Italy Retrospective: More Thoughts on Ordinary Food

It’s been almost four months since we returned from our Italy trip. I am still digesting,  if you will, the whole thing, especially my happily evolving relationship to food, and foodishness. So I would like to begin a little series (prayers are welcome) about the topic.

Also, interestingly, my friend Lisa Catherine Harper recently asked me to write and edit for the online food community called Spoonwiz, which is a very cool writer-and-food-friendly answer to the horrors of Yelp, Trip Advisor, etc. I would like to use that platform to hawk the fine pleasures of ordinary food. But I realize I can get a bit heavy about these things, so I need to work it out here, first.

So here goes:

When T, A, and I milled around the duty free store of the Rome airport, awaiting our return flight home, I circled the tightly wrapped rolls of sausages, chunks of cheese, bottles of wine, and tubs of olives. I felt a little sad that we had taken nothing home with us, remembering our first visit to Italy, and our homecoming schlep, our new suitcase filled with olive oil and bags of dried pasta. The thing is, this trip we had found the food in Italy…how do you say?….not that thrilling. Delicious, of course! Delightful, even, especially those cute little glasses of wine, and the pleasure of eating every single meal out and not washing a single dish.  But we eat good food all the time. And by the time we were gearing up to come back to the Catskills, all of us were craving the foods of home—roast chicken, cheeseburgers, hummus, Mary’s Gone Crackers.

And yet, I felt kind of lonely, realizing we had nothing to show for our trip. And I was tempted to throw a jar of red sauce into my carry-on, just so I could say….what? That I had been there? That the trip was worth remembering? The truth was, I was tired of Italian food, and I could easily make a great red sauce with farm-fresh local tomatoes, or buy a lovely jar nearby. It’s not like I have ever been a collector of anything, and in fact, I generally try to tame any gathering instinct lest I feel overwhelmed by stuff, but there in the airport, I felt a sad kind of sinking feeling, like maybe I was missing something by not wanting to bring some spaghetti sauce home with me. Was my love of Italy somehow deficient? Was I cold and coarse, shut down to the pleasures of the world? That strange melancholia has stayed with me, an ornate, little question mark, gold, like the hand drawn paper I admired in Cortona, rising up every now and then.

So when I read the following, by psychoanalyst and writer Adam Phillips, I felt some relief:

“…Collecting souvenirs is an attack on memory, as though, unwittingly, we buy souvenirs to forget where we have been, to displace our memories….Indeed, souvenirs disclose just how keen we are to forget things, how we can hate memory and ruin its works.” (On Balance, 2010)

The reason I didn’t want to bring Italy home with me is because I wasn’t actually concerned about whether or not I would remember being there.


Who could forget a sweaty, midnight dinner in Trastavere?


By the time I was in the airport, it was kind of like….next?

Which is not what it sounds like. I wasn’t bored, or over it, exactly. It’s just that as lovely as Italy is, coming home was looking pretty good, too. Hey, being in the airport wasn’t even so bad. It was nice to just be together, the three of us, with nothing much to do.

And it got me thinking about our current moment of food obsession—the blogs, the pics, the recipes, the specialty shops, the pop-up, heritage hoo-ha, the total food overwhelm. It’s as if we want to turn every meal into a souvenir. And if you buy that premise, and add some A. Phillips action to it, every meal is an attack on our hunger, as though, unwittingly, we eat in order to starve, to displace our hunger. Indeed, meals disclose just how very hungry we are, and how we can hate our desire and ruin its works.

Kind of interesting, right? A stretch, maybe, but maybe not….

Don’t get me wrong: I love a good throw down like the next gal…

Can you say...Salami with fennel seeds and everything else that is good on a plate?

Can you say…Salami with fennel seeds, cheese, arugula, bread….on a wooden tray all to myself?

But I don’t like so much fussing about the whole thing that it feels like something is getting erased or obscured, like maybe, the fact that we are starving for something way beyond anything the power of food can deliver. Which is, ironically, one of the reasons I do so love Italy: yes, people talk a lot about food and it’s central in people’s lives. But, it seems to me, it is what it is, over there. In other words: food is food. It is meant to fill you up, so don’t snack between meals. It’s so simple!

Food is necessary; food is fun. But it’s not going to change my life.

Exhibit A:


THE BEST (no joke) desert of my life: pineapple gelato, with this cookie tube thing. I can still taste the bits of fruit and the buttery biscuit.

THE BEST (no joke) desert of my life: pineapple gelato, with this cookie tube thing. I can still taste the bits of fruit and the buttery biscuit.


And the morning after…..

Still me!

Still me!


Stay tuned…..