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!

A Tiny Lump of Mozzarella and Half a Bottle of Wine…

Bewitched.

I’m bewitched.

It’s the sky, the sea, the wild wind, the clouds, the dazzle of sunlight on water.

It’s the flirty Italian men. (Oh! You have no idea! They are unstoppable!)

It’s my cozy perch high on the cliffs and the cushy chair by French doors – did I mention French doors – overlooking endless stretches of water. The Mediterranean.  

My house faces east. The house of the rising sun. (I love that song.)

I didn’t come for the sunbaked Roman holiday. I came to scratch the itch in my soul. To answer the question: Was it really as good as I remember? And even while asking I know the answer.

Why did this place lodge in my being when there were so many others that could have?

I’ve been to Norway. I have family there. It’s rugged and fabulous.

There’s a Swedish town, Simrishamn, on the Baltic Sea. It’s an artist’s hideaway. Bougainvillea vines heavy with blossoms climb the walls of pastel-colored houses. Smiling, white-skinned people that look very much like me walk cobblestone streets and live in those houses. Fishing boats dot the harbor, bobbing, bobbing.

In Lucerne, Switzerland, the air is so clean it smells like snow. (Have you smelled snow? It’s a rush of cold in your nostrils that that has no scent, only sensation.)

What about Paris? London? Budapest? Luxembourg?

Canada?

Mexico?

Puerto Rico?

The Caribbean?

This morning I watched dawn break through dark skies. It was holier than prayer. When the wind whipped the sea to froth, tears dribbled down my cheeks and my heart filled with passionate thanks.

It was here, only here, that called me back.

Italy nourishes every part of me. My fascination with other cultures loves the deep dive into this country’s past. Many of the world’s great artists, mathematicians, politicians, musicians, explorers, architects, philosophers, and writers were Italian. What fostered those minds? What foundations were laid to support genius across such a broad spectrum of disciplines?

Refined rubs shoulders with rustic here. Wild is countered by tamed. Tradition butts heads with progress – who wins – while grapes, and olives, and lemons continue to grow.

And the food? I’m not exactly a foodie. In fact I’m the antithesis of food focused. But give me woodfired pizza and a glass of Primitivo di Manduria from the Puglia region and you will be my new best friend forever.

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I shouldn’t have done that. It’s too blustery and wet to go out. All I have in the fridge right now is a tin of those Danish butter cookies, one egg, a little bread and a tiny lump of mozzarella…oh. But wait. There’s still half a bottle of wine. I’ll be just fine.

Go Light on the Blues – A Family Gathering in Bali

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