When I first went back to Europe, a couple years ago, I made it my personal business (research, you know?) to test out the theory that the gluten over there, would not make me sick. I had my first bag of chouquettes sitting on a bench, and sure enough, nothing happened. I felt as good as if I had eaten a bag of carrots.
So of course I kept testing the theory, and for that whole trip, I ate croissants, , bread, brioches and pains au chocolat with impunity. It was amazing.
The next time I went, I fully intended to follow the same regime, reasoning that my years of deprivation in the US had to find some balance, somewhere. My gut reacted a little differently that time, and it seems that I could get away with less abandon.
This time, there is no hiding from it. Whereas I can still get away with an éclair a day while in France, seems that things are quite different in Italy, and the pasta has not been my friend.
Following three days of grave unpleasantness (anyone else immediately thinks they have colon cancer when this stuff happens?) I had to have a talk with myself and come to the harsh conclusion that I needed to stay away from focaccia, pasta and maybe even ease off the gelato for a while.
Well, yesterday we went to Florence. And in Florence, there is a little panini shop my son and I discovered in the spring, which I could not wait to introduce to my partner. Line of customers winding around the street corner, they whip you a most amazing 5€ sandwich in two minutes, and I could not wait for him to have that pleasure. When we arrived at All' Antico Vinaio, I asked if they had gluten-free bread. Just in case, you know? Well, while they did not, the young man behind the counter let me know that I wanted to go down the street to Starbene, and buy a slice of "sanza-glutine" focaccia, he could make me a gf sandwich.
He didn't have to tell me twice.
I ran down the cobblestone street, opened the door to a little heaven of gluten-free pastry shop, and brought back my loot to the the sandwich place for him to layer fresh tomatoes, mozzarella and basil. Heaven. Just heaven.
So, for dessert of course, we had to go back to Starbene. And this time, we took our sweet time choosing our goods. Eclairs, Napoleons, tartes ... all gluten free. And super delicious. Paola, the owner, surely knows her stuff and she was a delight, too. I could have hung out a week or two, with her.
In conclusion, if you are heading to Italy and can't have the gluten stuff: it's not easy. You are going to miss out on some stuff, and you are going to drool a little. AND more and more, I see the "sanza glutine" signs in the streets, in the front of stores. So, it's not impossible, and my guess is that it is going to get easier.
And in the end, for me nothing tastes as good as feeling great.
PS: now, if you have your own place where you can cook, I have to tell you that I have found THE best gf pasta ever. I don't think you could tell the difference. Simplici & Buoni pasta is made from a blend of corn, rice, buckwheat and quinoa.
When I first saw the words “Me too” on Facebook, it was on my daughter’s page. Not knowing what she was referring to, I commented with a humorous “Me too,” and went on to explain that I was not sure what I was talking about, but whatever she was supporting, I supported too. Within seconds, she was messaging me explaining to me about the “Me too” campaign that was flooding social media, and what it meant.
It all started when actress Alyssa Milano tweeted, "Suggested by a friend: If all the people who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote 'Me too' as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem." Next thing we know, thousands of “Me too” statuses pop up on FB and Twitter. Women and men letting the world know that they have at some point, been sexually harassed or assaulted.
Within seconds, “Me too” is on my wall.
A man who loves me a lot seems shocked. You mean that now, everyone who reads your stuff will know? He asks. Yup. is my answer.
It feels right. It feels right in part because the words are so simple. Me too. Me too it happened to me. Me too I let it happen. Me too I did not know how to stop it. Me too I thought maybe I should let it happen. Me too I thought I should not make a fuss. Me too, Me too, Me too. And then, seeing all these “Me too” posts, one after the next, felt almost like a party, to me. A sad yet celebratory party. Me too I have survived, Me too I am still a good / useful / mostly sane person. Me too.
