You’d think I would have had enough travel over the summer: a month in Europe, a few weeks in New England, a cross country drive from California to Virginia, Boston and back, and 10 days in Hawaii. But during the second week of the school year I was selected to present at a conference in Naples, Italy…
Today is September 11, 2018, 17 years since the horrible day that changed our world forever. Back in October of 2001, I actually made a pilgrimage of sorts to Lower Manhattan, as I simply had to see what had happened to New York after the events of the prior month.
One of the joys of travel is meeting strangers who become new friends, and on my most recent trip to Rome, I met a man named Scott, a humanities professor from a university in the American Midwest who was living in Rome for several weeks while working on a book. After some conversation it was apparent that we were kindred spirits and I invited him to join me at my favorite restauant in Rome for lunch. Thankfully he liked my restaurant choice, and as we were parting ways for the afternoon he said that the following day he planned to go to a small restaurant called Sora Margherita he’d been to a couple of years prior. He asked if I wanted to join him and I accepted, though I was a little unnerved when he mentioned something about a waitress who’d simply seemed to despise the friend he’d dined with there the first time.
Back in my apartment I google-searched the restaurant and because I have come to rely heavily on TripAdvisor reviews, I was a bit uneasy when I noted that many of the reviews there were negative. It seemed, however, that most of the bad comments concerned the service, not the food, and many reviews mentioned a surly, rude waitress who “abused” the customers. Some said that she would “force” people to finish the food on their plates, which sounded rather scary. I wondered whether this was the same person who had “despised” Scott’s poor friend.
With a little hesitation, I headed out into the blazing Roman sun the following day and headed for Rome’s “Jewish Ghetto” neighborhood. a part of the city that I was not terribly familiar with, in search of Sora Margherita. I met Scott out front as planned and we headed inside with a little trepidation. The restaurant is a long, naoow space with maybe 15 tables. We were seated quickly, and before I even got my bearings I noticed a waitress eyeing us suspiciously, and thought, “Uh-oh”, as she swaggered over to our table. In Italian she asked us what we wanted, and having not even seen a menu we were hesitant to reply. Before we could get a sentence out, she told us just to “trust her” and she would bring us what she thought we should eat. She had a look about her that told me not to argue, and for some reason seemed to like us, so we agreed to go with the flow and allow her to choose our dishes.
I was really glad that I’d been forewarned by the TripAdvisor reviews, because otherwise I would have been even more taken by surprise than I was. Our waitress came to the table bearing a dish of marinated vegetable and before I could even react, she spooned up a healthy portion from the plate and shoved it into my mouth, a strange and triumphant look on her face as she stared at the camera that Scott had whipped out to capture the moment. I was laughing hard, but also trying not to choke to death on my food as she proceeded to break off some bread and shove a slice of that into my mouth as well. Honestly, all I could think of was that I was in some lost episode of I Love Lucy, and had to fight the urge to call Ethel for help! She did also attempt to force-feed Scott, but the look he gave her back was enough for her to back off and focus her attentions solely on me.
Thoroughout our meal we chatted with her a bit more and learned that her name was Tiziana. She really was good humored, but with just enough of an edge to let me know that I did not want to get on her bad side, and I imagine that many of the poor TripAdvisor reviewers that spoke about her rudeness and abuse had not taken her behavior with as much of a sense of fun as I did.
Aside from these antics, I thought the food was quite good. The marinated vegetables were delcious and she brought us out a couple of different pasta dishes that were quite tasty. There were a couple of other dishes that were not so memoriable, but my favorite part of the meal was dessert. (Ok, that is not uncommon for me!) It was a warm ricotta cake with black cherries and was molta, molta buona!
All in all, I would not by any means say that this was one of the best meals I’ve ever had in Rome, but it was an entertaining and decent lunch and is a memory I will carry for quite some time. And I think by the time we left I had definitely made a new friend in Tiziana, who gave me a gentle kiss on the cheek that seemed to suggest that she does have a tender side despite all evidence to the contrary! Grazie, Tiziana! Until the next time… arrivederci!
After a week in Europe, the first rain of my trip came on the day I was driving from Lisbon to the Algarve region in the southwestern part of Portugal. It was the perfect day to be in a car, as I could only imagine myself slipping and sliding up and down Lisbon’s precarious hills on slick, unevenly tiled sidewalks.
I discovered Le Tournebièvre (named evidently because it is located on Quai de la Tournelle at the corner of Rue de Bievre) on a trip to Paris in the summer of 2017. I was wandering along the quai across the river from Notre Dame, and as I got further from the crush of people and tourist-oriented cafes around Saint-Michel, I noticed a quiet, unassuming little restaurant with outdoor seating. There was one outside table available, and I took this as a sign, and settled in for a wonderful three course dinner that seemed traditionally French, but the food also had an exciting, innovative flair…
A 30 minute drive west of Milano, near the town of Arluno, lies a tiny, gastronomic oasis of green and tranquility just waiting from those adventurous enough to leve the city, get off the autostrada and find it.