The life-or-death importance of how to properly eat an egg

The cover of The Lilliputians Newspaper April 25, 2016

My world is Lilliputian. The reality sinks in a little more each day. It’s an adventure to go from my door down the steps to the garden with my parcel of compost, heave it into the bin, pick up the few leaves that have fallen during the night, and back upstairs again. If I were a citizen of Lilliput and only six inches tall, that would be a herculean undertaking. I’d have a hero’s welcome when I returned. If I returned.

Last night, however, there was real excitement.

In the morning the monkeys came as usual. When I caught one trying to crack open a coconut on the ceramic tiles at the entrance to my door, I grabbed a stick and made loud, threatening sounds. He ran but I could hear him pounding again somewhere on the roof.

Out of sight, out of mind. Eventually the pounding stopped.

During the day I made my famous spicy sweet potato dip and bribed my neighbor. If she would do a Tarot reading for me, I’d ply her with rice crackers and dip. It doesn’t take much to lure either one of us from our separate isolation quarters.

It was a fabulous reading. I got the answers I needed. Then we did hers, paying no attention as a storm rolled in and rain pummeled the roof. Deep in spicy dip and Tarot, nothing could distract us.

Around eight p.m. she took her leave. The rain had stopped. Five minutes later my phone dinged. It was a WhatsApp message from my neighbor. There’s water pouring out of the light fixtures.

I rushed downstairs.

It was a flood of epic proportions. The kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom floors were wading pools. Half of her thick foam mattress topper was soaked. Rivulets of water trailed down the walls and streamed from can lights in the ceiling. She’d gotten a shock when she touched the light switch.

It was no mystery what had happened. The monkey, in his attempt to crack open the coconut, had broken fragile terracotta roof tiles. From the amount of water I seriously doubted there was any roof left.

It had only been eight days since I sent faithful household manager Ketut, home and told him to stay there and stay safe for the month of April. In a panic I called and relayed the story.

This morning he arrived, his perpetual sunny smile in place, and by noon the broken roof was fixed.

To revisit the Lilliputian reference, remember Gulliver’s Travels, the political satire written by Jonathan Swift in 1726?

When the small boat Gulliver was traveling in ran upon rocks, he swam to the island of Lilliput where he walked ashore and fell asleep. When he awoke he was surrounded by people less than six inches tall. They had tied him to the ground with hundreds of tiny ropes. He could easily break free, but he didn’t want to frighten them so allowed himself to be restrained until he’d gained their trust.

Gulliver learned that the Lilliputians were at war with a neighboring country. The source of their conflict was a disagreement over the proper way to eat an egg. He agreed to help them.

In Bali and elsewhere, people are being encouraged to shelter in place. But those of us doing so are a bit like Gulliver. We’re allowing ourselves to be restrained.

In time, cooped up in tight quarters, even if it’s done willingly, patience grows short, tempers flare, and something as ridiculous as the proper way to eat an egg can become the most important priority of life. Be on the lookout for such silliness and take a step back to consider before you engage.

If the enemy is external, say monkeys for instance…

I also had to take a step back and remember they were here first. I’m the shipwrecked giant washed up on their shores, the scary stranger who consumes their food and ruins their environment. The issue isn’t the proper way to eat an egg. It’s domination. Who gets to be here and what price do we pay to stay?

Right now we’re paying the price of our massive consumption of wilderness at the expense of the animal life it supports. If winning this war against disease means going back to the way things were, we’ve lost. That reality is unsustainable. That’s what got us where we are.

If losing means learning how to eat an egg their way, we’ve won. But nobody knows what that looks like. And nobody knows who ‘they’ are.

Greetings Fellow Dystopians

I don’t recognize this new world we’ve awakened to.

Yesterday Ketut went home to spend two days with his family. This morning I got word that the island is preparing to lock down. Stock up, was the warning.

I’d already placed a big order with Indimete – it was delivered today.

I messaged Ketut a grocery list and requested enough fruits and veggies to last a month. It seemed safer for him to shop in his village and avoid the masses that flood Ubud market. After he brings my food supply tomorrow, I’ll send him back to his family to shelter in place for the rest of April.

Then my doors will close and I’ll hunker in.

Fortunately for me, a like-minded friend moved in downstairs this week. There’s a great deal of comfort having another virus-free human to interact with. I know myself well enough to realize I can do ‘alone’ if I must. The mental equipment for solitary survival is in place. But it would be harder. Much harder.

I don’t discount the connections I make with people who respond to my writing. They’re heartwarming. During my thirty-three-day ‘silent retreat’ in Italy (silent only because I didn’t speak the language) social media was my saving grace. But there’s nothing like a living, breathing, flesh-and-blood friend who recognizes the deer-in-headlights stare and pours a glass of wine!

