Sometimes when you decide to take a big scary leap, 99% of you may know it is the right thing to do but there sometimes is this 1% that seems to scream “Idiot! What are you doing?” The day I moved into my first apartment after college that 1% disappeared. The door to the apartment opened from inside by an impossibly tiny woman who looked grayer than she actually was, who smiled and very slightly lifted toward me a white china plate of crostini di fegatini. It was an offering and a challenge and the gesture that vanquished my remaining 1% of uncertainty.
I don’t often reminisce about Florence. That’s not what Italy is to me. It isn’t this pocket of memory, isolated in my head that doesn’t move or change or that I only visit once every so often. My months there are a part of my everyday. I think that is what happens when you take a big risk and it turns out ok and you do better than survive. Those jumps become different for you they become part of what you are made of, part of your soul, in a way, and part of what makes you feel brave.
I had a love affair there, with a Calabrese, though we were never lovers. We had that food magic that is sometimes more intense than any lover could possibly be. He taught me things. “No! No! No cappuccino in the afternoon!” “No cheese with fish!” “Wine or water ONLY with a meal!” “Stir the risotto clockwise unless you want a lifetime of bad luck and no bambini!” And he would yell, because these rules were so important and he was excited and he was 100% convinced that I would not survive a year in Italy without knowing them. He also thought that the louder he spoke the less I would have to refer to my little Italian dictionary. And it wasn’t only the traditional grey hair grandma rules, he taught me things about just living too.
I learned where to find warm relief in a cafe on my walk home from work, through stoney tunnels that doubled as streets. In January, walking those streets felt more like walking in blast freezers instead of on beautiful medieval cobblestones. I learned that one thrown plate, at a man’s feet would usually get his attention, for good. He taught me that the best piece of foccacia is the corner one, the best veg came from the one eyed farmer in the mercato and he showed me how to make a fish stock out of toss away shells from the restaurant he worked in at night. He made me believe that every dinner should be a three hour long celebration. And he told me over and over, “bastone con i ragazzi con gli occhi marroni, cara mia. They won’t break your heart.”
When I left Florence, I left him too, though he isn’t really gone, and nor is Italy. They are alive and they hit me unexpectedly sometimes. Sometimes a tiny, fleeting thing connects me to that time, more than connects me-yanks me there and meshes this world with that world in a seamless combination of thoughts or food or love or cold or wine or church bells or a hot skillet or a soulful brown eyed man. It makes me appreciate the risky leap and anticipate the next one that could potentially result in a lifetime of these beautifully connected experiences that make my everyday better.