postcards from Italy.

in one of my first blog posts to Caringbridge, back in 2012 (yes, 2012), i lamented how disruptive cancer was and is, how i was supposed to go to iceland and italy and so many other places. i feel as though i’ve been so lucky to be able to shake a fist at cancer and go. go go go. to all those places and more.

instead of detailing the incredible-ness that is italy, i’m pasting a story that my dear friend erin wrote to us. part of it is also published in the last BAYS book. i have no doubt that if she were still alive, she’d invite me over for a sampling of italian red wines and ask me to regale her with stories of our trip, what it was like to ring in our fifth anniversary on the grand canal in venice with an aperol spritz in hand, how it felt to bike through the streets of florence, ogle at the world’s most precious works of art, eat gelato in the cinque terra, navigate the cheese counter in bra, and linger together, holding hands, over the views of the italian alps in tuscany. the story erin shares has many layers, but her description of italy was that of which we experienced. and we’re grateful.  

I read the recent posts with so much consternation, so much sadness for the anxiety and the anger and the infuriating contradictions in ‘recommendations.’ I fight with all of it too and have been on every side of this debate, from my post-diagnosis juicing regimen (beets, carrots, fresh turmeric root!) to my full-throated refusal to give up yet another aspect of my life that matters to me. Sick of quinoa and green tea, I have thrown up my hands and said ‘I can’t live the rest of my life like I’m on a cleanse.’

But, I had a vision this morning. I want to sweep us all up—every one of us—and fly us to Italy. At least in our imaginations.

 When I was in my twenties, I lived in Europe, and once, when my parents visited, we went together to Positano. This dramatic centerpoint of the Amalfi Coast is one of those dream-like towns with ice-cream colored houses impossibly stacked on each other, on steep cliffs down to the Mediterranean. One day, on the suggestion of a local, we hiked up, away from the town, even higher on the cliffs—up and up and up. We steadily climbed 1,742 stairs up to the peak, past tiny vegetable gardens wedged in between houses, olive groves and lemon trees on precipitous terraces, until we reached a tiny restaurant with a patio looking down over all we had climbed, the sea sparkling astonishingly far below.

To call it a ‘restaurant’ is actually a misnomer:  do not think menus or waiters or even a cash register. It was really two or three rickety tables on the back patio of an Italian grandma, a ‘nonna,’ who was basically letting a few knowing strangers come over for lunch. You ate whatever she brought you, and you blessed every single morsel for the unbelievable tastes it emitted.

Can you picture this? If we were there, there would be no ‘kosher,’ no ‘vegan,’ no ‘gluten-free.’ She would not countenance putting anything ‘on the side.’ There would be squash blossoms picked that day, and pillows of pasta she rolled out on her counter that morning, and tomatoes that would make you think you had never before eaten a tomato in your life. There would be fish, grilled with spices and herbs so insane you would be sucking the bones for every last possible nibble because you did not want it to end. There would most certainly be wine, but washed down with a lot of water, and possibly some grappa at the end. When you finished this meal, pushing the chair back from the table with the sun on your face, every cell in your body would be singing with contentment. Then you would have to figure out how to get back down those 1,742 stairs.

 Can you feel it? Can we remember that food is not medicine and food is not poison? It is nourishment we need, both body and soul. It is communal and it is pleasurable and it does not have the final word on our future.

I am not suggesting we spend all day in the kitchen. Far from it. Let us just love food more and torment ourselves less. Let us give thanks for the choices we have and try our best not to torture ourselves over them. Let us please remember that if we climb 1,742 steps, we deserve an incredible meal.

thank you for all your anniversary wishes. here’s to another year around the sun for all of us.

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