. But you know what? Salvatore was going to get them their pizza, anyway. Sure enough, a few minutes later Salvatore returned from his friend's restaurant carrying two pizzas for the women. And then he went and borrowed plates and real silverware from his other friend's restaurant. All for three Americans who didn't take the time to read his store signage or learn two words in Italian, namely, "please" and "thank you." Sigh.

Rude behaviors aside, every time we had one of our awkward-turned-awesome experiences of making new Italian friends, I spent the next day glowing and reminiscing of how much I loved these people. Of how delightful the world is when we spend time getting to know each other, laughing together and kissing each other good-bye.

And every time I had one of those experiences, I also had the thought that being on a tour bus would never, ever have given us—no, FORCED us—into those opportunities. Opportunities that were intimidating at first but opened up our world to friendships and memories that, I hope, will last a lifetime. Opportunities to visit towns, homes and places of beauty well off even the road-less-traveled. (Search for "Fiordo di Crapolla" on Google Map 3D; I hiked there from the top of the hill/mountain with two of our new friends, swam there, and then hiked back up, unlike the tourists who motored in on a boat—which is illegal—and only stayed 30 seconds).

We also had opportunities to eat at an insane number of bars and restaurants. Some that we hit were listed in the tourist guides; those tended to be very good. But the ones which we randomly stumbled across or were recommended by our new friends to have owners and servers that would take care of us—those were the restaurants that we went back to over and over again. I don't care that we weren't trying a new place every meal. The people and the food at these restaurants became home after the hours we spent with them. We didn't want to be anywhere else.

With this repeated visiting of the same restaurants came times when we just told our server to bring whatever dish they loved; we wanted to get out of our food comfort zone. What did this mean? It means we got a lot of fish and seafood. A LOT. I mean, we were in southern Italy. We also got the chef to come out from the kitchen one night and teach us how to eat a whole fish because we had absolutely no idea how to do it.

If you are a loyal reader, you've probably noticed that I don't cook a lot of seafood. And when I do, it's pretty basic. Shrimp. Clams, once in a blue moon. Swordfish even more rarely. That's about it. So this eating-seafood-on-a-daily-basis was really new for me. Like, REALLY. And regardless of the fact that I gained seven pounds in a month (some of it was muscle weight, I swear!), I felt better. I really did. And I really liked all the fishes that I ate. Who knew fresh sardines were out-of-this-world?? (Super bummed they aren't native to the New England waters. Because I would be making them weekly. For real.)

And now we are home. Italy and our new friends are in my dreams every night. I am comforted only by the fact that at least the food we can (mostly) replicate here. We do live with the Atlantic lapping the shore at the end of the block. The unfortunate thing: all this seafood available to me that I learned to love in Italy? I don't know how to prepare it or cook it. Except for sardines from our cooking class with the Duchess. But, we can't...get...


So, two days after we get home, we get an email offering cooking classes with Boston Public Market and Red's Best, a retailer for a network of local fisherman. The class promised to teach how to prepare not just one but THREE different seafood dishes: steamed razor clams, roasted whole scup, and bouillabaisse. DUDE.

Well, I signed us up. We went. We loved it. And we each came home with possibly one of the easiest and most delicious, healthy, not-fishy-at-ALL dinners I've ever made, even if it does sport tiny, razor-sharp teeth:

Whole roasted scup, an economical and sustainable seafood dinner that is delicious and easy!

(How did we prepare it? Roasted it on a baking sheet at 350° F for about half an hour after we stuffed it with some lemon slices and fresh herbs of choice, sprinkled it heavily with salt, and rubbed it with olive oil. That's it.)

NEVER would I have made (and subsequently loved) this dish without Italy. Never.

I'm afraid I might have actually been annoying during the class because I kept remarking of how things reminded me of Italy. Like how the fennel in the bouillabaisse was so Italian. And how our friend, Andrea, had showed us how to clean and trim tuna that his fisherman friend had landed one afternoon. And how we learned to stuff and roll fresh sardines for a gorgeous dish in Palermo and now we are wanting to know what other fish to replace them with...

I'm currently wondering how long this obsession will last. I tend to do that with new things; I get obsessed. A year from now, will I still be telling everyone about the delectable spaghetti con vongole Patrizia's husband made for us in Atrani or of that crazy walk we took to Ravello or of that one time when we were in Trapani and I asked those two men if I could take their picture...?

But honestly, I don't want the obsession to end. I want it to go on and on and continue teaching me the way the past month taught me. As long as I am able, I want to continue living the way that Italy taught me to live: with a full heart, a full belly, a full glass of wine and a full appreciation for the fact that Life hands all of us all kinds of customers. Help each other out in the times of need, share in the goodness when it lands on your plate, and for heaven's sake, EAT.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Visit Me on Pinterest!