Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Italian Cure

When I was 21, I lived for a semester at the University of Dallas's Rome campus, which was in a fairly dilapidated hotel at 103 Via del Pescaccio off the "Roman Beltway". Who knew that 23 years later, I'd be living in another Beltway community, this one a lot less romantic than the environs of Via del Pescaccio, overlooking, as it did, the ruins of a villa once occupied by a mistress of Mussolini (or so we were told before we hiked up there to drink our $1.50 bottles of spumante).

I've been thinking a lot about those days lately, and it occurred to me that one thing I never worried about in Rome was food, weight, or eating. For one thing, I didn't have a scale. For another, I was poor with a capital "P". I couldn't really afford to be picky and I couldn't really afford chocolate. Things I learned to eat during my Rome semester included basalmic vinegar salad dressing, calamari, octopus, goat, and the bull's nose. I also spent my days either in the classroom reading Sophocles, Herodotus, or Shakespeare or walking through history -- walking A LOT.

Most of our meals were provided on campus. A typical day's menu might consist of:

Breakfast: coffee, tea, or hot chocolate, an apple or orange, and a "moonrock" (a type of hollow, crusty bread roll particular to Rome called a rosette, but which resembled stone after sitting on the tables day after day) with butter and jam (7 to 7:30 am)

Lunch: the biggest meal of the day, consisted of a pasta course (usually penne with tomato sauce) and a meat course (veal medallions with green beans, chicken with some vegetable, etc.), with moonrocks and fruit as desired. (1:30 to 2:00 pm)

Dinner: This meal frequently consisted of either funghi soup (cream of mushroom) or "sweatsock soup" (tortellini in broth), scrambled eggs with provolone cheese, or a salad of bitter greens dressed with balsamic vinegar and olive oil (7:30 - 8:00 pm)

Throughout the day, we could go to the cappuccino bar on campus for coffee and biscotti if we were hungry, and we often slipped a moonrock or a piece of fruit into a pocket for later consumption.
And then, when we were out and about on a walking tour of the city, we could always slip into a "Pizza Rustica" for "mille lire di pizza margharita, per favore."

But the thing about eating in Rome was that it was all good --even if it didn't taste good (we had the worst Italian cook I've ever seen). It was good because it satisfied hunger on so many levels -- eating in the dining room of the hotel satisfied the hunger for camaraderie as well as physical hunger. Running to catch the last 906 bus into Via Boccea to get pizza because we couldn't stand one more night of Franco's sweat sock soup was a twilight adventure that satisfied our need to break free of routine. Ordering our favorite pizza from the Pizza Rustica at the bus transfer area in Largo di Boccea meant we were coming home after a four day weekend trip bunking rough on "Hotel Eurail"-- it fed our need for stability. In short, food was uncomplicated -- it satisfied hunger and provided nourishment for body, mind, and soul.

Fast forward 23 years. My current relationship with food is anything but uncomplicated. In so many ways, I feel as if I'm flailing around, looking for the magic answer -- maybe Weight Watchers, maybe Atkins, maybe Dr. Berg's liver cleanse. Maybe swimming 3 days per week, maybe join a gym. Let's walk every day, let's aspire to walk every day, let's sleep late. Let's pray the weight off, let's talk the weight off -- hell, let's blog the weight off.

When in fact, losing weight is as simple as eating fewer calories than you expend, consistently, day by day. Maybe there IS a magic answer -- maybe it's giving up and taking what I'll call "the Italian Cure" -- I'll eat for nourishment, in every sense of the word. I'll eat with joy and with a sense of cameraderie (hard to do with picky grade schooler (!!!) and preschooler (!!!!!) and husband with newly-diagnosed celiac disease!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!, but still). I'll eat for adventure -- trying new things that break free of routine. I'll eat for stability, making sure that I don't consume things that spike my blood sugar and make me cranky.

The Italian Cure. I think I like it.