Friday, February 27, 2015

Letters From Roma - "Thoughts on Being Full"

"You no like?"  she asked with a hinge of sadness in her voice as she cleared my half eaten plate of truffle risotto.  
"No, no!" I clamored, 'I LOVED it, I'm just full"
"Oh" she sighed, adding a reassuring "good, va bene" before she turned on her heel and disappeared behind a curtain that separated the dining room from the kitchen. 

Sitting in Piazza Santa Maria last night, live music orchestrating the soundtrack to my evening, I stared down at the empty table before me and I couldn't help but think about how full I actually was, how full I truly am here.  Rome makes me feel full.  Full of life, full of adventure, full of wine, full of culture and certainly, full to the brim of truffle risotto, amongst other incredible dishes.  

Today I attended a 6 hour cooking class which quickly proved to be my favorite thing that I have done thus far in Roma.  The class was a short five minute walk from my apartment, in an unsuspecting building down a quiet old alley.  Andrea was the chef, classically trained of course and as an added bonus, extremely good looking.  There were 8 other people in attendance besides myself; a couple from London, a girl and her aunt from Glasgow, two Italian men, a woman from New York and her friend Alan, a writer, who is a New Yorker by origin but has been residing in Rome for the past twenty years (so much more to come on him at a later date).  You couldn't have chosen a more different line up, as we were quite the motley crew of people, but six hours in a tiny kitchen is sure to bring people together in one way or another, and in this case, it absolutely did.  

With Andrea as our fearless leader, and the ultimate fixer of our mistakes (including a small incident I may or may not have had with a giant knife while separating a chicken bone from its skin), we completed a six course, traditional Italian meal inspired by the Lazio region.  Beginning with a Roman style artichoke, followed by homemade cavatelli pasta with fresh tomato sauce and basil, then a chicken rolle dish that was stuffed with smoked provola, spinach, sausage, bacon and kale, followed by roasted potatoes and roman style broccoli as side dishes, and finishing with a chocolate and pear soufflĂ© (hungry yet?!?!).  

In between slicing, dicing, and rolling fresh pasta, conversation easily flowed like the wine we were given.  You really get to know people whilst kneading dough for pasta and swapping stories. And it dawned on me halfway through the class, as I found myself really, deeply laughing at something Jani from England said, that I had missed this.  In my normal everyday life at home, I am constantly surrounded by people, intentionally so.  It has been rare for me to spend much more than one evening alone ever and I tend to thrive off of social interactions.  Yet, over the past five days being in Rome alone, I have spent a lot of time with myself, just listening to my own thoughts.  And while I think I can be rather funny and interesting (at times), today was refreshing in that, I didn't realize how ready I was and how much I needed some true human interaction.  I was craving some real conversation and something that ran deeper than the general, surface-level greetings I have grown accustomed to thus far in Italy. I missed chatting and laughing, and it felt good to be in the presence of people who became familiar to me.  Which may only make sense to someone who has also traveled alone for an extended period of time, being okay with being alone isn't always easy! 

Anyways, needless to say, our food turned out exquisite and while Andrea confessed that he would NEVER serve the artichokes we had made in a restaurant setting because they weren't up to par, we all raved about them and promised to take the recipe back to our respective homes and share with others.  As we broke bread and chatted about life and love and more politics (blah), I couldn't help but feel so so full once again.  

Six courses will definitely have that effect on you, but this was a different type of fullness.  I have come to realize there is a space within me that I didn't know was empty.  However, after five days here in Rome, I feel it slowly filling.  Filling with my own thoughts, with sights, with sounds, with tastes and more importantly, with experiences, whether shared or my own.  

So when I thought I was full last night, bursting at the seams with truffle risotto, this cooking class surely put me over the edge.  I am so thankful for the moment in time spent with that particular group of people.  I am thankful for their stories, for their culinary skills (or like me, lack there of), for their humor and for their company, as their presence filled me more than anything.  

I continue to find magic around every street corner here and though I am currently in physical pain because of the amount of food we ate this afternoon, I have no doubt that somehow I will make space and Italy will continue to fill me.  

All my love

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Letters From Roma - "Italia"

Ciao from Roma!