A line in a book I’ve been reading, Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell, struck me as having significance for the current situation. (A writer friend, Steve Castley, would tell me I need a transition between this paragraph and the one before, and he’s right. I beg forgiveness.) Here’s that inspirational line:

An abyss cannot be crossed in two steps.

It’s like my grocery order. I’m sure Ketut was surprised to get a Whatsapp list of twenty-six items in large quantities when my usual request is four in small amounts. And he was probably even more shocked to hear he gets a month’s paid vacation. But the time for hesitation has passed. I heeded the warning and leaped the abyss.

Too many leaders are doing the two-step maneuver with deadly results. Don’t take your cues from them. Be proactive with your own health and that of your family. This disease waits for no one.

Food for thought: Perhaps reflect on a time in the past when you’ve tried to cross the abyss in two steps. Then make a commitment to leap from now on.

Food Glorious Food Glorious Fooooood!

I’ve embraced food-love.

Not just the flavors and nutritional value for my body, but the beauty, the colors and textures, the rugged heartiness or delicate elegance of the visuals (and victuals) on my plate.

I still prefer simplicity. One dish well-prepared delights me far more than a variety. I don’t know why that is – maybe I’m too easily stimulated by flavors. Maybe my palette gets confused and goes into overwhelm.

Whatever the reason, I’m much happier going deep into the complexities of a single entrée than sampling many. A table groaning with selections thrills some. Maybe they’re the true foodies. But for me, in quantities of food and friends, less is more.

Speaking of friends, small-talk, the inane chatter between people who don’t know each other well and may not care to, is painful for me. It’s like those all-you-can-eat buffets where you leave grossly stuffed but haven’t really tasted anything. I’ve taken new acquaintances aback when, after a few minutes of chit-chat I say, “So…tell me about your childhood.” The ones who reply, You first, are friends for life.

Food and friends. The two go hand-in-glove, don’t they? I hadn’t intended to write about friends – they just slipped in. But it makes sense. Sharing the daily repast is probably part of our DNA from the beginning. I don’t think Eve ate Adam’s rib. But she did offer him an apple – which didn’t end well. Hmm. Bad analogy. However, I think historically speaking, breaking bread together has been a peaceful endeavor, not an act of war.

But about the photos…

That’s lentil stew ladled atop the brick-hard bread I’ve raved about. I paired it with Sartori Pinot Grigio. A red wine would have been too heavy. Even though the slices of spicy salami I boiled first, created an intensely flavorful stock, and the chunk of bread added heft, the white complemented beautifully without overpowering.

In spite of the stunning meals I’ve had here, I was missing my Bali breakfast of homemade granola and coconut yogurt, topped with tropical fruit. On my next trip to Tutto per Tutti market I scanned the cereals on offer and came home with Kelloggs All Bran, a container of Yomo plain yogurt, bananas and strawberries – not quite dragon fruit and papaya but adequate.

The first day I ate it with yogurt. The following day I ate it without. It was either surprisingly good or I’ve completely forgotten the taste of my other life.

My latest achievement is a stew identical to the first, but this time I added kale and more garlic. Not only that, there are still plenty of bread boulders to submerge in the broth for exciting crunchy mouthfuls. That bread! I wish I could bring a year’s supply back with me – although it wouldn’t be the same in Bali’s climate. A bit heavy perhaps…?

I’m loving this – the prep and eating of food. I wouldn’t want to devote my life to it, but it’s fun for an hour or so during the day.

And in case you’ve forgotten, here are the lyrics to the last stanza of Food Glorious Food from the musical, Oliver:

What wouldn’t we give for
That extra bit more
That’s all we live for
Why should we be fated to do
Nothing but brood on food
Magical food,
Wonderful food
marvelous food,
Beautiful food,
Food, Glorious food glorious fooooooood

Cooking in Italy – I Love You Felicia!

It was a three-hour meal. A three-hour, gourmet, how many courses I don’t know, Italian, homemade meal. Thank you Felicia. I love you Felicia.

I was told to come at twelve o’clock. I’d been to the house a week ago for a brief introduction but Nicola sent a picture of the doorway to ensure I would find it again.

I was certain it was somewhere on the same stairway that I travel almost every day. Ten minutes should be plenty of time to get there. I labored to the top passing many doors but not THAT door. I must have missed it…how? Impossible! Back down. Still no door. Back up to the top. Breathing hard. No internet. Cannot call for help. Panic. Maybe it wasn’t this stairway.

It wasn’t.

At 11:58 I found the right stairway. At 11:59 I found the door.

Nicola greeted me and I followed him to the kitchen where Felicia was already hard at work. Moist air, heavy with the scents of Italy, wrapped around me like a mother’s hug. Then Felicia gave me the real thing with the two-cheeks kiss that is customary here and cooking class began.

