and the soundtrack plays on from the previous blog. STOP HERE -If you haven't read the previous blog this won't make any sense so go back and read the first one and this one will still be here. ... as I was saying .... We ate our way through Italy, biked it off in Croatia and then before I could get to Nicaragua to pray, my Dad died.
Yah, you read that right <insert vinyl record scratch sound clip here> I'll repeat that again just in case you weren't paying attention. .. "my Dad died." But before he died...here's how the story goes ...
As you know. I half-heatedly moved to Vancouver after the universe decided to puke on my perfect life and it's like that scene in the movie Stand By Me where one kid sees the other kid puke and the puke-a-thon begins and just keeps going. Apparently the universe or God or whomever may be in charge didn't get my email or see my status update on Facebook saying... "hey, can you take it easy on me for awhile?”
My parent's divorce was a significant loss of family security, my narcissistic manipulative boyfriend break-up depleted my self esteem, the recent loss of a job I loved so much made me question a sixty-thousand dollar education and living with a wine thieving lying roommate who jerks off with MY lotion in MY bedroom was .....well.... -enough said! - the breaking point I mentioned in the earlier blog, right - we all have one. Oh...remember that awesome yogi I quoted? Will Blunderfield? He said, "we all need a purpose in life!" Wasting no time, I conjured up a plan to find a “purpose in life” - my own version of an Eat.Pray.Love mission to start the healing process. But more like Eat.Bike.Pray. What’s love got to do with this? I was single and I knew it needed to be that way. It was time to wage a war to end the downward spiral of what I knew intimately, like a favorite blanket on a cold winter’s day, to be depression.
I was depressed, I’m not gonna lie. Deploy the troops. Depression is serious thing. I never experienced it before. The only way I can describe it is it feels like a dark gray looming cloud that covers your head like the foggy clouds in Whistler throughout the most of winter. You can't see the top of the mountain but you know it's up there. Your vision is foggy when you’re at the top. The visibility sucks and no mater what Oakley lens you have in your goggles its not going to improve the flat light down a black diamond run. You’re screwed and you just have to continue with gravity, grab an edge and hang on for the ride. It’s like having a bad hang over, you can't think straight. Yoga allowed periodic rays of sunshine to penetrate through the clouds and this is what kept me going. Depression. I despise that word but it was the reality of my life for a short brief period. Little by little, day by day with enough yoga, the depression-clouds started to melt away. ...
So, what else could I do besides yoga and eat chocolate to ease the pain? I needed to bring myself back before Thelma had me carried away in a straight jacket or I willingly check myself into an insane asylum. Devising a plan was easy - not having a job, I had lots of time to do this. Get this, I decided I wanted to eat my way through Italy, bike it off in Croatia and then go to Nicaragua to pray during a 200+hr intense yoga teacher training! Annnnnd, I was going to drag Thelma along, brilliant! It's Thelma and Lousie, or Louise and Thelma - you can't have one without the other, like salt and pepper, yin and yang like love and marriage, “love and marriage, go together like a horse and carriage” except there would be no fat guy named Al Bundy sitting on the sofa with his hand down his pants.
This was perfect timing. Thelma wasn’t working either and also needed a purpose in life, she too was at a cross roads. Thelma, if you are reading this - it’s true! Don’t be mad. She’s going to be mad I told you that. Not to mention she was on suicide watch, well not really but often we’d rent science documentaries and dork out on a Friday night, basically we were committing social suicide-OMG. No wonder our phones weren’t ringing off the hook. We thought that book Why Men Love Bitches had given us the wrong advice. Never give away too many jubejubes on a first date, right? Sorry, I got off track. Yes, we needed a plan and we needed to implement it ASAP! Sounds healing right - Eat.Bike.Pray? And expensive! I had already committed to the Europe portion of the trip prior to loosing my job. And, as I mentioned in my first blog, I sold most everything I owned to pay for my yoga teacher training. I needed this despite the cost, after all - mental health is priceless and in the end, probably much cheaper than that insane asylum option.
First mission EAT.
We landed in Germany on a short lay-over to Roma, Italy and amazing-raced ourselves into Alschtadt where we could enjoy Germany's finest creation -bratwurst! So traditional, a wonderful 20 cm long sausage composed of pork accompanied by a country crusty bread roll slathered in mouth watering mustard. Don't worry vegan/vegetarian yogi friends I refer to myself as an "ethical eater," a "flexitarian," not vegan or vegetarian for this very reason, sometimes one must flex in order to enjoy what other cultures have worked hard to become famous for. We would have washed it down with a beer but the pub was closed. We made our flight and the in-flight movie "Eat.Pray.Love" played - how ironic, next stop Italy.
Since our first mission was to eat our way through Italy. Food is the medium for expressing my feelings and memories about this country. Sure, we took in all the historical sights in between meals and I could go on and on about the Vatican, the Pantheon, the Coliseum, the statue of David but the history was merely the canvas or frame for the food. We navigated the cobble stone streets of Roma ungracefully in high heels in search of all those descriptions of love-inspired food and mouth watering dishes paired with the perfect wine. I still don’t know how those Roman women do it, I admire them. The wine loves the food and the food loves the wine and we loved it all and the men loved us! I know, I was surprised as well. The women are so graceful and beautiful but one thing they are not, is blond! Back to the food - all of the ingredients are so simple and fresh that you don't feel stuffed but your belly is full with satisfaction. When we weren't eating, we were planning our next meal.
Ancient Romans believed artichokes to be a delicacy and aphrodisiac containing medicinal qualities. Before I arrived in Italy I never imagined I would be leaving with such a wonderful memory of artichokes but they were one of my favorite vegetables while traveling through this country. I enjoyed the delicate flavor of artichokes poached in olive oil, sprinkled with sea salt and lemon juice drizzled in olive oil, on top of flat bread pizza, starring in arugula salads and - the least of my favorite devoured, but still worth the adventure to the the Jewish Ghetto in Roma were the deep fried salt-kissed artichokes.
