For me, for a week, speeding across the narrow, winding roads of Emilia Romagna, I embraced having no agenda. I celebrated having no duties. I enjoyed the luxury of being open. And so...
I met a guardian. A small, myopic man appeared. He chastised me for not appearing to like food very much. His belly would greatly overshadow Santa’s bowl full of jelly. Supporting his wide girth with the thump of two palms he suggested that, together, we might do some work on “feeding the baby.” (I wasn't pregnant then. He meant to fatten me up to a fraction of the apparent triplets he had already grown). When undertaking a gustatory adventure, or, actually, even when not, this is a good kind of man to know.
I found a bit of what I'd lost. To pursue food for the pure pleasure of learning about it, and only secondarily to eat it, and, distantly, in 10th or 20th place, because it might be strategic, wasn’t something I’d done in a long time. And oh, I realized, how I missed it. How I used to delight in stuffing my head with stories, historical oddities, funny facts, the names of wizened, animal-milking men. That was my great delight. And somewhere along the way, I lost it. I think the story I'd told myself was that I was bored, but really I see now that I had brilliantly boxed myself in. I had created a job and a professional identity in which I had efficiently replaced these little trinkets of thought with the practical, the strategic, the challenging-for-the-sake-of-challenge.
Oh, to be free to go where I pleased, and with whom I pleased, for no better reason than my gut told me I would enjoy it, and might learn something. To feast to ridiculous excess-- three hour lunches that began with Franciacorta, palely yellow with a tiny, fine bubble and light green apple finish; swaths of the local white cheese, Stracchino, said to be made from the rich, day-end milk of tired bovines who’d walked the mountain foothills, drizzled with the black syrup that is real balsamic vinegar and has made the town of Modena famous; feathery drapes of Culatello di Zibello so sweet and luscious it makes Prosciutto seem like an overtanned Jerseyite. And then pastas, two or three, electric yellow with egg yolks and swabbed in cream-softened Bolognese, or stuffed with a mash of potato, slippery-slick with sage butter. The desserts that I never really care for at home but that, in Italy, seem criminally rude to decline. And all the while, my barrel-shaped host regaling me with the history of pre-War Reggio Emilia, and all the economic and cultural reasons why one cheese wound up the way it did, because of what its people were living through.
In short, naming my fear and choosing instead an adventure led me back to myself, and to the small, beating heart of the work I really desire.