Wednesday, May 12, 2010

A blessed smattering of pasticcerias

My husband and I just spent 10 days in Italy. Even though I had been there before, there was a lot that surprised me on our trip: the ancient streets, the bewilderingly stunning cathedrals, the espresso, the hidden art on street corners, the haute couture, and, of course, the food.

The food; the fooooood. Our days would begin with a croissant and a cappuccino. We'd then walk and walk and walk and walk and walk and eventually walk into a trattoria or cafe for lunch. We'd spend at least an hour savoring every bite, letting our feet rest, recharging as we basked in the pasta, relished in the truffles, sank into the wine. And that was just lunch.

There was usually gelatto after lunch, an yes, also after dinner. (It's vacation, people!) While the flavors ranged from lemon to hazelnut to caramel, my tasting menu included dark chocolate, chocolate, and very dark chocolate. I could actually feel the cocoa on my tongue, and most of the time it was so rich I couldn't finish the smallest portions, despite desperately wanting to. (The Italian word for the largest portion is "maxi". But late one night Chad asked for a "mega." I imagined this surfer dude mega-gelatto and was giggling so hard I became the obnoxious American and had to leave the store.)

There was fresh penne in saffron sauce; there was fettuccine with duck ragu. There was crusty bread and pecorino with black truffle. There was thin, sweet, plate-sized pizza with creamy mozzarella and there was prosecco. There was minestrone with mashed eggplant and bread, unlike any "soup" I have ever seen. There were foamy smooth cappuccinos. There were fresh cookies in the pasticcerias, so so many pasticcerias that it was hard to commit. What if there was a better one around the corner?

But that was the is Italy. There are always surprises around the corner. There are ancient fountains next to revolutionary-minded graffiti, and Fiat parades with proud owner-drivers honking horns and waving flags driving by 16th Century statues. Women riding bikes in stilettos. Very, very old men driving loud, little Vespas. Amazingly beautiful little girls coming home from school on a water-taxi, meeting their fathers at a "stop" down the canal.

Were these all surprises to me because we were in a different world? Or because we actually had the time to notice them? Probably both, but either way, our routine that we came home to I am seeing with new eyes. There are always surprises around the corner here, too. A different shape, a different flavor, a very different age. But always surprising, and if I use the right eyes, always beautiful.