Friday, December 2, 2016

Eating, Drinking, and Loving in Northern Italy

View from Piemonte, Northwest Italy
In the forest, high up in the hills, we were eating freshly baked pizza and drinking red wine made by Ludo's uncle. We toasted; the glass rang; I thanked my hosts for their hospitality; and we ate. I could see their old, white dog, wandering in the cold forest. It was a Sunday, and we were feasting on some of the best pizza I had; it was really good because it was made with love.

Eleonora, Ludo's sister, captured some wild yeast and spent several days to grow the culture. Then she pounded and kneaded the pizza dough with wholemeal flour. When she pounded the dough, and smashed it into the counter, you could hear the bang.

Ludo and Eleonora told me for days they were going to make me pizza. I didn't know it'd take so much time to make. I didn't know it'd taste so good. Eleonora preaches to everyone she meets the importance of using wild yeast instead of the commercial kind, both for health and taste purposes. She's right - you know?

I'm convinced I found my heart in Italy. At one point, I couldn't help but tell Ludo and Eleonora the truth. I told them, they had such big hearts. And truly, their hearts were forged from the same furnace, because they were made of gold.

When I arrived into Northern Italy from Madrid, it was grey, dark, rainy, and gloomy. Ludo and Eleonora drove an hour and a half to pick me up from the airport. Gasoline (or petrol) is twice the price in Italy than the United States. I tried to pay them for the fuel, but they wouldn't let me. It's been over two years since I've seen Ludo.

I met Ludo on one of my trips. If you're an avid reader of my blog, you can figure out which country I met him in. I didn't think I'd get along with him too well. Never thought we'd be unfriendly to each other either, but we're very different from each other. It's like pairing a bookworm, wallflower with a party animal.

One time, Ludo came back to the hotel from partying until 05:00AM. I woke up at 09:00AM to get breakfast, and he said, "Wait, Paul, I'm coming with you." Then, Ludo wouldn't sleep again and party until 05:00AM again, and then get breakfast with me all over again.

But Ludo says, I'm really crazy inside. That's why we get along. Could be?

I stayed with Ludo and his sister in their big Italian house. (It's a flat, but it feels more like a house, since it's so large.) One of his female flatmates is studying to be a sex therapist. Another female flatmate studies philosophy. His male roommate is studying design. Ludo is studying psychology. And Eleonora is an artist. (Incidentally, Ludo gave up his bed for me to sleep on, while he slept somewhere else.) (And for reasons I won't go into in my blog, I called his flat the love-flat.)

Living at his flat for a few days, brought back memories of my days in college. It also gave me the experience of living with artists, which I never did in college. I loved my roommates back in college, but I believe they were all scientists. Although I was a scientist too, I think a part of me sees the world as an artist and part of me wished I lived with artists during my younger days.

And as artists and Italians, they're always eating together and drinking together. Almost every night, they cook dinner for each other. In fact, on the first night, I cooked risotto for them. (I bet, they didn't know that I could cook Italian food, even though I'm Korean-American.)

During those days, when we ate and drank together, we talked about everything, from politics to art to literature, and they especially liked to talk about love. (And Eleonora likes to tell everyone about her newly found passion about wild yeast.)

I keep complaining that the Italians feed me too much. Once, after returning home from wandering through Europe's largest open flea market, the sex therapist's mother was in the flat. She invited me to sit next to her.

They fed me an Italian rice dish. She said, "My English not good. But I try." She then explained that even though her English is not good, that she's Italian and knows how to use her lively hands to talk to anyone.

She then said in Italian, "My face is my ass." The people at the table laughed. I'm told it means that she has no shame in trying. When she leaves, she hugged me and kissed me on one cheek then the other. She's a wonderful woman. I love her.

And after she feeds me, another flatmate asks if I want more food. And they always ask, "Paul, do you want a coffee?" They make me a coffee before the meal and during the meal and after the meal. Then they tell me, "Paul, you drink a lot of coffee." And I just laugh to myself, thinking, Yeah, because it's so good.

Did I tell you, all they do is feed me and give me drink? When we visited Ludo's father, he made a hunter's pasta for us. It had pieces of meat and vegetables. They serve me wine, made by Ludo's uncle. It's rich and nice. But I've ate so much food and drank so much wine, I feel so tired. I walk up to Ludo's room and nap.

When I wake up, they say, "Come on, Paul. We're going to visit a friend for dinner." Aye, more food and drink. The feasting, the drinking, and the love never ends.

In that region, they were celebrating on a Sunday a truffle festival. It's one of the few regions in the world that sells white truffles. Truffles are a sort of mushroom that grows deep in the earth, in the forest, around oaks, and dogs or pigs are required to find them.

The shop owner lets me smell one. It smells nutty and strong and pungent and oh-so-good. I never ate a white truffle. We don't have them in Los Angeles.

So, I buy a small one, which costs about $15 and is the size of small chestnut. In the States, it would cost upward of a $100. It's for the flat.

Later in the week, they make pasta. Ludo slices the truffle thin. They look like tiny sheets of paper. We throw it into the pasta, while the pasta is still hot. We add fresh olive oil and salt with it. We mix it. And eat.

It tastes wonderful. The girls bought both red and white wine today to drink it with.

Well, I have more and more stories of food, drink, and conversations. But all in all, I was sad I had to go. So sad, I realized that I couldn't let Ludo or Eleonora go.

I looked into my mileage bank account. And for a few days, I talked to Ludo about going with me to London. Ludo would say, "Paul, I have finals; I have to study for them."

I replied, "Don't worry. I'll make sure you study. I'll take you to a cafe. I could read. You could study."

A wicked grin surfaces. I could feel it. And it belies my words.

"I don't think I'll study if I'm in London. I have finals."

. . .

Ludo says, "When Paul wants something, he really pushes it so strongly."

I say, "You have to fight for your ideas."

He says: "Remind me not to go against you." (Remember; Ludo is an Italian. They're lovers, not fighters.)

But after relentlessly talking about what could be, he finally agreed to come with me to London. I looked at my mileage account and had enough to book him a flight from Italy to London.

When he agrees, I tell Ludo, "Contact all the people we know in the UK. Tell them we're coming to London."

He says, "I will."

Eleonora found out. She thought about coming.

Then she said, "I want to come too." So, I booked her a ticket too.

And had they refused, I'm sure I would have plotted a way to kidnap them and take them with me both to London.

I asked myself, Why should the feast stay in Italy? No, it should go, wherever we go.

My time in Italy reminded me, kindness makes more kindness, generosity makes more generosity, and love makes more love. I'm convinced, living like this could cure almost anything. 


  1. Ah this might be my favourite blog of yours yet, because it captures so perfectly what travel is all about, it's not the famous landscapes or architecture and art displays, those are a part of it, but the real joy is the people you'd never otherwise meet and connect with, sharing each others culture and hospitality. Living.

  2. Cheers, FX.

    It was a really good time that perhaps changed my life. Only the future will show me how much.

    If only everybody could have such an experience, the world would be a different place.