First it was totano – a variety of squid caught in the rocky depths close to the coast. Nicola explained the totano found near the shore are red, but those caught farther out to sea where the bottom is sandy are white and the flavor isn’t as good. These, he said, were red ones.

Fresh from the frying pan into the mouth. Hot and…oh, my! The flesh was delicate, so tender and sweet. “How many totano does it take to make all this?” I asked. Nicola translated my question. Felicia opened the fridge and pulled out a monster.

“Grande!” I said, backing up a few steps. They laughed.

Nicola had to run an errand. Suddenly Felicia and I were on our own to navigate the language as best we could. I connected to her internet and brought up Google Translate. I’d come prepared with a list of questions, first in English so I’d know what I was asking, then in Italian so I could practice the language.

It was great. She got every question immediately, even though I stumbled and bumbled and massacred the words. Her answers were long, emphatic, emotional – even Google couldn’t follow. Nonetheless, we managed, and had good laughs in the process.

When the last tentacled leg of squid had been fried, I was moved out of the kitchen to a table on the terrace set for four and told to sit. The plate of crispy totano was set in front of me followed by a bowl of buffalo mozzarella, then salami, pepperoni, prosciutto, bread, and wine.

Mangiare, my hostess said. I started to ask if others were coming but she interrupted. Mangiare! Mangiare! and disappeared into the kitchen. Like it or not, I was to eat regardless of three empty chairs awaiting other guests.

I nibbled on a leg of squid. Love that stuff. Helped myself to one of the smaller balls of mozzarella and a strip of prosciutto savoring the contrast of the salty meat with creamy cheese. Every so often Felicia made an appearance to re-issue her command, Mangiare, mangiare!

When I couldn’t mangiare another bite, I ventured back into the kitchen.

Tomato sauce bubbled on the stove. I asked her what ingredients she’d used. Pomodoro, olio, acciuga, origano, basilico, acqua. She ticked them off on her fingers. I’ve been grocery shopping often enough now to know all of the words except acciuga. She spelled as I typed and up popped anchovies. Is that the mystery ingredient that makes Italian tomato sauce a culinary triumph?

I pointed to another pot. Melanzana, she said but this time didn’t let me Google it. She went to the refrigerator and pulled out an eggplant then motioned me to the windowsill. Mozzarella, parmigiano, and pecorino cheeses waited in majolica bowls.

Basilico, she said, laughed, and flung open the window.

Basil doesn’t get any fresher than that.

It was time for pasta. As she poured it into the kettle I asked what kind it was. Scialatielli, she said. I’d never heard of it. She showed me the label.

I decided to throw in a few more questions while the pasta cooked. “Where did you meet Rafaele,” I asked. She looked confused. I tried again. “Where did you meet your husband?” I understood the word for school in her answer and the sparkle in her eyes told me the rest.

“Did he chase you?” Oh, the laughter.

“All the way from the school to the sea,” she said, motioning the trajectory down the mountainside with a sweep of her arms.

“What did Rafaele do for work?” Again she looked confused. “Rafaele, your husband,” I said.

If I thought she’d laughed before, this time tears squirted from her eyes. I double-checked the the word for husband. It appeared correct. When she was finally able to speak, she said, “Rafaele is my brother. Gaetano is my husband.”

I was shocked to my toenails. I thought the old man sitting with his walker was her father. Come to find out, she’s seventy-nine and he’s eighty but he broke both hips this year and is housebound. She takes care of him.

“I’m sorry, Felicia. That’s hard.” She agreed.

Just then Nicola returned from his trip to Positano and joined us. Out came the pasta, biscotti, and wine. The empty chairs were filled and we had our translator back.

I’d been a wee bit skittish about the anchovies – I’m not a fan. But they did their job. The pasta was magnificent.

When I was certain I couldn’t eat another morsel, out came Felicia with an enormous bowl of fresh fruit, chiacchiere, and a pineapple upside-down cake.

The slab of cake she cut for me could have served four people. But did I eat it? You better believe I did, then drank the little cup of Neapolitano mocha espresso which guaranteed I would stay awake to finish this post even in a food coma!

Image result for napolitano mocha espresso]

What an amazing day. What special people. What spectacular food. “Now you can go home to Bali and make this dinner for all your friends,” Nicola said as I bid them farewell.

You know what, friends? Don’t hold your breath!

How-to Guide for Loving Food

After the blast of insight – the revelation about food that has now been playing with my head for over twenty-four hours – I felt compelled to spend the day at home. Life-changing information can be overwhelming and the question, Where do I start? begged an answer.

The morning held a promise of warmth and I envisioned sunbathing on the terrace – fully clothed of course, it’s not THAT warm – while allowing random thoughts to morph into an action plan, a ‘how to’ guide for loving food.

I took The School of Essential Ingredients, with me to a lounge chair and immersed myself in its pages. The sky was a cloudless blue bowl and the sun soaked gently into my bones.

