I have recently realized that I am a researcher and thus an explorer. Whether I am trying to find a great ingredient for a basket or wandering into the hillsides of Italy, I am always searching for insight. Perhaps it is where a certain chocolate comes from and why that makes a difference. It can be why Balsamic ages best in the attic, as I learned recently from a woman in Modena Italy who was kind enough to give us a tour of her Balsamic Factory. We spent a delightful morning with her showing us around her barrels of balsamic, some going back more than 100 yrs. We sampled vinegars that had been aged 8, 12, 25 and 40 years. It was marvelous to understand the process and thus better appreciate the product. Maybe that is why I research so thoroughly: for appreciation.
That appreciation factor is one of my favorite aspects of travel. I get the opportunity to experience first hand the culture, history and the incredible people that inhabit this planet. We all have our cultural and personal idiosyncrasies. I have found a great advantage to sitting back and enjoying the show.
Travel allows one to connect the dots as it were. For example after my first trip to Italy I could see where the so called New York attitude originated. So many Italians immigrated to the east coast in the early part of this century. That’s where you get the whole neighborhood feel of New York, where you buy your groceries from the market on your block and eat at the same pizza place at least once a week. I find many Italians have that gruff, ” whaddya want”, attitude. Once you get past that there is a warmth that is increased if you make any attempt to speak Italian at all.
The attitude and the manners change by region of course, much the same as in the United States. But throughout, there is an honesty in the demeanor and in the food of Italy that I find refreshing. The Italians can take 3 ingredients and make a dish with depth and texture. I can still remember a simple mixed green salad I had in Rome. It was only a bowl of mixed greens with olive oil and salt. As I write this I can still taste the freshness of the olive oil. Pretty intense. Which I think sums up Italy.
Here is an anecdote from the first day of my first trip to Italy that illustrates the Italian attitude that I love so much. We had just landed in Venice. We had that wobbly tiredness that comes from a long flight and not nearly enough sleep on the nights preceding our trip. We had been in Venice about 2 hours before we set out to have dinner. We ended up at a small place just at the foot of a bridge.
In Italy many of the waiters are older; this is a career after all, not something you do while waiting for something better to come along. We had this gruff older waiter, your quintessential tough Italian, salt and pepper hair, craggy face, somewhat squat.
We were trying to make our way through the menu. It was printed in 4 languages and we were having a hard time reading even the English version. Did we want a Primi Piatti (usually pasta), Contorni (vegetables), or a Secondo (meat or fish dish). You see, most Italian menus are broken down into many categories and you put your meal together. With so much to choose from we were taking a little longer than the waiter wanted.
He comes to take our order and my husband, Wally, orders an antipasto with the intention of ordering something else as well. The waiter starts to walk off and Wally says, “Wait, I think I’ll have the Spaghetti Bolognese.” The waiter fixes him with a steely stare and barks out, “You think or you want?” Wally, eyes wide and a bit startled yells back, “I want I want!”
“Okay” grunts the waiter, with the appropriate hand gesture and takes off.
We almost fell on the floor we were laughing so hard. This was the perfect introduction to a country we have come to love. We all decided that was a very good life lesson. Do you think or do you want? One needs to be definite in this world. I appreciate the lesson.