Saturday, August 16, 2008

More Italy ...

Did anyone try the link to the photos? If so, did it work?

High Maintenance

I readily admit that I can be fairly high maintenance when it comes to food. I will complain ad naseum about the bagels in North Carolina, fast food, or other things that offend my culinary senses. It’s not that I need to have the finest – after all, I like jelly beans – I’m just particular. Here I am completely befuddled by the ubiquitous self-service restaurants. These are restaurants that have food at the ready and you just take what you want. Sort of like a cafeteria but a lot more common. I’m not really bothered by the salads and such, but I’m completely grossed out by ready made sandwiches. “Oh, yes, please give me a soggy tuna sandwich that has been sitting out since 9 this morning. A good case of food poisoning is just what this trip needs to spice it up.” I don’t think so. Bill was ready to kill me in Florence because I kept refusing to get food at one of these places and everyone was starving. Finally, I caved in. It wasn’t as awful as I imagined but it wasn’t good either.

The next day I noticed that the Lonely Planet guide had highlighted a place that made sandwiches to order. I dragged us through Florence in search of said establishment. When we turned the corner of the street there were about 30 people either in line or crouched on the sidewalk eating sandwiches. I got in the queue while Bill took the kids to the bathroom (this was the day Aidan was sick with a GI bug and, let me tell you, that is not a good thing on a European vacation). The place was literally a 7 feet high, 4 feet wide, 2.5 feet deep hole in the wall. The back wall was lined with wine bottles, a small cash register was in the left hand corner, and the right hand corner was filled with all the necessities for making 23 different kinds of sandwiches. Soon it was my turn and I have never been so happy to order a sandwich in my entire life. For 10 euros I got four sandwiches made in less than 2 minutes. It was impressive. I found a spot on the sidewalk and waited for Bill to return with the kids. They returned, cleaned their hands with hand sanitizer ( a must-have on these trips), and we gorged ourselves. The experience made this food snob’s day. Even if I had to eat on a dirty sidewalk filled with pigeons.

Which brings me to my next observation. What do people have against sitting down and eating? Many of the bars and self-service places charge you a different price if you sit down to eat. Few people seem to be willing to pay for this so everyone just stands around crowding the place and leaving the tables empty. The ice cream place we go to has about 20 tables. I have never seen more than four of them filled but everyone stands around eating next to the tables. I don’t understand why this is a preferred outcome.

And my last burning question is what is the deal with tap water? The only restaurant we have been to that served tap water was in Lucca, where they actually have fountains all over the city where the locals fill up their water bottles. Elsewhere we have had to pay for bottled water. Is the tap water not potable? Is this just a money making scam? No one has water from a soda fountain and I have yet to see a water fountain (bubbler for you Wisconsinites). And ice is virtually non-existent. I asked for ice at one restaurant and the waitress brought me a bowl with 5 cubes in it and a spoon. I guess we were supposed to share the cubes among us.

Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weenie

The first few trips to the pool I was too cold to get in the water with the kids so one day I left my suit at home. When we arrived, I discovered that the retractable roof was open, leaving the pool area gloriously warm. “Damn,” I thought, “I wish I had brought my suit.” After 40 minutes of watching the kids I decided to see how much the suits cost at the front desk. Much to my surprise the price was reasonable. I asked for a size 36, erroneously assuming the Italians used the same sizing system as the French, and was told the smallest size was a 40. The staff person took the suit out of its Ziploc sized bag and showed it to me. It was slightly bigger than Amelia’s current suit. I had already noticed that Italian women have a different standard for backside bikini coverage then we do in the US so I wasn’t really surprised. Not only do they wear these suits, they actually swim laps and do water aerobics in them and I have yet to see a boob fall out of the tiny tops. “What the hell,” I figured, “I might as well blend in.” So I took my bikini in its little sandwich-sized bag to the locker room and changed. Fortunately, my daily energy expenditures here have resulted in considerable weight loss so I could squeeze my butt into the bottoms. I could just imagine the stares this little number was going to generate at Duke’s Faculty club come August. When I came out to the pool deck Amelia cooed, “Mommy I like that suit.” “Good thing,” I thought, “because you’ll be wearing it next year.”

