Carol was determined to maintain a dietary regimen in a country whose entire life rhythm revolves around mealtime. Whenever I'd mention aspects of the glorious Italian culture and history, such as “bread,” “lasagna” and “gelato”, Carol would wag a matronly finger and under a determined, arched eyebrow, admonish: “We're gonna be good, Reid.”
For me, visiting a country whose even most modest citizens thinks about food the way Michelangelo thought about marble, the restaurant menus posted sidewalk side were like Rosetta Stones or Dead Sea Scrolls, revealing the great mysteries of what could be done with dough, tomato sauce, sausage and mozzarella. The National Museum of Italian Main Courses would be the one museum I'd stand in a long line on a hot day for a ticket to enter - If such a museum existed, of course. Instead, I've found myself strolling down restaurant-choked streets like a six-year-old seeing Legoland for the first time.
And so it came to pass as we sat down to dinner on what Carol had earlier decreed as a “no bread day” that she took one look at the basket of sliced baguette presented to us like a Cezanne still life, and said to the waiter, “May we have some olive oil and a small plate.”
One afternoon, I suggested a walking lunch, getting a couple of bistro sandwiches and wandering through some squares and side streets. I thought I'd have to find something vegetarian wrapped in spinach for Carol. Instead she opted for the same salami, cheese and tomato on a baguette that I ordered. As we walked past a stunning cathedral with soaring spires and bell tower, she looked up at it all and remarked with an expression of sheer on her face, “My God, this bread is sooo good!”
Carol was also determined to keep our wine intake under some modicum of restraint. As it happened, we sat down to lunch in a little seaside cafe on what was my birthday. By way of celebration, we each ordered a half-carafe of wine to go with the mushroom pizza that served as my birthday cake. Later, Carol vowed never to order that much wine again, especially for lunch!
Thus did we sit for dinner on the very Ides of March. Carol originally thought a Caesar salad would appropriately mark the occasion of the implementation of the empire's version of the 25th amendment, and added, “hopefully they offer quarter carafes of wine.”
But they didn't. Instead, I noted that the half-carafes were almost as expensive as full bottles. “We can cork up what we don't finish and take it home for room wine.” Carol also spotted a breast of chicken, robed in mozzarella and bathed in a Madeira wine sauce that negated the previously planned homage to the famous Roman dictator. The waiter brought out the bread, olive oil and a small plate, and we were off and running to the best meal with gelato dessert we had had so far.
And yes, there was no wine left over to take back to the room, and later checking out the Irish pub that Carol wanted to scope out for St. Patrick's Day, we topped off the night with a Bailey's Irish Cream, and waltzed our fully satiated selves home, playing with a balloon Carol had removed from the festive pub decorations.
The next morning, Carol remarked about the young couple who had sat next to us during that dinner, drinking only coca cola and sparkling water and sharing a cheese plate. “What was wrong with them?” she asked.
I don't know about them, but I do know we better keep up our daily walking miles, or they might not let us on the plane home in a couple of weeks.