I skimmed chapters, looking for clues. How do I do this? How do I go from food averse to food lover?

The first hint came on page 45:

If you think about it, she went on, every time we prepare food we interrupt a life cycle. We pull up a carrot or kill a crab – or maybe just stop the mold that’s growing on a wedge of cheese. We make meals with those ingredients and in doing so we give life to something else. It’s a basic equation, and if we pretend it doesn’t exist, we’re likely to miss the other important lesson, which is to give respect… So we start there.

So we start there.

When I imagined the life cycles I’d interrupted by eating pizza last night – and tiramisu – and wine…I felt a little ill. Then there was the banana this morning. Those were alive once. Vital, vegetable beings. A pig had been sacrificed to make the pepperoni sausage I’d enjoyed earlier in the day. The life-force within those ingredients had been transferred to me.

Acknowledging the obvious, which hadn’t been obvious until now, had an affect. I doubted I would ever eat anything again without the thought-flash that lives were lost to provide this meal and respect should be shown because of that fact. But show respect how?

Some people pray before eating. That was the routine growing up. GodblessthisfoodinJesusnameamen. Did it make me respect the gift of food? No. In Balinese Hinduism, there are ceremonies honoring plants, and rituals performed before taking animal life. It’s a beautiful way of showing respect in that culture.

Neither of those would work for me.

I kept reading. On page 115 I found another profound thought:

…every meal you eat, you eat time — the weeks it takes to ripen a tomato, the years to grow a fig tree. And every meal you cook is time out of your day…

Cooking had seemed a monumental waste of time. I resented having to peel potatoes and wait for them to boil. They were knobby, awkward to handle, and covered with gritty soil. They left a residue of sandy earth in the sink so it wasn’t just about peeling a potato, it included the necessity of cleaning the sink.

Fruit was my friend. Slice and eat. Done. Only minutes of prep…seconds…then I could get on to more pressing things. I suddenly felt a weight of guilt for dismissing the months it took for the potato to become mature and the mere minutes it cost me to prepare it. A few paragraphs later I was confronted by that very thought:

Antonia made celebrations of things he had always dismissed as moments to be rushed through on the way to something more important. Being around her he found even everyday experiences were deeper, nuanced satisfaction and awareness slipped in between the layers of life like love notes hidden in the pages of a textbook.

Like love notes hidden in the pages of a textbook. Yes! That’s the feeling I have to capture. That’s how I want to relate to food – with a thrilling rush of excitement – like finding an unexpected love note from the only one who matters.

I schedule time for yoga, meditation, and writing. From now on I will set aside time for food. The white chocolate covered fig I’m planning to eat in a few minutes took over two months to ripen. The tree it grew on was five years old before it could produce fruit. I owe that fig my time. Even if no prep is required, I need to stop, acknowledge the energy transfer that is about to happen, and experience every bite with gratitude and respect for the sacrifice of a life.

I confess I had no idea where this article was going when I started writing it. I’d found the excerpts today while skimming through the book, but they felt random and disconnected. Somehow in processing my questions in this post, I’ve gotten closer to finding answers that work for me.

Now onward to the respectful, exciting enjoyment of eating my fig!

Food is Not a Four-Letter Word

I heard a rumor. A pizza restaurant reopened for the season just above Tutto per Tutti market.

I waited until noon, then grabbed my jacket and – did I say above the market – the market that is 228 steps above me?

I’ve learned to do twenty steps then rest. Twenty more then rest. That way I make it to the top without exciting my heart to the point of beating itself right out of my chest!

I ascended and found the road that took me higher. At the top was La Moressa, a white-washed cafe with tables overlooking the sea. I went inside and greeted the man behind the counter.

“You’re open,” I said.

“Yes, the door is open,” he replied.

“Do you have pizza?”

“Yes, we have.”

“I’ve been waiting for days to have pizza. Everything is closed. I’m so excited! May I see a menu?”

“Yes, Signora, but perhaps you will come back. We don’t serve until five.”

I’m not dismayed. I’ve found a restaurant that serves pizza and it will be open tonight at five. I don’t have to go through any tunnels. It’s literally directly over my head. I’ll be there!

On my way down I stopped at Tutto per Tutti. I wanted pepperoni. It’s a meat I recognize.

I had big plans for this sausage…

…and the oven I’d yet to touch.

Has a pan ever been watched so closely? Was the heat actually on? Patience paid off. Soon the cheese was bubbling and turning a light caramel color. I sat down to an open-faced sandwich fit for angels: focaccia bread base, tomato sauce laced with juicy chunks of green and black olives, thinly sliced pepperoni, fresh tomatoes, and buffalo mozzarella.

I took my plate and wine to the terrace.

