Sicilian style, on a sunny Sunday, with Susan Stewart. It was as sumptuous and soothing as all this sibilance might suggest.
Yesterday, we were invited to have lunch with Susan, whom we’ve known mainly through her writing, both poems and literary criticism. I’ve been spending a lot of time with her book Crimes of Writing in particular, which addresses the literary authenticity scandals of eighteenth-century Britain, a topic close to my dissertation. At Sunday lunch, however, we talked mostly about Italy and food. Susan had set a table on the little, plant-festooned balcony of the apartment she rents, the walls of which are lined invitingly with old books and older pictures.
view from the bedroom
While we chatted in the tiny kitchen, Jack explored the apartment. See him in the window?
He’d found a little library ladder. What a great piece of furniture!
Meanwhile, Susan was boiling spaghetti and shredding the bottarga, a specialty she’s been serving to her two sons for their birthdays since they came to Rome when they were not much older than Jack. Bottarga is the salty, pressed, preserved-in-beeswax roe of tuna that Italians serve with lemon as an antipasto or tossed with pasta. The dish had three ingredients—butter, bottarga, and spaghetti—and was sensational.
Susan then fried up a platter of anchovies, and served them on a bed of arugula with lemon slices. This dish was followed by a Sicilian salad of blood oranges and marinated black olives. And then we ate Cassata, a Sicilian ricotta cake that’s dotted inside with chocolate chips, iced with dense icing, and decorated with candied fruits. Needless to say, Jack was a big fan of this part of the meal.
Susan lives right in Piazza San Cosimato, where there’s a playground. After the meal, we went outside, and eventually walked back up the steps from Trastevere to the Gianicolo, and home. The sun is so welcome.
Jack took pictures all the way. He managed to capture a good shot of an acanthus leaf, the variety that tops Corinthian columns, and—gosh!—a good one of his parents.
The rest of this post has nothing to do with food, and is really an unrelated addendum about everyday life in Rome. The thing about everyday life is that it often throws you into unexpected and odd experiences. I’ve been having problems with my feet—joint pain (no more 10Ks for me)—so I went to an orthopedist today on the Aventine hill. I got lost, of course, in the spiderweb-like network of streets, but finally found my destination. I was buzzed in, and walked up the dark stairway of an apartment building that also houses a group of English-speaking doctors. The whole appointment went as it might have any place in the U.S. (she went into enthusiastic detail, with a skeletal model, of what was wrong with my feet, complimented me on my slow pulse, seemed perversely excited that someone so young should have such problems, and made chit-chat with me about having husbands in the same fields) until the end, which seemed to me to be particularly Italian: the doctor suggested I go shoe shopping, and wrote down a list of brands I should look for!
This appointment was followed by a visit to a clinic run by nuns where I stood like a flamingo on a platform and had my feet x-rayed. When I got home and told Peter all about it, and that I’d gotten a cortisone shot, he said, “so you’re on steroids?”
But I figure all of this is better—and more interesting—than taking, as some Italians do, a spot of grappa in my coffee every day.
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