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The trips to Italy and lemon pasta

I leave for Italy in 10 days. I will be away for just over two weeks. It will be, by far, the longest the Beast and I have ever been apart. He keeps joking that he’s going to move back in with Marg and Dave, his parents, to get him through the separation, so he won’t starve.

This will be my sixth trip to Italy. The first time was a 1992 high school trip with Becky, Julie and my mom, who came as a chaperon. It was one of those whirlwind rides through Venice, Florence, Siena, Assisi, Rome and Pompeii. I remember listening to Paul Simon’s Rhythm of the Saints over and over again on my walkman on that tour bus.

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I went by myself in 2000 for three weeks to visit my friend Michelle, who was living and working in Florence. I went to Rome for three days on my own. It’s the loneliest I’ve ever felt. I called my mom outside of Termini station in tears the night before she flew to meet me for the last week of that trip. We went back to Florence and stayed in a pensione that reminded me of the one from A Room with a View. And we had a meal with Michelle and her mom, who came to visit her daughter, too, at Acqua Al 2, which turned out to be one of Nigella Lawson’s favourite restaurants in Florence. It was a beautiful night. There is a picture of the four of us but I don’t know where it is.

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The third trip was a year later–part of a European expedition with my ex-boyfriend to Germany, France and Italy. We ended that trip on a secluded beach in Sicily called San Vito Lo Capo. We ate fish at dinner and I read Treasure Island from start to finish one night on the terrace of our little hotel room when I couldn’t sleep.

Five months later I moved to Florence to take over Michelle’s old teaching assistant job.  I stayed for a year. My nearly nine-year-old relationship ended a few months in. Dickens had it right when he wrote something about it being both the best and worst of times. Michelle got me through it all. There were so many nights in our little apartment around the corner from Santa Croce where we had wine-fuelled talks with little plates of prosciutto, robiola cheese, crackers and green olives. There were field trips north to Venice, south to Napoli and plenty of places in between. But Florence is where the good shit went down, with Michelle.


The fifth trip to Italy was with the Beast. It was his first time there. It was wonderful, save for the breakdown in front of the Pantheon.

This time around, I’ll be staying for two weeks in the Palazzo di Piero, four km from the Chianciano train station outside of Siena. I’ve never taken part in a writer’s residency. But this seems like a pretty lovely place to try one on for size.

Last night I was craving some spaghetti al limone. It’s such a simple dish to make: sauté some red onion and capers in olive oil. Then add a little chicken stock, if you like, and the juice and zest of a lemon. Add your cooked pasta (I used linguine last night), some grated parmigiano and a healthy handful of spinach or arugula. Reserve some pasta water in case you need to loosen  everything up a little. Top it off with some chunks of more parm.

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Once again, the Beast and I struggled to find something to watch with our dinner. We each named the movies we individually never tire of.

Foodie: How about a classic, like Jaws, Spy Game, or Sense and Sensibility?

Beast: How about Barry Lyndon?

Foodie: No way.

Beast: I would love to hook up our respective brains to see what happens when we watch our favourite movies.

Foodie: You mean the ones we watch over and over again?

Beast: Yes. You’ve probably seen Sense and Sensibility a dozen times.

Foodie: Uh, more than that.

Beast: I wonder if there’d even be a blip of brain activity when you watch it now.

Foodie: How about The Bling Ring? It’s on Netflix. I think it got panned but I’m curious to see what Paris Hilton’s house looks like.

Beast: I’d watch that.

So we did, and we both liked it, I think.

Foodie: It’s shocking that I wanted to spend that much time with such empty characters.

Beast: I know what you mean. I think the film’s fault is also it’s great strength. It doesn’t try to rationalize the character’s behaviour: it portrays morally bankrupt people living in a morally bankrupt world. Unfortunately, that means there is no tension or drama.

Foodie: Yeah, totally.

Beast: But as a study of–and critique of–this sort of culture, it is brilliant. Did you notice that none of the “crimes” carried any sense of moral transgression? I think that’s because the celebrities who they rob ultimately don’t deserve what they have: they have, in a sense, robbed it from us and parade it around as extravagant bad taste and then promise that “this too can be yours”. The kids are merely taking the riches that the broken culture has promised them.

Foodie: Yeah, that’s what I was thinking, too.

It was still early–and there was still another bottle of wine–so we decided to start The English Patient because the Beast has never seen it before. I forgot that this film was why I started carrying around a little leather journal for sketching and writing (okay, and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, too), why I started reading Herodotus and why I went through a safari fashion period. The Beast asked me repeatedly if I thought his hair looked like Ralph Fiennes’. (And, coincidentally, he left for work this morning dressed like Fiennes’ character in the African desert.)

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Before we started the movie, we went into the kitchen to drop off our dinner plates.

“What am I going to do without you?” He said.

“You? What about me? I’m going to miss you so damn much.”

“But you’ll be meeting new people and having a great time.”

“I’m not going to meet new people. Erinn will be there. That’s enough. I’m going to get shit done.”

“I know, and you will. I know you will.” The Beast paused. “What if you came back and found out that I got rid of my entire wardrobe and had replaced it with clothes exclusively from Armani Exchange. Like, really tight, black t-shirts tucked into black jeans with flashy belts.”

I thought about it for a moment.

“I’d still love you.”


6 replies »

  1. I just read about your trip on The Social’s FB page and raced here to see if there were more details. There were. There are! Great post. I also read about where you’re going for the residency and it looks divine. Food and wine and writing and Italy?! Come on. Wishing you the best and most inspired time without any breakdowns, but many many breakthroughs.

  2. Since Ondaatje mentioned them in The English Patient, I’ve been opening and closing an ever more tattered and swollen copy of The Histories for 22 years now, and don’t think I’ve made it past page 193. (I will check the many bookmarks.) I’m very suggestible in that way, as you know. Since reading about them here I’ve consumed endless quantities of Dr. Oetker’s frozen pizzas. Strangely, I’ve had no trouble finishing those…

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