Where the Midwest Meets Milan


This past week, I traipsed through Italy with a major gf by my side. We had plans to drink a ton of wine, eat a ton of pizza, speak a ton of Italian and take a ton of pictures. We didn’t eat as much as I’d planned (the stomach has its limits), and we didn’t drink as much wine as we’d hoped (we were almost always drinking with Italians; and I’ll be damned if those wine-privileged people don’t drink the shit in MODERATION!), but we really did speak strings of Italian and take a slew of pics.

The pics don’t translate very well; you can’t capture the feeling that beauty provokes — but we still overshared on social media. We walked; holy hell…we walked. My right knee nearly blew, as we cruised threw the center of town, amidst models, moguls and tourists. We tried to fit in everything we could, with limited rest and relaxation. The attitude regarding the whole trip was: “Well; we HAVE TO! We DON’T KNOW IF WE’LL EVER BE HERE AGAIN!”

So we forged on, trying to fit enough into our memories to justify emptying our pockets. I ate double breakfasts, for fear I wouldn’t have enough research complete to compare the Italian croissant to that of the French. We woke up at 4 and 5am on our vacation. We went uphill when we only wanted to walk down. We were terrified, at every turn, that we’d never have the opportunity to see any of it again. So, why then, are we so unsure? Why did we run around like ants on a log, jumping from country to country, city to city, running to town squares only to snap the obligatory ‘I’ve been there!’ photo and then fuel up with espresso and wine – to move on to making the next memory?

Because we’re young; and we’re American.

We have the smallest amount of paid vacation time [for an advanced economy] in the WORLD. In terms of free time, we are running on fumes. The Italians we conversed with couldn’t even begin to understand our situation, as they have 3x the amount of vacation time we do. They asked why we weren’t staying longer; and when we’d be back…and we shook our heads and whispered, ‘Oh, how we hope to be…’

I watched 60-somethings with canes and slow-coming comprehension navigate the foreign for what was most likely the first and the last time. Ah…..Retirement.

So we exhausted ourselves, ensuring a memorable trip, but of course, we had one too. We visited old friends of mine, who opened their homes like armoires, letting us walk in, robing us in their food and families. We were on the receiving end of incredible generosity, grateful for every minute.

I touched every single dog I crossed paths with. Ate the best pizza on the globe. Returned to the gelato that made me try to get citizenship for 3 bleak years….

And when it came time to leave, we packed our suitcases with sweets and savories. My favorite souvenirs are the kind that can be devoured. Candies, cookies, oils and vinegars, marmalade. Things that will make it through more than one sitting. Things that ensure my trip didn’t end when I headed home. I know that a pretty necklace or a piece of art may bring back a place to mind, but eating something that tastes of a place has the power of transcendence. You may only have 4 servings, but those are like 4 more airplane tickets. I open my mouth and I go back.

My trip had a whirlwind element, buzzing through Ireland and then whizzing through Italy, before heading into a hive in Chamonix. I showed up in France with a couple Italian remnants..and though I wanted to keep them in my zipped-up suitcase, to carry them across the boarder and onto my Iowan table, in the dim lights of my French bedroom (!!), I unwrapped plastic bags, unsealed Italian treasures…and tossed them into my mouth. Their value is great; and I would love to relive Italy when I’m farther away from culinary first-class….but I’m done hoarding. I have them; so I’m sending them down the hatch. I want to solidify their place in my stomach. I sure as hell hope my plane delivers me safely on American soil in a couple weeks, but just in case it doesn’t…………..I’ll die happy.


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