As the day passed, I gently ran through my mind the few occasions that have granted me my membership card to this gargantuan club. One of these times, I was rather young and the offense looked almost inoffensive from the outside. It was sold to me as such, and I turned out to be a willing consumer of that convenient theory. Another time, I was 17 and my body never forgot, nor fully healed. I still hope that it may. There were other times. Some more subtle than others. Times when men “have made their hunger more important than my feelings or boundaries.” (Keith Paolino) Times when, having been raised to believe that “boys will be boys,” I decided that it was best not to make a big deal.
Some of these occurrences took place much later in life than I am proud to admit. I had to learn. I had to re-learn, really. I had to re-learn that I was the boss of my body, that “no” was a complete sentence, that whether a man thought I was difficult, irresistible or uncool would be his business, and never mine. I also had to re-learn that if needed, I could kick - or I could leave. And eventually, I did learn.
By the end of my 40s, I knew that it was unlikely that any man would ever again “make his hunger more important than my feelings or boundaries.” This felt good, darn good - and it affected other places in my life, too.
A little over two years ago, I boarded a flight for Paris. I had not been home for sixteen years and as I walked onto the plane that was to deliver me to my birth country, I felt very tender.
The plane seemed completely full with the exception of the seat next to me, the window-side of a small row of two. Just as the doors were about to close, a young woman was standing by my side, looking as though she had ran through a whole lot of airport corridors to get there. She wanted to get to her seat, and needed me to get up. Also, she was in tears.
She sat down, arranged her bag, looked at me and asked me if I wanted some wine.
I shook my head no thank you, she made her way over my legs (we had not taken off yet) and somehow came back with two plastic glasses filled with white wine. One for her, and one for her.
By the time we were launched, she had drank both glasses, explained to me in detail what an a**hole her soon to be ex-husband was, and was on her way to ask for more wine.
She talked. A lot. And she cried. And because I am professionally engineered to listen, I listened.
The meals came and she drank some more. By the time I was about to take a first bite into my gluten free dessert, something weird was going on.
She was licking my shoulder.
This well dressed, model-looking young woman was licking my shoulder.
Well, isn’t that weird? I asked myself. Now, why would she be licking my shoulder? Surely there must be a reasonable answer to this question.
As I tried to go through my Rolodex of “reasonable answers to this question,” her hand was making its way towards my right breast. Sloppily, but no so sloppily that it missed it.
My mind blew a fuse.
Something really unpleasant - and terribly unpleasant to recall - happened: Half of me knew that I was being asked to participate in something that all my cells were saying “no” to, and half of me was feeling protective of this young woman, who was close to my daughter’s age. The combination was sickening.
I will not go on about the next hour, partly because I am sure you get the idea, and partly because I am still not fully ready to relive it. Suffice to say that it got ugly. Knowing that the plane was full, I decided that I could not ask to be moved anywhere else. Knowing that she was close to my daughter’s age, I decided that I could not kick her in the shins. Truth is: I was completely paralyzed. Me, who had taken more than 40 years to know that when it came to men, I was the boss of my body. Me who knew that no men would ever sweet talk me into doing anything I was not looking forward to ... I was paralyzed. Because you know what? The freaking data had changed. And I had no tools for this new data. I had no tools against a pretty young woman my daughter’s age. There was no chapter in my book of self care that addressed that unlikely topic.
It was horrible.
Eventually, she fell asleep, her pants half way down her ankles and her hand between her legs. I covered her with a blanket, and spent the rest of the ten hour flight with my eyes wide open, my Lizard brain frozen.
When she woke up, before we landed, she seemed to be upset with me, and went to lock herself in the bathroom. When the stewardess came by and told me that she was asking for more wine and “how did I feel about it?” I could barely squeak out a sound.
We landed, I was home, and I was out of my body. Just like I had been, for days, three decades ago.
Two years have passed and while it is very rare for me to not be able to write about something, until today I just could not do it - nor have I told many people about it.
The trauma was big, and the biggest part of the trauma for me was to see how just a little tiny variable in the data (a woman instead of a man), and a wee bit of motherly concern had made me almost incapable of taking care of myself.
So humbling. And such a great opportunity to fill up my compassion well.