The flavors romanced my tongue. I groaned with pleasure licking my greasy tomato-stained fingers. The Remole Toscana provided a perfect balance of bold yet subtle support to the rich meal.

Then, holding true to my latest intention (which you’ll hear about shortly) I opened the package of white chocolate covered figs, poured a little more wine, and exponentially upped the ecstacy factor.

Warm Mediterranean sun and lapping waves, birdcalls, soft breezes, felt like all the dreams I’ve ever dreamed of paradise.

So what’s going on with the sudden focus on FOOD? Sit back. It’s a story.

Several months ago I was gifted an astrological reading. But this wasn’t an ordinary birthchart recap. This one centered around Ceres, an asteroid that represents food, nurturing, relationships, and all the phases of a woman’s life.

It was, as readings should be, affirming, uplifting, and had ah-ha moments that astounded me. Beauty, the practitioner said, played a huge role in my life. But the planet Saturn maintained a strong presence which indicated starvation.

Starvation, she continued, can be other than food. Neglect by parents, not enough approval, not enough love are all forms of starvation as understood by this reading. It may also indicate harsh dieting. Fasts. Self-inflicted restrictions around what is eaten, how much, and when. What she said resonated.

At the end of our session she summarized. I had a healthy relationship with food. I didn’t live to eat, I ate to live. I wasn’t ruled by food nor did I use it for comfort, distraction, or as a substitute for pleasure. I had low expectations for food unlike much in our modern culture, she said.

I felt pretty good about myself after the reading. I’d basically been given a green light to keep doing what I was doing.

When I landed in Italy, on the shelf in my house was a book: The School of Essential Ingredients, by Erica Bauermeister. It was the only one in English besides a guidebook.

Strange title, I thought. It will either be superbly boring or, with a title like that, quirky.

About one-third of the way through I started getting uncomfortable.

At the half-way point awareness lights were flickering on.

I cried at the end, something I haven’t done with a book for a very long time. Yes, the characters were intelligently and lovingly portrayed. Yes, the writing was beautiful to the point, almost, of poetry. Yes, the story was compelling and the plot nicely resolved. But that’s not what brought me to tears.

In contrast to the author’s voluptuous, tantalizing, reverent treatment of food I saw my starvation.

But it went far beyond that. The connections were heartbreakingly clear. My hostility toward food had drifted over everything in my life and cast shadows where sunlight should have been. I’d held myself too tightly for true intimacy. I was far too regimented to let loose and love. I hated to grocery shop, hated to cook…and, Play? What was that?

I remember my mother coming to visit me at one point in my mid twenties. She opened the refrigerator to a lone head of lettuce. Turning a worried frown toward me she asked, “Honey, what do you eat?”

“Lettuce…?” I shrugged.

Since moving to Bali eight years ago, I’ve been happy. Insanely happy. Food has become more interesting and I’ve developed an obsession for nachos, probably because good ones are next to impossible to find. A cafe in the rice fields has amazing black rice pudding and coconut gelato. I order it with Vietnamese coffee.

But after reading Essential Ingredients, I’ve gained a broader perspective. Food is life, and if I want to experience all life has to offer, I need to radically change my relationship to food. I want to invite food to take its honored place in my life. I want to take time to prepare delicious meals and then to eat mindfully, submerged in flavors and textures and the joy of sustenance.

Is it any accident that Erica Bauermeister’s book was on my shelf? That I’ve come to Italy to gain clarity for the path ahead? That food would show up as a central issue in a place where food and love go hand-in-hand? And that I’d be so ready?

Ah! The magic. The synchronicity.

Ahhhhh! Italy!

So…before you ask…yes. I went back to La Messaro tonight and had a PIZZA!!!!!

Gorgonzola and walnuts. With wine. And tiramisu for dessert.

And then…

I walked home. Down all those stairs. In the dark!

It got darker

and darker

and darker

until there was no light at all. Yikes!

No Soup For You! (No Pizza Either)

At noon I set out for La Brace. I’d been told it was the only restaurant in town that served pizza during off season.

The map indicated a one mile (1.6 km) walk. Perfect. I’d had an apple for breakfast. By the time I hiked uphill for thirty minutes I’d be ready for a sizeable lunch.

I was about one-third of the way when I rounded a bend and Praiano appeared in miniature. I crossed the highway to get a better look. The detail! All the major landmarks were there, totally recognizable.

Who maintains this art? How does it survive the ripping winds and rain torrents that slam the coast? My questions, of course, went unanswered.

A shadow slid over the wee village and I looked up. The weather app said no rain but the sky suggested otherwise. I resumed my journey but picked up the pace. I didn’t care what that foreboding black mass did AFTER I was safely ensconced in the cafe eating my pizza.

In spite of the gloom the air was warm and, as I’ve come to expect, I was the only human strolling the streets. When they say it gets quiet in winter, they mean graveyard quiet.

