Roma, 17 maggio 2021
Dear R. ~
Saturday we went to the beach. Doesn’t that sound lovely? I bet you are imagining an Amalfi sun, lemon yellow and bright, the azure ocean water gently tickling my toes, and me with book in hand propped up on a striped lettino, glamorous black sunglasses giving me that Italian allure, eyes on the horizon.
It wasn’t like that at all. After a week of perfect Spring weather, sunny, warm and dry (those Roman hot and humid summer days are just around the corner…) Saturday was windy, cloudy and cold. But as I heard someone say later that day as we combed the beach, hands clasping our ears to keep the wind out, il mare sempre fa bene and it’s true, even when the weather isn’t great, being seaside is always good for you. The air is fresh and sweet, and digging your feet into the sand is invigorating, a taste of summer days to come.
We met up with vaccinated friends we hadn’t seen for a year and settled into tables set out on the sand with a view of the choppy ocean, cresting emerald green waves reminding me that it was the Mediterranean nonetheless. There was no need for the sun umbrellas – in fact ear muffs would have been nice – but I also couldn’t help thinking that the wind was blowing any potential viral droplets very far away, and so I got cozy with the liter of house white brought to the table and dug into a bowl of the most succulent mussels I’ve had here yet, tender octopus, oven baked fish and potatoes, and of course a huge plate of spaghetti alle vongole, as a primo to start the feast. Besides the fabulous company and easy conversation, not to mention that it was my first encounter with fellow humans since I can’t remember when – I mean beyond shop keepers and market vendors and my doctor, I haven’t had an actual in- person conversation with anyone except my husband – what made it perfect was the seamless timing at the table. Everything was brought to the table at the precise moment, from the bottle of lightly bubbly water brought at the beginning of the affair to the last sip of limoncello to close out lunch, we never once noticed a lag or felt rushed, even the bowls of cozze weren’t picked up before we had ample time to inzuppare every drop of the broth, sinking fluffy bread into the bowl and sponging it up. This is generally the rule at the Italian table, the minute you sit down the protocol a tavola initiates and the choreography of the meal begins, every dish from antipasti to dessert arrives at the right time and in the right order and all you have to do is enjoy the food. There is no stress about when the food is coming, if they got your order right, if the salad will come out before the meat, none of that. The food is brought to the table at the right time, at the perfect temperature, and your only job is to eat it all. That last part can be stressful. It’s always embarrassing to not finish everything on your plate, it’s considered rude and an indicator that you didn’t like it, which can be offensive to the cook. This is not to say that there aren’t bad restaurants – there are – or that you won’t fall prey to a tourist trap along the way – you will – but overall protocol and gastronomic pride keep dining an accessible and delectable luxury for all.
But back to our lunch, the most delicious thing about it, even though it was windy and cold, was plunging my feet deep into the sand while we ate. I don’t think anybody noticed me slyly pulling off my boots (yes I wore boots to the beach, I have finally learned that Roman Spring is a trickster) and as we ate and laughed and shared good food, my toes wiggled happily in the sand, sensing the start of a new season.
Wish you were here,
P.S. : I’ve enclosed a sachet of wild chamomile for your bedtime tisane. We went flower picking along the sand dunes afterwards and the salty air makes the buds extra sweet. Good thing I was wearing boots!