What an incredible past few days it has been exploring the city and getting settled in my little neighborhood by the river!  I woke up Monday morning and had to pinch myself because I honestly could not believe I was in Rome and that one of my greatest dreams had finally come true.  Two weeks in one of the most historic, beautiful and inspiring cities on the planet- what in God's name did I do to deserve all of this?!  

As I write this email, I am sitting at the table in the living room of my apartment, staring out the tall windows into a beautiful courtyard.  This morning for the first time I tried my hand at making Italian espresso and while it pretty much tastes like dirt, it sure does wake me up!  I truly couldn't have asked for a better apartment and I get up every morning in awe of the tall ceilings, giant chandelier and huge shutter windows in my room that open to the bustling Roman street below.  I feel like I found a secret gem of a sanctuary hidden behind a busy street corner, and I constantly have to remind myself that I am not the first nor last to stay here - although I am currently trying to devise a business plan that would allow me enough cash flow to buy this apartamento from Alessandra, so that I can have a summer home in Italy.  

My days thus far have been filled with walking, walking and more walking!  I have yet to take public transportation as I love wandering the cobblestone streets and bopping into any store or bakery that entices me.  After two days, I finally got a grasp on the Trastevere neighborhood, which is where I am staying. It is an incredible area and there is always something happening, from live music to mass to the most incredible people watching.  I can sit for hours in Piazza Santa Maria just watching life go by, and I have.  

Yesterday, I spent the better part of 8 hours in Vatican City on a tour of the Sistine Chapel, the Vatican Museum and St. Peter's Basilica.  The tour I paid for started at 8am and naturally, I walked from Trastevere along the river to Vatican City at sunrise.  When I came upon St. Peter's Square it was 7:30am and there was barely a soul in sight (which is somewhat of a miracle).  I was able to sit in the square in total silence and just take in the view, which was an experience I will forever be thankful for.  After, I met up with my group that consisted of 2 british, 2 dubliners and two Americans, plus myself.  My tour guide was Talia, a quirky Italian from Naples who somehow made 4 hours of history extremely fun and informative.  Major take aways from her tour of the Vatican include: the fact that Michelangelo was gay, Raphael died from Syphilis and most of the early popes had children that they masked by calling them nieces and nephews.  I enjoyed the tour so much, that I booked a tour of the Colosseum for Sunday with them as well.  I highly recommend Talia and Italy With Us tour company for anyone coming to Rome! 

After Talia's tour, I spent another two hours exploring Vatican City by myself.  It is such an awe-inspiring place and I felt like a better person for being there.  I reserved a ticket for the Pope's speech next Wednesday morning and I think I actually might faint when I see him.  Much like in the rest of the world, Pope Francis is very well received in Italy as being progressive and the change that the Catholic Church needs to move forward.  I heard quite a lot about bad Popes during my tour of the Vatican, but I have a feeling Francis will forever be regarded as a good Pope and I cannot wait to see him in real life, even if I won't understand a word he says.  

In addition to learning a lot about history and Roman greats, I am learning a great deal about myself as well.  It is quite the experience to travel alone in a place where you know no one.  I love the feeling of being anonymous in a city and I can't even begin to describe the sense of calm that comes from having no agenda, no schedule and no set plans.  Everything is heightened for me here, my curiosity, my appreciation for life, and  of course- my senses.  Coffee smells richer, music sounds more harmonious and the wine - the wine tastes so smooth.  

I first read this quote a few years ago and while it did resonate with me, I didn't fully understand it's true meaning until I arrived in Rome.  It came to my mind the other day when I was staring at a whimsical sculpture in the middle of a courtyard I stumbled upon and I have been thinking about the quote below a lot over the past few days because it feels so applicable to my life at this moment and because (guilty) the beauty here quite often literally brings me to tears: 

"she cried at least once each day, not because she was sad, but because the world was so beautiful and life was so short"  - Brian Andreas

I feel extremely blessed to have this experience and this time to live and learn and process.  I am eternally grateful to my family, friends, co-workers, and even the random strangers who supported me in my quest to get here, to get to this point.  It is nothing short of a miracle how everything works out and if there is one thing I am sure of here in Italy, it is that I will not take one moment for granted.  

All my love,