So yesterday was one of those days. The weather was horrible, and the time change (we just had daylight savings time here) totally threw me off. In fact, I went to the gym thinking I had a lot more time than I actually had, and they threw me out into the cold and rain before I had the chance to tie my shoes or put on my jacket! So I wasn’t in a great mood, but not in a terrible mood either. I was a little bit lonely because many of my friends left to go back home, and I was missing my own friends and family and home, too. But I did what I always do when I am feeling in a bit of rut… I opened up my umbrella and tried to get lost in this gorgeous city in which I am so privileged to live. I found this adorable little restaurant on a small street near the busy Piazza di San Lorenzo, where they sell all the leather. It is called QuantoBasta, which means “However Much Is Enough.” It is so called because they are famous for their gourmet buffet, which is even bigger and more elaborate on Sundays. I had already eaten lunch so I went in and sat on a sofa, ordered a coffee and dessert, and just observed. It is a popular destination for big groups of families and friends because everyone loves buffets. There was this big family at the table right in front of me, complete with kids young and old. They were so ecstatic to be in each other’s company, and to be warm and dry inside this gorgeous little hideaway. So there I sat, eating the most delicious chocolate-hazelnut mousse, drinking a delicious coffee and pretending to read a magazine but really just watching the group laugh and carry on like there was nothing else in the world at that moment but the 12 of them. I think Americans often need a special occasion to bring them together with family and friends, but for this family, a simple rainy Sunday afternoon was all the excuse they needed. It was a nice thing for me to see.
My friend Andre told me about a market/festival that was taking place yesterday afternoon. I decided to check it out, mostly because it was quite far away and in spite of the rain I felt like taking a walk. It turned out to be a dingy excuse for an indoor flea market, and I stayed all of 3 minutes before I decided to leave. Life is often hit-or-miss, and though this was a total miss, I never would have known if I hadn’t decided to be adventurous. But it did put me somewhat near Andre’s house, so I stopped by for a tea and a chat with him and his Italian roommate, Iacopo (Jacob). As always, the two of them were excellent company, and I got to warm up a little before braving the weather yet again. This time I didn’t wander very far, because just up the street is this wonderful restaurant called Via Vai, which is somewhat famous among the Florentines. I have had my eye on it for quite awhile, and since I didn’t have a reservation I had to go “early” by Italian standards, which was actually around 8:00 PM. I decided to totally go for it, so I treated myself to one of the most memorable dinners of my life. I had a big delicious glass of Chianti Classico while I awaited my first course, Risotto alla Parmigiano con Tartufo Fresco (risotto, or a creamy rice dish, with parmesan cheese and fresh truffles). It was the first time I had ever eaten fresh truffles, and I have to say, it was an amazing culinary experience. I have had truffle sauce and truffle butter and truffle oil, and while they are all good in their own rite, there is just nothing in the entire world like a wonderfully simple dish topped with paper-thin shavings of fresh truffles. The only other experience that could even come close was the first time I tasted real balsamic vinegar– both are like dances of light and darkness in your mouth that linger for several minutes. It sounds obtuse, I know, but I can’t think of a better way of describing it. So I was as content as a bug in a rug, waiting for my second course, which the waitress recommended to me: Brassato di Vitello con Fagiolini Mangiatutto. I knew that “Vitello” means veal and that “Fagiolini” means green beans, but the rest was a total mystery. Whenever I go out to eat here, I like to try things that I have never heard of because it is more of an adventure that way. Of course one time I ended up with tripe (the fourth stomach of a cow), which was actually not as bad as it sounds, but I wouldn’t knowingly order it again! Anyway, it turned out to be this kind of wonderful stew, but not a proper stew like we Americans know. The veal was cooked for hours and hours in this wonderful gravy sauce (I later found out that “Brasato” means “braised”). It fell apart when you touched it with the fork and absolutely melted in your mouth. The green beans were tender as can be, and tossed in the same gravy. I was just totally elated and took my sweet time savoring every single bite. The wine was perfect with the dish, cutting the richness of the meat. Absolutely outrageously delicious. Of course I could not leave without dessert, so I picked the one thing on the menu that I didn’t recognize: Buontalenti con Fragole. I knew that “Fragole” are strawberries, so what could be bad about that? It turned out that Buontalenti is a type of custard gelato (ice cream), obviously homemade. I looked up Buontalenti and found out that it is also called “Crema di Firenze,” or “Cream of Florence,” but the name Buontalenti comes from the man, a Florentine, who first invented gelato! A good move on my part, because it was absolutely the most memorable gelato that I have had thus far, and that is saying a lot!
So while I was sitting there in that restaurant, I wrote a little in the mini-journal that I always carry with me. Though it is slightly embarrassing, I thought I would share my entry with you:
It is not always a bad thing to be alone. It makes you more aware of the things around you, and as long as you take some time out of your day to sit somewhere wonderful, you can watch all the happy friends, couples, and families who come through, and then you are reminded that, though in that moment you are alone, you are surrounded by a thousand happy examples of what the rest of your life looks like to others, when you yourself are surrounded by the people that you love. I have found that many of the times when I have felt most lonesome in my life were times in which I was not alone, but with other people. Similarly, many of the times when I have felt most full and most present, like at this very moment, I have been technically alone. A strange fact, but true nonetheless. It can therefore be a good exercise of the soul to eat dinner alone, to wine and dine yourself like it is the last meal you will ever eat, and then when you don’t think you can fit another bite, to linger over a wonderful dessert while you observe others at their very best, surrounded by the people they love most in life.
I left my table more than an hour and a half after I first sat down, and decided that, though it was late, I was not quite ready to call it a night. So I took they long way home, with the intention of passing through Piazza della Signoria (where the Uffizi is) because it is always most beautiful at night when it is not so crowded. I crossed the bridge back to my side of the river, and stopped in awe at the way the river was tossing to and fro. It looked like I was staring out at the ocean on a stormy night, a gorgeous misrepresentation of the calm river I see every day. It was completely swollen with the massive amount of rain that has come through Florence in the last month, and the place where the water cascades down a small, 6-foot dam, resembled a great rushing waterfall with all its force. It was really a beautiful site. With my umbrella held close to my body, I finally stumbled into Piazza della Signoria, where I was greeted by a friendly voice singing The Boxer by Simon and Garfunkel. I stopped and listened a while while this lonely Bristish man lit up the entire Piazza with his voice and his guitar and I felt entirely at peace with the world just as it was at that moment. I wandered over to the open-air portion of the museum and marveled at the statues for awhile before deciding to head on home. I finally crawled into bed around midnight, feeling almost proud of myself for having had such a great day in spite of myself and the weather.