I passed San Gennaro with the blue dome and there was the sign for La Brace. The door stood open and I walked in. A lone gent behind the counter greeted me. “Buongiorno.”

“Buongiorno. Do you have pizza today?”

“No pizza,” he said.

“Is this La Brace?”

“No. That’s upstairs. They’re closed.”

No. Say it isn’t so. All I want is pizza. “Are they ever open?” My tone was accusatory with a tinge of whine.

“Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. You like pasta?”

Do I like pasta? I haven’t eaten it in years unless you consider the noodles in Balinese mie goreng. But, bottom line, I was hungry. “What kind?” I asked.

“I have pasta with tomato and mozzarella, pasta with clam sauce…what kind you want? You want white wine, red wine?”

So it was decided. I would have the house white with tomato mozzarella pasta.

I settled at a table. Bread, olive oil, and wine appeared. “My name is Piccolo,” my cheerful host said.

The cafe was empty except for us so we chatted. He told me he’d married a woman from Argentina thirty years ago and their son was now 26.

I asked if I could take photos.

“Of course.”

I’d just returned to my chair when a Taiwanese couple walked in and sat at the table in front of me. I said hello and the conversation began. She was an English teacher and spoke the language perfectly. She asked where I was from. In 2004 she was with a tour in Ubud and remembered Monkey Forest.

I laughed. “When you were about twelve?” I asked.

“No, I was twenty-three. I love to travel.”

We’d both been to Budapest. I remembered the bridges. She’d gone to the Turkish baths. In Italy they were touring from Venice to Amalfi by scooter. “You should come to Taiwan,” she said. “Bali is so close. But don’t go to Taipei. It’s just a big city. Come to Tainan. I live there. That’s the real Taiwan.”

I told her Tainan had just gone to the top of my travel list.

Cooking aromas swirled around us. Piccolo delivered my pasta with a flourish.

Mama mia! This was not five-for-a-dollar boxed mac ‘n’ cheese from my domestic goddess days. This was the real deal, cooked by the real deal, served by the real deal.

My Taiwanese friends ordered the pasta with clam sauce. Our feet tapped and heads bobbed to classic American rock playing at just the right volume from the cafe’s sound system.

In the midst of our cheerful intimacy, two men came in carrying a couple of bottles of wine. Piccolo greeted them loudly then called to me. “Sherry! These men have the best wine in Italy.” He herded them to my table and introduced us.

Gaetano handed me his card. “You must come. I have the only grape of this kind in the world. My wine is the best.”

“I think I must,” I said as I studied the gold-embossed logo and the name: Tenuta San Francesco Winery.

“Call me,” Gaetano said. “I will make a special tour for you. Through the farmlands. We are in a beautiful valley.”

They left me and headed for the back table. Piccolo winked. “You are ready for dessert?”

What? Dessert? On top of a week’s worth of pasta?

“Tiramisu?” I asked. What the heck! It’s my month-long birthday celebration. I will eat and drink as often and as much as I want.

“Yes, I have tiramisu. I make it myself.”

“Bring it on, Piccolo!”

There’s tiramisu and tiramisu. This was by far the best I’d ever eaten anywhere. It made me forget how full I was. Made me wish I’d ordered two.

Things happen for a reason. It was the kind of day I’d envisioned, the Italy I’d hoped for. Spontaneity. Connection. Authenticity. Surprise.

What if La Brace had been open?

I’d have eaten pizza, of course.

Domestic Goddess Meltdown in Praiano

Domestic goddess I’m not. I did my stint. Raised a family. Managed to feed, clothe, and nurture three daughters into high-achieving adulthood. Was not as successful with husbands.

I’ve created a life in Bali that doesn’t require the skills I lack. But I’m in Italy for a month and I’ve found it necessitates a bit of do-it-yourself-ing.

You’ll need a frame of reference. At home I have a college dorm size refrigerator, a cooktop, and a yogurt maker. That’s it. No oven, no dishwasher, no mixer, not even a rice cooker. Why? I think you’re getting the picture. I don’t cook.

In Ubud there are 700 restaurants within steps of my door. In Praiano I’ve found one that’s open. The rest are closed for low season. Time to sharpen those non-existent homemaker skills.

I rolled up my sleeves and tackled the electric teapot. Easy. Then the toaster. Nothing to it. The espresso machine was slightly more challenging but after a few bungled attempts I mastered it.

The toaster oven? I hid it in the cabinet – frivolous, unnecessary gadget. Won’t go there.

And the dishwasher? The control panel looked like the console of a commercial jetliner. I snapped the door shut and turned with gratitude toward the old-fashioned sink, faucet, and drainboard.

Over this first week I’ve grown comfortable with the kitchen conveniences. But today was day eight and I was out of clean clothes.

