Ratatouille. Not the dish. I’m not a fan of the dish. The movie about the dish. I love it.
The part of the movie I most remember is the part I think most people remember, given you’ve seen it. It was toward the end. The Food Critic tasted the ratatouille and had immediate flashbacks of being a kid–eating ratatouille that his mom had prepared in their kitchen. Tears welled up in his eyes. All of a sudden he was a little boy at the kitchen table, feet dangling as he shoveled his mom’s ratatouille into his face.
Those are the memories you hang onto. I believe only two things can make that type of time travel possible: music and food.
We covered all the things we wanted to see in Rome, by walking ten miles in and around the city, in less than five hours. It can be done, depending on what you want to see and why.
First stop was the Colosseum. We were accosted by an African man peddling bracelets and high-fives, as we attempted to take in this magnificent structure. He cursed at me in African when I told him to leave me alone. The Colosseum was completed in 80 AD under the Flavian dynasty and is known as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. Earthquakes can’t shake this thing down… partially because of the damage at its top, and stone robbers are responsible for the rest of its ruin. Regardless, it’s a sight to see. Effin huge.
We walked on to peek at the Roman Forum from a birds-eye view and took pictures of Rosa, our traveling elephant, on the edge, careful not to let her fall. We then walked our swollen feet to step inside the Pantheon, a glorious temple commissioned by Marcus Agrippa. From there, we pushed our way through all the other tourists (it’s always tourist season in Rome) to walk up the Spanish Steps to be accosted yet again by several Asian men. This time, shoving roses and selfie-sticks in my face.
“No, grazie!” was one of the first phrases I became fluent in. The Spanish Steps are magnificent. Sure, they’re just stone steps to some people. To me, the layout was glamorous and elegant. The cobblestone is endearing, and the old church–Piazza Trinita dei Monti–sits atop the steps. It’s quite a sight to see with the naked eye. I loved being in Piazza di Spagna, the square below the steps, so we stayed a bit longer, not rushing off to the next monument.
We rested our feet with everyone else lounging on the steps. Hubbyface was busy photo-bombing people’s selfies, while I just soaked in the atmosphere. In the Piazza di Spagna, there was an Italian performer singing Elvis songs, (with a pretty decent American accent), kids running up and down the steps, and some people waltzing into Prada and Dolce e Gabbana in the distance.
Once I had my fill of Piazza di Spagna (I could’ve sat there people watching all day), we made our way through the masses. We arrived at our last stop of the day–the Trevi Fountain, Fontana di Trevi. This fountain was just mobbed with people and it was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen.
This fountain is 85.28 feet high and 160.72 feet wide. It was designed by Italian architect, Nicola Salvi and completed by Giuseppe Pannini; like the Italian sandwich, which was Americanized as the grilled cheese.
I can’t put into words or even show you a picture (although I will) that would convey its magnificence. It’s an experience. There were wall-to-wall people here as well, selfie-sticks and high-fives in my face every 30 seconds or so. Once you push through all that noise, the fountain is worth the fight; the rushing clear turquoise water with the statue of Oceanus dead center, is an amazing spectacle. The story, as I understood it, is the two horses pulling his chariot up front represent the moods of the sea. One horse is docile, while the other is thrashing and wild. Fucking amazing.
I could have stayed here all day too, if it wasn’t for all the people and selfie-sticks. Time for lunch. We needed a quiet place nearest the train, but away from the crowds, to rest my balloon feet then feed my angry stomach. We happened upon a little pizzeria that was serving a special: two pizzas or two pasta dishes and one bottle of wine for twenty euro. That’s about $25 American, so not too bad.
My Mom’s Lasagna
We sat, ordered, pulled out Rosa so she could appreciate the view, and sipped our wine. As I sat and people watched, I noticed another peddler, selling scarves to people as they ate lunch and I thought, tourism is an easy, appealing racket. This must be how other people feel when they visit NYC and get bombarded by anyone selling anything. I gave the man a look and he understood not to come to our table.
When our food came out, I was more than ready. I ordered spinach and ricotta stuffed Cannelloni (I was trying very hard to remain meat-free but in Italy it really is near to impossible). Except this day, I managed to find something and hubbyface ordered Lasagna, as he made no such meat-free promises.
After being together nearly ten years, we share food. It happens. He tried my Cannelloni and gave an approving “mmm that’s good.” I cut a small piece off the corner of his Lasagna and placed it in my mouth. As soon as I did, tears welled up in my eyes. One managed to roll down my cheek almost immediately.
When Memories Hit Hard
There I was. Four years old, sitting in our poorly decorated kitchen–tan, gold, and orange rectangle linoleum; poorly matched with striped orange and yellow wallpaper, randomly spotted with tan flowers. I sat at our old wooden table, on a metal folding chair. Feet dangling, arms barely reaching the tabletop, eating my mom’s Lasagna. Clearly, I could see my mother wander the kitchen, wearing Dad’s maroon v-neck sweater. She had a towel draped on her shoulder and a wooden spoon in her hand.
“What’s wrong?” Ron asked. “Why are you crying?”
“Is my mom working in their kitchen?” I asked. I was tempted to march back there and check. “That’s her lasagna!”
I don’t know whether I was tired, sore, or tipsy from the wine. But being in Italy made me feel closer to my mom. I teared up on several occasions but this one got me right in the gut.
I live no more than 30 minutes from her. We drop groceries off on the back porch from time to time, and I even fed her stray cat while she and my dad were away one weekend. Yet it takes me traveling all the way to Rome to taste her cooking and feel close to her again.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I gotta get outta N.H. It’s too hard on my heart here. I thought I had it handled, but I don’t. And that’s ok. I can still taste her Lasagna in random places, and that works for me.