“Someone give this girl some more lemon for her artichoke” he said pointing to the cutting board in front of me during cooking class.
“Ah, Alan, have you made carciofi before?” Chef Andrea asked the older man next to me.
“No, but I’ve eaten enough of it to know that she needs more lemon on her artichoke or it's going to burn. I’m a bit of a chef myself, you know” he responded with an air of superiority.
I put down my knife and looked at the short, 60 or so year old, self-proclaimed writer across the kitchen from me wearing dark rimmed glasses, a black mock turtleneck and a black beret, and I knew right then exactly the type of person he was. Four hours and a lot of hearing his voice later, we had all listened to Alan’s entire life story. Twice.
Alan is the tried and true definition of a know-it-all. From how to cook traditional Italian food to gun control to what cities foreigners should visit in the US (“don’t go to San Diego” he told them, “there’s no culture there”), he had an opinion on everything and made that opinion very well known throughout the entire day. I sloughed off his comments for the better part of five hours, but as we sat down to eat with the group after our cooking class, I just could not bite my tongue any longer.
“This would never happen in America” he stated loudly as the nine of us clinked our glasses together in cheers and accomplishment over the meal we had spent the entire day preparing. “What do you mean?” I asked him, confused and starting to feel a bit defensive.
“Well, you know Americans” he responded casually, “No time to sit with friends to eat and chat, Americans are always racing for the next best thing, the next promotion, the next money maker, the fastest way to get to the top. As a culture we have no regard for spending time with each other and slowing down to just be. That’s why I moved here you know, to get away from it all. America is just so toxic and that’s what I mean, we would never sit down with friends around a table like this in the US, wouldn’t you agree?”
All eyes at our table were on me as I swallowed a GIANT sip of red wine and took a deep breath, gearing up for my big moment in the spotlight. “Well no, Alan, actually I wouldn’t agree with you on that one.” I replied, challenging him in a way I don’t think he had been challenged in a long time.
“I know you come from New York where everyone is constantly hustling everywhere, wanting only to go up, to get to the top, to grow as high professionally as the sky scrapers reach. People want to be known for something there and maybe in that city or in your group of friends, you never found the time to sit down with people that you love to enjoy a meal and a good conversation, but where I come from that just isn’t the case. Where I come from and where I have been living in Colorado for the past five years, there is so much land and space to grow, there is room to become the person you want to be because there is room to expand not only upwards, but outwards. And more so than anything else, there is time, there is so much time to do that. I have had some of the best nights of my life sitting around a table like this with friends or family, laughing and talking about life and love and loss. So I actually have to disagree with you Alan, because your statement is not only a generalization of an entire country of over 300 million people, but it is incorrect and I feel sorry for you that you did not experience the type of growth and community that I have in our amazing country.”
Everyone sat in silence as I finished my rant. Taking another sip of my wine and catching my breath, I received a wink of support from my new friend Annmarie, a sweet girl from Glasgow as Alan still sat speechless across from me, A few minutes later, I knew my point had been made when he finally spoke and surprised me by saying with sincerity, “You’re a smarter girl than I thought Danielle”. And dinner continued.
An hour later after the cooking class said our goodbyes, Alan caught my arm and roped me in for a hug as I was on my way out the door. To say I was surprised is an understatement, but as he hugged me, the man wished me a good rest of my trip and thanked me for a memorable day. And as I opened the door and turned to leave he said
“Rome is like an onion you know, every time you come here you peel back a layer and you get closer and closer to understanding the heart of this city. But never will you actually get there. That is why time and time again, we all come back to Roma. I wish for you Danielle, that you continue to come back to Rome and peel back it’s layers and when you do that, I hope you also peel back layers of your own.”
“Thank you” I said as I walked out the door and stepped in to the sunlight.
A week later and I am still mulling over Alan’s words and his metaphor for Rome. Somehow with his simple statement, the writer redeemed himself in my eyes and in doing so, he sparked within me an internal conversation that is still on-going.
I have been thinking a lot over the past week about the person I am and the person I am becoming. So much of me is a direct result of my past environments and the people who have been the most important to me in my life (that means you, if you’re reading this email!). I have been shaped by thousands of conversations, shared experiences and long dinners, and in particular, I feel very thankful to have had the time and the space to grow immensely as I did in Colorado over the past few years. Another large part of me is the result of every past decision I have made for myself in my life. Every path I have chosen to follow on my own that has led me to be in this exact moment, sipping red wine and a caffee latte in Rome.
But more so than that, this week I have been contemplating a great deal about what this next chapter of my life will look like. I have been thinking about the person I want to become. Who is she? What is important to her? What does she want for herself and for her future? What experiences will she bring with her as she travels down the next path?
These past two weeks clearly have been for me, an adventure in peeling back my own layers and growing closer to figuring out what makes up the heart of the person that I strive to be. Dammit Alan, I absolutely hate to admit that you were right on this one.
Much like Rome in Alan’s metaphor, I am not certain that I will ever fully know or understand my own heart, as we are all a constant work in progress. But being here in Italy has allowed me the time and space to check in with myself and get one step closer to figuring it all out. The things I have experienced and felt here are priceless and I have a hunch that this two week exercise in self-discovery will stay with me for a very long time. And if I am lucky, as the writer said, I will make it back to Rome someday to continue to peel back more layers of this city and of course, to continue to discover more about myself.
Thank you for following me on my journey. TO THE NEXT ADVENTURE!!!
All my love,