There’s a cute little washing machine tucked under the counter. It’s compact like the cars here. Very European. My host introduced us briefly when I arrived and it looked like every other automatic washer I’d seen. I didn’t give it a passing thought. Big mistake.

Unaware of impending doom, I gathered my soiled clothes, stuffed them inside and closed the door. I studied the controls…

and studied…

and studied.

Holding my breath, I pushed a button. Then another. Nothing happened. What was I missing?

Before I started, I’d glanced at a leaflet lying on top of the machine hoping for a how-to guide. It left me just as baffled as I already was. I picked it up again and noticed something I’d missed. At the top, written in pencil, was the helpful inscription, On power switch is beside kitchen window.

I walked to the kitchen window and turned the power switch on. The washer beeped.

When I pushed buttons this time, red lights flashed. Progress. But the machine still didn’t start. I twisted the knob and tried every combination of buttons available. Nada.

Frustrated, I sat back reminding myself I’d been washing clothes for a very long time and this couldn’t possibly be that difficult. Then I made another stab at the buttons.

What’s the Einstein quote about insanity – doing the same thing over and over expecting different results?

Should I call the landlord and admit defeat? Take a direct hit to my pride?

Or…

I Googled YouTube: Instructions for operating Aquamatic Class AA 800 rpm, and guess what? Within moments my clothes were swishing happily.

There’s no dryer, maybe a good thing under the circumstances. But in the storage room a monster rack looked like it could do the job. I wrestled it to an upright position – easier said than done – and dragged it into the bedroom.

The washer droned on. I kept a suspicious eye on it while tending to emails, not fully trusting it would do its job without further intervention. But finally, with a hiss and sigh, it stopped. I emptied it and festooned the rack with clean, sweet-smelling clothes.

I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I have this ridiculous sense of achievement that is grossly out of proportion to the task accomplished. Like I climbed Mt. Everest. Or swam the English Channel. Go ahead and laugh, but if this is the way it feels to conquer a machine, I may just give that toaster oven a go.

Thighs of Steel and Bionic Knees – Praiano Day 5

This morning broke clear and orange. I listened. No flapping. No banging. No shrieking howls. Could it be…no wind? I tiptoed to the terrace. A huge, quiet dawn settled over me.

Then a little voice in my head said, “LET THE GAMES BEGIN!”

Maybe it’s a residual Viking gene. Or maybe it’s my sun in the ninth house of travel. Maybe both. All I know is that I love to explore new places and delve into different cultures. It was time to delve and explore.

There was a lot I didn’t know this morning that I know now. One of my main misconceptions was a biggie. I assumed all the little lines on the map that said Via, were roads.

A sunshine high and a cozy 51°F (10.5°C) made it perfect walking weather. The 112 steps to the street were by now child’s play. I locked the blue gate behind me and took a left on Via Roma. My goal was Marina Tuttu per Tutti, a real grocery store somewhere on the cliff above. If I connected with Via Miglina, it would take me to Via San Giovanni. From there I’d need to find Via La Sciola – maybe – and that would deliver me to Via Umberto where I’d turn right and…

One thing I knew for sure. There was no way I could get lost. If things started looking questionable, all I had to do was head for the water. Via Roma runs the length of Praiano along the coast. That fact brought considerable peace to my directionally challenged self.

It was a little farther than I thought to Via Miglina. But I found it, made the sharp turn, and began climbing. There was a truck parked in the middle of the road a few meters ahead. A bit rude, I thought, since nothing much besides me could get around him.

In a few more steps I saw why it didn’t matter. Via Miglina became a footpath.

And then it became steps.

And so it went – footpath, steps, footpath, steps…

I’d reached a semi-level stretch and heard birds. That isn’t unusual in itself, but these were loud and sounded suspiciously like the parakeets we had when I was growing up. I could have sworn it was our Petey and Sugar. It was loud. I glanced down. Two wire covered cages were set into the wall at knee level. Inside – parakeets.

The birds seemed happy and well-tended. I left the strange aviary and trudged on.

In the short time I’ve been here I’ve been struck by the artistic brilliance that seems to be Italy’s birthright. It blossoms everywhere and this path was no exception.

It just appeared, all this art on the narrow path hugging the wall. How can one not be inspired when creativity sprouts from every crevice and pore?

Up to this moment I hadn’t met another soul on the Via Miglina. But as I left the art and continued on, I heard what sounded like a an army of Dutchmen in wooden shoes approaching.

I’m still kicking myself that I didn’t take a picture. I was stunned out of my wits to see a man riding a mule and leading another one. “Hello!” I said. “Buongiorno,” he replied. Clop-clop, clop-clop, clop-clop. I stared after them until they rounded a corner out of sight. What I remember most clearly is how healthy the mules looked. Or donkeys – I’m not an expert. Their coats shone. Their eyes were clear and bright. They held their heads high and looked quite pleased to be helping out. The one in the rear was carrying building materials.

