When in Tuscany, Do as the Italians Do

In January, when I returned from my first pandemic vacation, visiting our son and daughter-in-law and grandkids in Mexico (where I had indulged in lots of beer and guacamole), I stepped onto a scale for the first time in two years and weighed in at 178 pounds, which is pretty much the top of the weight scale for me. I’d noticed for a while that my clothing had been getting tight. I was wearing my biggest pair of jeans on a daily basis. Nothing else fit.

I knew that my eating had grown increasingly stress related. One little square of chocolate turned into half the bar and then into the whole bar. At meals, I ate seconds and sometimes thirds, just because food was a comfort. But that moment was a wake-up call and I decided that I was going to lose all my extra pandemic weight.

Starting the next day, I cut out sugar and alcohol, most bread and all desserts, reduced my portion size, began obsessively tracking everything I put in my mouth using the LoseIt! app. I bought myself a replacement Fitbit, committed to swimming three times a week and walking almost every day. In five and a half months, I lost 30 pounds and thoroughly enjoyed a slimmer me. Superficial, yes it was, but it was definitely satisfying. In the crazy world we live in, something I could control!

I kept to my new regime at home—and since it was still the pandemic, I was eating 90% of my meals at home. On those rare occasions when I was a guest at someone’s home or was spending multiple days at a retreat center (twice this spring), I ate what was served, just with lesser portions. Then when I got back home, I returned to my tracking and narrower daily diet. And the pounds melted away.

In the back of my mind, I knew I was coming to Italy and that one of the major pleasures of the trip would be gastronomical. There was no way I was going to continue my obsessive management of my food intake while I was in Tuscany. And I’m pleased to say I haven’t. I’ve eaten gelato every day, had wine each evening (something I don’t do at home), and have relished every delicious plateful of pasta that’s been put in front of me.

I am thoroughly enjoying Italian food. There’s just one problem.

As a child, I was a very picky eater. To an extreme. And there are still whole categories of food I avoid—organ meats, raw meats, certain kinds of shellfish, anchovies, to name a few. Yet in life, we find ourselves in situations where we’re served food that’s unfamiliar or that we haven’t liked in the past. A food we don’t know or don’t prefer. A taboo food. I often find myself silently panicking in those situations.

I remember one time visiting our daughter in Amman, Jordan and she said she’d be ordering for us, and she ordered a whole bunch of little dishes for us to taste and several involved raw meat and parts of animals I’d never considered eating. I just couldn’t bring myself to taste some of those dishes she chose for us with such love. I just couldn’t force myself. I felt like a real coward.

So last night, when Graseilah and her sister Gigi took us out to their favorite Florentine restaurant, I immediately began scouting the menu for something familiar and safe. That familiar feeling of uh-oh started to come up, but then I decided to put on my big girl boots. Karyn and I smiled and told Graseilah and Gigi that they should choose our dinner. They ordered a range of choices, and everything we had was fantastic. Even the liver pate on crackers (liver being something I only ate twice in my life—both times I was pregnant) was delicious.

Tonight, Karyn and I asked Graseilah to direct us out of the tourist district for dinner, and she sent me a pin for San Nicolo, a neighborhood about a 20-minute walk from our hotel. I downloaded it onto my phone, and we were on our way.

San Nicolo was lively and full of Italians just starting to consider the possibility of maybe thinking about dinner at 9:30 on a Sunday night. We wandered around the streets (see images below) and finally settled on a restaurant with outside tables. Since this wasn’t the touristy part of town, the menus were in Italian, the waiters didn’t speak English, and the other guests were all Italians. I pulled out Google translate and tried to make sense of the menu that way. Once again, the fear of eating something unfamiliar rose inside me. But we ordered anyway—a pasta dish, a salad, and some fish. Aside from the pasta dish, the others arrived nothing like we expected. I tasted all of it, liked some of it, but more than anything enjoyed the courage it took to say yes, to go with the unfamiliar.

Isn’t that what traveling is all about?

Now take a night walk with me. Read the captions below.

Condom dispenser on the street. I knew this vending machine looked different and when I got closer, this is what I saw.
Many choices!
And more choices.
And more. Really can you image this in the US? I actually believe there was a condom dispenser in my son ‘s dorm room his freshman year at MIT. Great idea, right?
Even a dildo!
The gelato store we indulged in after dinner. I had pistachio.
Yum.
Posters
Frames
Stickers on a bar door
A second condom machine, a block away. This one lit up at night.

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