So yes. Me too.
And none of the Me too I can write will ever hurt as much as seeing my daughter‘s, own Me too, three mornings ago on her FB page. We promised each other than her future daughter would never have to say that.
Here’s to witnessing each other’s vulnerabilities, strengths and stories. Here’s to growing, learning, and then learning again if needed.
Here’s to learning so deeply, so “from the inside,” that even when the data changes or we are confused, our alliance to ourselves remains solid.
And here’s to remembering that there is no greater loneliness than when we abandon ourselves.
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Sue and her daughter Lucy were on their way out, back to England after four days under the Tuscan sun. As we stood together having a last minute chat, I was gifted a magical story - and with their permission, I have the privilege of sharing it with you.
Sue was telling me about the one time she and her husband “who is not the adventurous type” had spent some time in the United States, in the 1970s.
It had started a year before, as they were hiking the windy cliffs near their hometown in Portland, England. On the trail somewhere, they had struck a conversation with a much older American couple, and had invited them over to their home. After some time together, a friendship developped and their new friends made them promise to visit them in Philadelphia, sooner than later.
Which, Sue tells me, they did. At this point, she turns to Lucy and asks: “didn’t we?” Lucy nods and answers: “yes, you did.” For some reason, I loved that.
The two couples had a beautiful time together. Sue and her husband got to visit New York, they met their American friends’ son - who was also older than them - and went home grateful for the continuing magic of the friendship. Over the years, they kept in touch with them and with their son Tom, and when the American couple died several years ago, they stayed in even closer contact with Tom.
Two weeks ago, Tom had called while on a trip to England with his partner. He wanted to spend time with Sue and her husband. Would they please meet them?
This story of ongoing friendship, over time, space and generations was filling my heart.
The way people meet, seemingly randomly (as if there was such a thing), and then carve a special place into each other’s lives, making them richer, sweeter, bigger. The seeds of gifts that hospitality plants, and the way these seeds bloom. The way all of us had met, too, under Marta’s roof.
And that’s when Sue turned once more to Lucy and asked: “do you fancy I can tell Laura why the two of them were in England?” Lucy smiled and nodded, and Sue, with a huge smile on her face, began telling me the following story:
Many, many years ago, Tom had met a well known American actress, and they had struck a deep friendship. My understanding is that even though they did not get to spend much time together after that initial meeting, the woman did meet Tom’s partner at some point and had grown a friendship with him as well. For decades, letters were exchanged across the Atlantic between them as the friendship grew. Having seen the play “Love always, Patsy,” my mind was soaked with the flavor of such a relationship, and with the awe of people who make time for something so wonderful, in a world of rapid firing texts and WhatsApp.
Last year, when the actress had died, she had left the two men “a Hollywood will,” and every three months since then, Tom and his partner had continued to receive a letter from their friend. A very special letter.
Each letter was written by her, and each one notified them of a special gift they were to receive. Once, they were given two seats at the ballet anywhere in the world, all expenses paid. Both men being artists, and now in their 80s, this had been a huge delight. Then, there was the cruise aboard the Queen Mary 2, with one of the best suites on board. There had also been the invitation to go to a Lexus car dealership “and pick their favorite one.”
This month, they had been told to pack for a one week trip to London, as they were to get picked up at the airport and driven to the Savoy Hotel, where a butler was waiting for them. Which brings us back to why and how they were hoping to spend time with Sue and her husband. From what I was told, the two men weren’t quite sure what to ask of the butler.
I was floored. The friendship, and how it had kept on living, over decades. The thoughtfulness and delightfulness of this woman, and the way she had prepared to continue to enchant and wow her friends, after she was gone. The humor, the generosity. Sure she could have left them a chunk of cash - but where would be the whimsy in that?
And sure, we can have all kinds of opinions about the expense and what-else-could-she-have-done-with-it-to-better-the-world? Which, really is none of our business.
So here you go. Life. Relationships. Surprises. And taking the time to share stories with each other.
I love it all so much.
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