Yesterday I was at the pool and I noticed two women wearing really modest bathing suits. You do see women wearing them here but they are generally the T-back racing variety. But these suits screamed “American woman” as loud as The Guess Who. Sure enough as they got within earshot I heard the familiar sounds of American English. We stand out in so many ways.

It’s not just the women who like their tiny little suits. The men are also like to show it all off. God those Speedo’s leave nothing to the imagination. And every once in a while a man will stick his hand in his suit and rearrange himself right there on the pool deck. I’m getting used to them though and I have to admit that there are some fine looking men at the pool so I’m not really going to complain too much. I’ve even learned to overlook the dorky swimcaps that we are all required to wear.

Try it, you’ll like it

Anyone who has ever experienced a meal with Aidan knows that he is the ulitmate picky eater. Minus a few green vegetables and fruit, everything Aidan eats is beige. He has yet to meet a complex carbohydrate that he doesn’t like but he shuns meat in all its forms with the exception of bacon and chicken nuggets (and who knows if chicken nuggets are actually meat). Not only does he have a narrow range, he absolutely refuses to try anything new. All this, combined with he fact that the child is perpetually in motion, has made it impossible for him to gain any weight. He is the only 6 year old I know who has not graduated to a booster seat because he has yet to reach 40 pounds.

On this trip he has tried two new things: prosciutto sandwiches and meatballs. I think the prosciutto sandwich sampling occurred out of extreme hunger and he will only eat them if there is one thin slice of meat (my mother is going to love this because that was the only way that I would eat sandwiches as a child). But the meatball attempt is a slightly more involved story ...

On our first night in Venice we went to a restaurant recommended in the Lonely Planet book. I noticed that meatballs were listed in the appetizer section and asked Aidan if he wanted to try one. To my surprise he agreed. When the waiter brought the meatballs I noticed that they had been coated in breadcrumbs and deep-fried. This was as close as we were going to get to a chicken nugget in Italy. Aidan bit into one and actually decided that he liked them. I noticed that the meat was a little pink but Amelia eat nearly raw beef all the time in France so I didn’t stop him. Aidan devoured two huge meatballs and asked for another serving. All in all he ate nearly four of them. On our way back to the hotel Aidan said his stomach hurt. Aidan is always complaining about one malady or another so I blew him off. Back at the hotel Aidan happily climbed into bed with me, a treat I had promised him earlier in the day. We turned off the lights and settled in for some much needed sleep.

Our room had a “view” of a small canal. Mind you, it was only a view if I literally stuck my head and shoulders all the way out the window and looked down. Mostly I had a view of the next building. The unadvertised consequence of a canal view, however, was the sound of boats racing through the canal with their radios blaring well into the wee hours. When I finally fell asleep it was well past midnight.

About 2 am I heard the sounds of retching. I needed to act fast lest I spend the rest of the night sleeping in a vomit covered bed. Aidan was on the other side of the bed and I couldn’t reach him. “Bill, get him to the bathroom” I yelled to wake up my other half. Bill grabbed Aidan and raced to the bathroom but didn’t quite make it. The poor little guy proceeded to puke for quite a while then fell asleep on the cold hard floor. When he woke the next morning he cuddled up to me, “I don’t think I should have eaten those meatballs,” he observed. “I guess not buddy,” I answered. I think we can safely assume that Aidan has had his last culinary adventure for a long while.

In contrast to Aidan, Amelia will try anything and is virtually obsessed with eating. When she was an infant, the staff at her daycare nicknamed her “Meals on Wheels” because she loved to eat so much. And she is still deserving of the moniker. So far she has tried everything from anchovies to octopus. In fact she’s driving us a little crazy, “What are we eating?”, “Where are we eating?”, “Can I have gelato?”, “When are we going out for gelato?”, “What time is our reservation?” and on and on.

1 comment:

ZenCrafter said...

Thank you for sharing your beautiful, heartfelt, honest writing. Your perspective about your daily experiences is pretty amazing.

I am just amazed at how alike our children are. My Aidan (and yes, that's his name) has the exact dietary pattern as yours. And my daughter drives us nuts with her constant, "What's for dinner tonight?" "When are we eating dinner?" (We've wondered whether our Aidan has a form of SID as well.)

Since I'm not a praying person, just know that I will be thinking about you and hoping that you continue to make the most of your journey.