The pizza Margherita may have set the standard but the Capricciosa: a topping of mushrooms, prosciutto, artichoke hearts and olives was a close tie with Pizza Veronese with mushrooms and tender Prosciutto crudo - both, stole my heart. Another wonderful creation was Pizza Marinara, a traditional Neapolitan pizza that has oregano, anchovies and lots and lots of garlic. Enough Garlic to keep the North American boys and vampires from the movie Lost Boys away but in Italy Garlic is like perfume attracting the Italian boys like flies to sticky paper. Actually, that wasn’t it at all - we were blond! Oooooh, another....Pizza Napoli with fresh tomato slices, mozzarella and anchovies, mmmmm. Pizza Pugliese makes use of the local capers and olives of the area, also delicious.
Did I mention Italy loves Blonds? I've never navigated through a non-English speaking country so easily. Every Roman man young or old, fat or skinny, tall or short will come to your rescue in Italy if you are blond. They could see us coming from miles away. Also because Thelma is so tall she looks like a supermodel coming down the street. ha. I had to throw that out there, just incase she really is reading this. Unfortunately I don't have any romantic stories with Roman Italian men to share here. We were here to eat, remember? In the real version of Eat.Pray.Love there was a beautiful love story but the only love that was consummated here was with food.
In between meals we dedicated our selves to scouting out the best gelato and cafe shoppes. Gelato, Italy's frozen masterpiece. All gelato is worth savoring but not all gelato, just like men, or blonds versus brunettes are created equal. The differences between Italian Gelato and Ice Cream are slight, but make all the difference in flavor and texture. Gelato is made with milk, sometimes skim-milk as opposed to cream which gives Gelato a much lower milk fat content. That reminds me, low fat content - one day I was swimming in the Mediterranean Sea and I looked over to the rocky shore and there stood this beautiful Italian man with a bright PINK speedo, I shit you not. He was ripped, tanned and standing at attention if you know what I mean. His beautiful girlfriend sat on the rocks in her sexy skimpy bikini watching lovingly as he eased his way into the water. I don’t know if the cold water got him excited or his girlfriend, or maybe he was dreaming of Gelato- but that speedo, wow....pink, just like strawberry Gelato! Less milk fat allows the flavors of Gelato to really stand out compared to the more blended flavors of Ice Cream. It's flavor is helped by the fact that it has less air whipped into than Ice Cream, making it much denser. We were surprised as how flavorful Gelato was. Me, the ultimate chocoholic fell in love with the vibrantly colored fruit flavors (think bright pink speedo). Thelma loved the coffee induced offerings. Which was a brilliant way to amp up her caffeine intake to keep her going in between meals and museums. Speaking of caffeine, that leads me to the next delightful thing worth traveling thousands of miles for.
No day in Italy is complete without taking a moment to enjoy one of the greatest discoveries Italy has ever shared with the world and my life. I will never see coffee the same. We started our days by sipping a cappuccino seated at an outdoor table facing an open piazza as the sun washed over us. We finished our evening meals under a starry sky, pigeons tucked into their nests, with a signature blend espresso -recipes only known to the cafe owner that aid in digestion. Truly an Italian moment is sipping an espresso at a standing table or counter while nibbling a fresh pastry in between meals or just after devouring a cup of gelato!
My favorite meal experience was in a small town just outside of Roma called Arricia. A few Italian friends - actually better described as these three hot Italian surfers that Thelma had met on a previous trip to Indonesia, were our tour guides. Since they couldn’t bring us home to their mother’s they thought we should experience the next best thing to home cooking. This area is famous for porchetta and sparkling red wine. No tourists here! Just jolly red cheeked Italian families sitting at long tables covered with white and red checkered table clothes laughing and saluting! Porchetta is basically Italy’s version of pulled pork. The outside skin is crispy and the inside has been stuffed with herbs and garlic. Plates of food just kept coming: buffalo mozzarella, proscuitto, salami, olives, grilled bread, and artichoke hearts. The bubbles of the wine went straight to my head and I too became red-cheeked and jolly. We were stuffed before the pasta came. In Italy they don’t eat heaps of pasta like we do in North America. They eat small portions of pasta- that’s why those Italian women stay so thin. They limit the carbs.
Which brings me to the next amazing food in Italy, the pasta. Pasta is the most versatile contributions to cuisine as we know it today. We did eat pasta but not as much as I thought we would. The two that stick out in my memory the most were the spaghetti bolognese and creamy salmon fettuccine pasta.
A few more important memories worth mentioning- eating grapes and figs from the vines and trees in Tuscany, renting an old farm house in the Chianti Hills with 6 wonderful Polish people who are now considered friends, vintage shopping in Florence, wandering through narrow streets in Lucca made only for bicycles, watching the sun set in the medieval town of Volterra - yes the same Volterra in the Twilight Series where the Volturi reside, swimming in the Mediterranean sea, doing yoga poses outside the Vatican, getting molested by an Italian dressed up like a Gladiator, drinking absinthe - won’t do that again, limoncello, dinner outside of the Pantheon, standing in awe of the Statue of David. .... I could go on and on but this blog must end.
To this day, I fantasize about being back in Italy, pouring vats of olive oil over my entire body and re-living the wonderful culinary experiences I fell in love with. Italy was one of the most rewarding trips of my life because I truly love and appreciate food. One day I have to go back and retrieve my heart.
Next mission "Bike it off in Croatia," but you're just going to have to wait till my next blog to read about that adventure, I need to take a break and enjoy the Nicaraguan swell - high tide is coming.