I snapped out of my daze when I noticed a sign by a flight of steps going down. Via Asciola it said. Whoops! That wasn’t on my list. Had I gone too far? Via San Giovanni must be behind me, but where?

I did an about-face and retraced my steps. Sure enough, there it was. I read the faint sign that had been behind me when I passed from the other direction. Via San Giovanni. Another Via that wasn’t a road.

By now my thighs were feeling a bit jelly-ish. When I cleared the last step and turned right on Via Umberto, there it was! Tuttu per Tutti – big as life!

It was a proper grocery store and, unlike Asian markets I’ve been in, most things were recognizable. There were probably six other people shopping and they may have wondered why I went so slowly, perusing each shelf as though memorizing it’s contents – which I was. A lot can be learned about people by studying what they eat.

When my spinach, feta cheese, pesto, crackers, and laundry soap were bagged, the stereotypical Italian clerk – shock of graying hair, larger nose, sparkling dark eyes and bushy mustache – beamed a broad, white-toothed smile. It takes so little to turn me to mush! “Grazie!” I said, as I slung a much heavier pack onto my back and started home.

Lady Luck was with me. She usually is. I’d gone only a few steps and noticed a Via I hadn’t seen before. I stood staring down it’s plunging corridor and far, far below there were cars whizzing by. A shortcut!

At the bottom I found myself once again on Via Miglina.

Now that I knew what I was looking for, in no time I’d found a second short-cut to the Via Roma and…the sea.

I promise…I will never complain about the stairs into Penestanan again! Of course there is something about doing that climb in 90°F (32.2°C). It isn’t quite apples to apples…but nonetheless, I promise!

When I reached the street I took a photo so I’d remember. The next time I want to visit Tuttu per Tutti this staircase will shave fifteen minutes off my journey!

I had one more stop…

Angela’s shop. I wanted to check in with my new friend and buy a second bottle of Italian wine. A young girl greeted me. I told her I’d been in before and met Angela. “I’m her daughter,” she said and picked up her cell phone. I turned to the wine shelf. The Pinot Grigio was delicious but I was ready for a robust red. A Cabernet Sauvignon called Cielo caught my eye just as Angela burst through the door.

“My daughter said you were here.” So that was the phone call.

“Angela! Good to see you!” We chatted about the weather.

“The sun is good for you, no?” she said.

“Good for me, good for you,” I replied, knowing as I said it I was channeling every shopkeeper in Bali.

I have two thoughts as I finish this post and take the first sips of a truly exquisite wine.

One, I’m glad I’m doing this now…

and

Two, I’m SO glad I’m doing this now!

My Other Lover

When you have a lover, every sense is heightened, every sight, sound, and scent floods your heart with joy.

I have two such paramours. They exist on opposite sides of the world. Bali was my first. We met in 2010. I was besotted. We’ve been together for eight enchanting years and my passion is stronger today than ever. But another has haunted me. I’ve wondered, imagined, desired, refrained…

until now.

When we were introduced I wasn’t free. I hid my heart and left. But I couldn’t forget the force of that energy, the longing to explore, to learn, to cast caution to the wind.

At seventy I’ve returned. It’s like yesterday, but the intensity of feeling is ten-thousand times stronger. Perhaps because now I know what I want and I don’t compromise. Perhaps because Bali has been a kind and gentle companion and is there to go home to. Perhaps because I know time is short and life is a gift that mustn’t be squandered.

I’m inviting you along to share this adventure. Meet my Italian lover. Like Bali, this one is also a place…

Praiano, on the Amalfi Coast of Italy.

The cliffs, the clouds – around every hairpin turn is a vista of excruciating beauty.
I was in jetlag haze – maybe this is Vico Equense, or Sorrento, or Positano, or…? All of the towns we passed are jewels along the road to Praiano.
When I was here before it was high season. This road was bumper-to-bumper traffic. What a difference in February.
These views take my breath away.
The architecture, ancient walls, stairways…be still my heart!
Nicola, my Airbnb host, unlocked the blue gate at the street and we started up the steps…
112 steps to be exact – to my front door. There’s no other way in…or out…112 steps…!
The view over Praiano and the Mediterranean from my terrace. The stuff of dreams! The two-storey blue building in the center of this photo is the nearest market. I needed food and met Angela, the owner. I asked if she had eggs. She thought she had eggs…
“Please wait,” she said and ran out the door. In a moment she returned with 3 eggs. She’s delightful! I’ve found a new friend.
What do you do when you arrive in Italy after 30 hours of travel?
Night is as seductive as day.

So what do you think? Is this one a keeper? It’s going to be an amazing month! Best of all, with lovers like this, no one gets jealous!

Previous Older Entries

%d bloggers like this: