Our family has been in Florence for five days thus far (not counting Monday when we arrived in a state of exhaustion that can only be described as hallucinatory). I love how it seems like we left home eons ago and it hasn’t even been a week.
In some ways it feels like we’ve left the No Sugar Project at home too. This is not to say we aren’t doing No Sugar- we are. It just seems to matter less. We can go through entire meals, entire days worth of meals, enjoying incredible tastes- freshly made al dente pasta, thinly-sliced, delicately salty prosciutto, crunchy, garlic-rubbed crostini with pungent green olive oil- all without having to ever give much thought to The Sugar Problem. As long as we ignore the small table of “dolci” we pass by on our way to find the restroom, we can get along without feeling deprived a bit.
Okay, I must admit I’m not being the Spanish Inquisition here the way I am at home- by the same token, I don’t have to be. Do I actually ask if there is sugar in the freshly made “pici”? No, but I already know the ingredients of pici: four and water. Do I need to ask the ingredients of things like “Prosciutto e melone” or “Insalata Caprese” (tomatoes, basil leaves and mozzarella)? It would be like asking what the ingredients are in my morning eggs, or my glass of water.
So what’s up with that anyway? I know Italians have believed in fresh and local foods long before anyone ever dreamed up the term “locavore.” Twenty years ago when I lived in Rome as a student, I was amazed to attend the morning markets and find produce so fresh it still had dew and a little bit of dirt on it. It took me a while to get used to the idea of going to so many different places just to compose a meal: the outdoor market for fruits and vegetables, the butcher for meat, the bakery for fresh bread and pasta. Unlike us trendy Americans, Italians’ belief in such things doesn’t stem from a desire to save the planet or the polar bears or even necessarily to benefit their own health. No- food comes close to being a second religion around here for the deceptively simple reason that they know what’s good.
I got that phrase from my grandmother, who would use it to approvingly describe someone who knew how to appreciate something important, usually food. Scratch that- always food. As in: “Of course he likes the schnitzel! He knows what’s good.” Even thought she was of German heritage, not Italian, the sentiment was the same: what could be more important than really, really good food?
Now don’t get me wrong, we’ve had our share of sugar thrown at us- just not in the restaurants. On the two Swiss Air flights it took to get here the stewardesses kept trying to hand us Swiss chocolate bars- how often do you really think people say “no” to those? Then we arrived- at looooong last on nooooo sleep- at the apartment we have rented, to find a huge dish of hard candies on the coffee table, little wrapped chocolate “Baci” thoughtfully placed by the bedside, and a huge tub of complimentary “Tiramisu” ice cream in the freezer- specifically “per le bambine” our landlord explained.
Need I mention the entire supermarket rows of nothing but four million kinds of snack cookies? The fact that they have approximately three gelato stands for every one tourist? (It’s as if the people from Planet Gelato invaded years ago and no one noticed.) Sure, Europeans like their Cokes and their Nutella as much as anyone else. You can’t say they don’t have a sweet tooth… just that sweets aren’t so insidious here as in American culture. It’s a fairly easy separation, if it’s something you want to separate.
And crazy us- we want to. Remind me why again?