Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Gelato is Not My Friend

We have arrived in Zagreb amidst a day of confusion, cloudbursting thundershowers, and stress. We weren't prepared for the profound difference (otherness) of a former eastern-block country.There is undoubtedly still a haunted sensibility about this area. It is well-traveled and safe now, but the memory of how violently the Yugoslav Republic splintered is still echoing through this country, I can distinctly feel it—and you can see it in the torn balconies, bullet-ridden barns of the countryside, and wall-to-wall graffiti throughout the city (and in the stone-cold faces of the Croatian border patrol). There is so much going on in the world right now that I can’t ignore. The conflict in Lebanon, and our “official” US response to it is extremely distressing. Aaron’s brother in law is Lebanese, and I have learned that one of my friends had family in Lebanon at the time the conflict began (good luck in reaching your aunt, Sam). When we were in Tuscany an Israeli family was staying at our B & B. The two young men we met had already served their mandatory stint in the army, and were telling us how they had explained to their younger sister during dinner the necessity of the invasion (which no one is calling an invasion). They were so earnest, so sure of the righteousness of all of Israel’s moves. It wasn’t the time or the place to attempt to unravel or argue with them, but it was difficult for me not to.

On a lighter note, can we spend just a minute talking about food? I must reiterate that the Italians know how to eat. The food there is flavorful, simple and generally local. We had a good meal every time we ate with only one exception. The tasty meals have taken their toll on yours truly because suddenly none of my clothes are fitting me. When I tried on a dress at a small boutique in Venice, I emerged from the dressing room patting my protruding belly, when the proprietor of the boutique chuckled and muttered “gelato” in a knowing sort of way. I wouldn’t mind so much if we were all in it together, but these young, gorgeous Italian women chow down on gelato or a panna cota while sipping on hot chocolate and still somehow remain bone thin. The Italians really get what it means to have sex appeal, it isn’t obvious or surgically obtained, it’s internal, embodied in movement, style and confidence. Anyway, in the extraordinary heat that persisted during our time there, clothing was necessarily minimal and unforgiving.

But back to the food for a moment. Here are our hits and misses:

* Wild boar, delicious (a tad pungent, but really lovely when prepared well).
* Sheeps cheese, creamy, flavorful, wonderful.
* Panna Cota, a simple milk pudding which—when prepared properly—is a textural and tasty sensation.
* Truffles—America needs to adopt this fungus in our cuisine, it rocks!
* Prosciutto, this is in everything, from sandwiches to breakfast platters to pizza, for good reason.
* Good, hard, shaved parmesan cheese—ours comes close, but not quite.
* Smoked goose breast … from La Vigne, served in truffle pasta, yummmm.

* Squid ink pasta—I’m an open-minded eater, but I couldn’t fault Aaron for leaving his charcoal-toned platterful viritually untouched. This is one Venetian delicacy I could do without.
* Uncertified chianti wines. You know, the ones that come with baskets attached to the bottom of the bottle … there’s no need to buy this swilly wine when certified chianti, which is far, far better, and can be just a euro or two more.
* Raw, shaved goose breast. Fatty and soft, not a good version of the goose.
* Buffalo mozzarella, I just don’t get it, it’s lumpy and nearly tasteless—one must soak it in olive oil and seasonings to give it some umph. In my opinion it is basically Italian tofu without the positive protein quotient.
* Lettuce in panini sandwiches. They do this all the time, and then grill it! Warm lettuce, bad!
* Mint Italian ices, if you like the taste of toothpaste, you’ll enjoy this unhappy flavor choice for a refreshing snack--I found it unpleasant (and the Kelly green color stains your mouth). BTW, I switched to ices after the gelato weight-gain was revealed.

Our only two rip-offs so far occurred in Venice, so we weren’t too broken-hearted when we left. We were charged about $35 for a carafe of some really awful house wine at a grimy, sub-standard restaurant (our one bad food experience in Italy), and 65 euro (about $90) for a 15-minute water taxi ride to the parking structure as we were leaving. You live and you learn. Between the toll roads, the price of petrol, and service charges, we are definitely doing our share of learning. Venice is truly something to see, however, and I recommend it--but prepare for the onslaught of fees.

I’ll be back with more on Zagreb soon. It’s 90 degrees out, with moisture in the air so thick it’s like walking through a steam sauna. Should be an interesting day of sightseeing … I’ve barely anything left to wear, but laundry in our hotel is charged by the piece, shirts costing nearly $3.00, trousers $5.00! Don’t think I’m not learning to appreciate our economic heft in the US as I continue my travels!

P.S. Official dolce (sweets) count after leaving Italy, 6 gelatos, 3 Italian ices, 2 cheese cakes, 6 panna cotas, 2 tiramisus, 1 strawberry cake thing, 3 fruit tart things, 1 pear tart. I may have missed something, but you get the drift! Add sweet breakfast croissants every morning and there's no surprise as to my new dolce bulge.


At 11:51 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Panna Cotta!!! Is there possibly a more heavenly dessert?? I love that shit! I used to get the best panna cotta with strawberries and grappa at a little cafe in the SF's Little Italy -- oh how I miss it.

I feel for you with the food - waistline debacle. How frustrating it must be for you -- I know how much you love fine clothing, and how you must have been drooling over boutiques in Italy. Screw it though. The memory of the food will stay with you longer than the dress you'll toss back in your closet and only wear twice.



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