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A Cup of Italian Gelato
& A New Chapter of Life
Yesterday was the five year anniversary of my corporate layoff. I had worked for the company for over six years. Three months before the pink slip day, I had told my new “Barbie Doll” boss that if they were going to make some cut-backs, please add me to the list as I felt it was time to go and spread my wings. I was the manager of meetings and events and with recent budget cuts, the meetings that I produced had all been cancelled. The writing was on the wall and instead of being upset, I decided this would be opportunity for me grow professional, personally and spiritually. When it came to leaps of faith, I had past experiences where I saw the dots connecting and knew I was always taken care of. Those past lessons made it easy to trust that the next chapter of my life was beginning and I was eager to embrace it!
My friend, Jackie, who lived in Florida, had been to Los Angeles the month before for business and we had met for dinner. She told me she was going to Italy for a business trip in April and a friend was going to meet her there after her conference, and they would explore Italy for a week. I called her after I was laid off and she said, “Come to Italy with us, I’m leaving Tuesday!” On a whim, I decided to call Delta and see if I could get a free ticket with my frequent flyer points. After two hours on the phone with the Delta agent (it was Easter week and not easy to book a free flight), I finally had a reservation. I told my husband, Jimmy, I was going to go to Italy with Jackie and her girlfriend and he was not happy. The Godfather is his favorite movie and he has wanted to go to Italy for years. My response was, “I’ve never been to Europe and I think it’s time for me to go!” His response was, “OK, if I get laid off and I tell you I’m going to Scotland with the guys to play golf, what would you do?” I said I would probably be pissed off, but my mind was made up as deep down I knew this was something I had to do. I started to pack and make plans to meet Jackie in Bologna where her conference was being held.
After flying straight through the night, changing planes in Newark and Rome, I arrived at 11:00 AM in Bologna, Italy and went straight to the hotel. Jackie was at her conference so I got into the room, took a shower and went to explore. I found a great little café right down the street from the hotel and ordered the most delicious green salad and pasta dish. I don’t think I had ever eaten tomatoes as fresh and tasty. The simple dressing of olive oil and balsamic dressing was simply perfect and I swore I would never use any other dressing again. The pasta was a simple dish with a wonderful hearty red sauce with parma ham and peas, sprinkled generously with fresh parmesan cheese and accompanied by crusty Italian bread -- simply divine. I was in heaven! It felt so empowered to be travelling by myself, sitting in an Italian café and enjoying life with me. Although I didn’t know the language and was in a strange country, the excitement I felt overruled my fears.
After my yummy lunch, I went exploring the beautiful town of Bologna. I soon discovered that Bologna is considered the “gastronomical city of the world” and I know why. Shop after shop of cheeses, meats, vegetables, pasta, coffee, gelato and chocolates! Since it was Easter week, the chocolate shops were filled with the most beautiful chocolate Easter eggs I have ever seen. My mouth was watering the entire afternoon and I couldn’t wait until the next meal. I strolled down cobblestoned streets with a map in my hands and came across an Italian funeral outside a beautiful church. I ducked into the café across the street, sat at the window dipping sweet biscotti into my delicious rich cappuccino as I watched the funeral procession. I felt blessed to witness an important part of Italian life.
From there I wondered into an incredible Italian shoe store and bought a pair of white leather loafers trimmed in bright green. I couldn’t think of what I would wear them with but holding the beautiful leather shoes in my hands made me happy. I loved the smell and color and I knew I had to own these shoes. I would plan my summer wardrobe around them. I took off my old walking shoes, slipped them into the shoe box and walked out of the shop with my new shoes on my feet feeling lighter than I’d felt in years!
I turned the corner and saw a Gelato shop. There was a line out the door and I said to myself, “Oh, yes – Italian Gelato, a great way to end my day!” I joined the line and soon had a scoop of hazelnut gelato with cooked figs swirled through the creamy confection. Growing up in Louisiana, my maternal grandmother, Nanny, had fig trees in her backyard in New Orleans. Every year, she would make fig preserves and serve them to me and my sisters on hot biscuits with butter and a glass of cold milk. There is nothing better in life! It is one of my favorite memories of Nanny and I can still see her standing at her kitchen stove cooking those fig preserves, placing them in the glass jars and serving them to us for breakfast. Life doesn’t get better than that!
So here I was in Bologna, my first day in Italy, eating my hazelnut fig gelato, remembering sweet memories of Nanny, and trying to find my way back to my Italian hotel. As the sun went down, jetlag was setting in and I was ready for bed. It had been a beautiful day and I knew that this was the beginning of a grand adventure – exploring Italy, being with girlfriends, eating fabulous food and relishing in the joy of the unknown. Yes, I didn’t know what was around the next bend as I discovered this beautiful country and this new chapter in my life, but I was excited about the possibilities!
Over the next ten days, I would eat gelato every day in Bologna, Florence, Tuscany, Positano and Rome. I would always ask for hazelnut fig, only to be told again and again, “Figs aren’t in season,” and I would be disappointed walking away with some other flavor thinking “Don’t they know they can cook the figs and swirl them in hazelnut gelato?” However, by the end of my trip, I finally realized that nothing was supposed to taste as good as that first cup of gelato on that important day of my life in Bologna, Italy!
Susan Faith, Peggy & Jackie Crist
Looking back now, I know this was the beginning of my journey that would lead me to create “Meanwhile, Back At Café Du Monde…”! I was discovering how precious and poignant life can be around our food memories. We may break bread with others and share our lives – the joy and pain over those meals, but sometimes we must break bread by ourselves. During those solitary meals, we take the time to see where we have been, dream of where we are going and sometimes we are happy to be right where we are!