In June of 2012, I moved to Florence. In the last days of November 2013, I made a trip back to my motherland. If I can call America that. I went because it was time to take a break. And also to perform a wedding. Yes, I am a certified wedding officiant. If you are coming to Italy looking for an American wedding officiant- you can count on me. Yes yes, I am a woman of many trades: travel, food, wine, cooking and yes- officiating marriages.
This wedding was in Hawaii. The weather was a dream. The wedding went off with a bang and a bit of whiskey.
My 1st week in America involved lots of fish, raw fish, mango, avocados the size of melons, papaya, poke salads (my favorite) and street tacos. During my stay in the paradise of Kauai, I attended a coffee tour, a rum tasting tour and many days at the beach attempting to body board, sipping mai tais and pina coladas in between. I almost want to move back to Seattle just so that I can have easy access to Hawaii. America did a good job securing that state as one of ours. As beautiful and unique as it was, I couldn’t help thinking how much it resembled L’Isola d’Elba off the Tuscan coast. So Italian expats or Italophiles (or just plain ol’ Italians), if you’d like to experience Hawaii but can’t make the trek- go to Elba!
Shortly, my fated return to Seattle ensued. I made sure to avoid anything Italian and get my fill on Vietnamese food, French food, happy hours, gastropub grub, speakeasy cocktails, whiskey and gingers, burgers and brunch. The most notable restaurants were:
Matt’s in the Market- A wicked view of the iconic Pike Place Market over pork belly Vietnamese baguette sandwiches and oysters. Heaven.
Le Zinc- the best duck confit of my life. The chefs in the back were cutie enough to bring me and a girlfriend out some warm homemade white chocolate butter cookies. On the house. The interior needs some work and the venue as a whole is lacking some serious soul. For what it lacks in soul, the kitchen makes up with its surgeon-like buttering skills so definitive to French cuisine.
Canon- my favorite speakeasy cocktail and spirits bar in the world. Be careful about ordering scotch- the server may surprise you with a $16 glass.
Greenleaf Vietnamese in the International District- If you go with a meat lover, don’t miss the 7 course beef menu’ for just 30 bucks. Split it and get a beer.
Bitterroot in Ballard– One word: MEAT. Okay two: BBQ. This my friends, was the Cowgirl Killer platter. Split it with 4 people and be proud of your carnivorous tendencies.
I also made a pitstop to L.A. where I gorged myself on an all you can order buffet and all you can drink peach bellini with a live D.J. (talk about reversal corporate capitalistic culture shock) at a place in Santa Monica I can’t even remember and so ashamed of that I won’t even bother googling it and telling you where I discovered the bowels of hell.
My overall reaction to food in America is that everything tastes like nothing and it is waaaaay too expensive. I don’t drink milk except the occasional splash in my coffee but when I did have it, I wanted to spit it right back in the milk “farmer’s” face who milked it. Milk in America tastes like water. Bread has way too many ingredients and no one seems to understand that perhaps this whole “gluten intolerance” fad may have something to do with GMO’s, non-autochthonous grain varieties but also with the rising process which generally uses commercial yeasts which continue to ferment in our gut. In Italy, a good baker will ferment their bread for 48 hours with something called “the mother yeast” with simply flour, water and salt- no industrial yeast needed. Vegetables aren’t that fresh even on the West Coast. And if they are, they are offensively expensive. For example, I visited a PCC Market (aka big yuppy idiot wanna-be green granola co-op corporate posers) and had to talk a friend out of brussel sprouts that were $6.99 a POUND. Which in Italy would be like maybe €3 a kilo (which is 2.2 pounds). I was so infuriated with the exclusivity of food and good eating in America.
If you are broke in America, you eat crap and can’t afford vegetables lest they have been soaked in waxes and industrial agricultural chemicals. In Italy and you are broke, you can still manage to afford whole foods like fresh produce from the outdoor markets. And I was also perturbed by the very stingy yet greedy attitude towards the dining public. I.e.: Tipping. I.e.: Picking up my plate before I’ve even finished what’s on it. You know, I really resent how there is an unspoken rule of a whopping 20% tipping in America, or at least Seattle. I live in Florence where people break their backs for €1000 a month in restaurants and bars and they are lucky to see €5 a night in tips. You know the only difference between the service in America and in Florence? Is that I’m not force-fed a gallon of ice water, fake niceties, and nor do I have my plates whisked from me in a passive aggressive attempt to shoo me out just so they can cash in on their arbitrary tip and get in another tip-leaver. At the end of a meal in Florence and America- I still have my meal and in Florence it’s probably a better one and yet why do I have to leave a 20% tip in America when the end result is the same? I’m not saying that tips are completely unwarranted, believe me. I just think the service industry has come to expect tips, even if they provide crappy service.
I became slightly irked with American entitlement and the lack of l’arte di arrangiarsi.I must admit, Americans are great entrepreneurs and the system is set-up in their favor (especially the super arbitrarily rich), but remain to me terrible problem solvers who freak out way too easily at any bump in the road. In Italy, everything is an obstacle course. I think this lends a certain amount of being able to get around things and ironically creates efficiency and flexibility. In America, there is so much investment in (certain sectors) labor and micromanaging that it takes 3 people and 2 instructional training videos on how to stock a box of cereal on the shelf.
But at least here in Florence-we eat, vacation and drink like gods. I have realized that Italy is a place where humans were meant to live. I love my home country. I love Seattle and the West Coast so much that I could burst, in spite of all of its gentrified contradictions. But when I think of how humans are supposed to live: friends, long meals, cheap espresso, delicious produce so full of flavor you could cry, affordable food, beautiful islands, public transport, being able to get around by bike (as long as it doesn’t get stolen) stunning ancient architecture, tradition, culinary arts steeped deep in history, late nights, outdoor concerts and harvest festivals…not to mention: vacations, family, good wine, breathtaking nature, relaxation and perfect 4 season weather- I can’t imagine a place more idyllic. I could be exaggerating and leaving some things out aka reality, but this was my general impression of a place I had decisively left for a place like Florence, Italy.
So there you have it. Italy is one of the biggest loves of my life. With some of the best food on earth. And I hope to stay on this ride for as long as possible. Until I must peel my fingers off the wheel of this romantic Fiat 500 and drag myself away.
Yours in romantic cynicism,