neuroses of a north american diner

I recently found the following in my WordPress drafts folder; I wrote it during my first week in Italy last summer, but for some reason didn’t publish it.

With all the activity and transition of late, I’ve been really missing Italy…but reading this post makes me look forward to the day I will visit again. And I remember what I had promised myself back then: instead of focusing on the ‘negatives’ of my own city, I would bring home those aspects of Italy that I loved most.

Fortunately, I still know how to linger over a good glass of wine. πŸ˜‰

breakfast of champions!

breakfast of champions!

[August 2013]

I’ve only been here a few days and already I can tell that dining solo in Italy is going to be one eye-opening experience. I knew this before I arrived; in fact it was one of the things I was most nervous about. Am I going to be the only single gal amongst tables full of amorous couples? How do I order food in Italy? How much do I tip? Do they even serve dinner at 6pm?

In Eat Pray Love, Liz Gilbert writes of a leisurely lunch during one of her many long walks in Rome: “I eat my lunch in a quiet trattoria here, and I linger over my food and wine for many hours because nobody in Trastevere [Rome] is ever going to stop you from lingering over your meal if that’s what you would like to do” (chapter 25).

I’m so glad I’m re-reading this book as I travel, as many of Liz’s insights resonate with my own experience. Back home, when I dine solo (or even with people), I’m usually aware that others might be waiting for my table. Though I’m a slow eater, I often feel I’m on a time limit. Lingering is generally not encouraged in North American establishments!

This morning, my ‘do not dawdle’ conditioning revealed itself. I was at my favourite cafe in Villasimius [Sardinia], having just finished my now-standard breakfast of a cornetto di chocolat and cappuccino. As I ordered some water, tables began to quickly fill around me. One man stood at the cafe entrance, looking for a free spot. I felt a mild sense of anxiety that I must hurry up and leave, as I was clearly finished.

Another man then asked if he could take one of my extra seats. He seemed extremely apologetic for interrupting me, which I thought was sweet. I then saw the first guy’s grandchildren (I presume) rush up to him, and they all walked away together. Turns out he had just been chilling, waiting for his famiglia.

It was then that I started to relax. Maybe no one was impatient and waiting. Maybe it didn’t even cross their minds to rush someone while they were still dining. Maybe the servers take a while in asking me what I want next, or bringing me my bill, because I’m supposed to savour every minute of the experience.

I’m not in ‘hurry-up’ culture anymore.

snacks in sardinia

snacks in sardinia

Later, at a bar having a glass of wine (or two) as I wait to catch a bus back to my villa, the server brings me dishes of peanuts, pretzels, courgettes, and yummy potato crisps. I look at all the food in front of me and again a mild neurosis arises: all this, for just me? I didn’t ask for it. Should I eat it all, or is that inelegant? If I don’t eat enough, is that rude?

Fortunately, it doesn’t take me long to realize that it doesn’t matter to them what I do with it.

I relax (again), put my book away, and stare off into space for a while. Because you know, that’s what they do here.

I love this place.

25 thoughts on “neuroses of a north american diner

  1. I recently re-read John Grisham’s, “The Broker” in which a man under ‘witness protection’ is placed in Italy – – he wanders his way through each town, and one day, finds himself at restaurante – he observes how people don’t worry about ‘space’ – – you find a place to sit and do so – -even while sharing a table with another AND that once you get a table, it’s yours, for however long you want it – – no one rushes you out to seat someone else – – seems so foreign to how things are here – – πŸ™‚

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    • tamrah jo it is so great to hear from you and i’m sorry for my delay in responding! life’s been a whirlwind! yeah, dining in italy is completely foreign to the way we do it in north america. i still miss that aspect of it very much. i could really get used to that sort of lifestyle – hm maybe i should manifest a return to italy in 2015!! and perhaps start with reading that book. πŸ™‚ i hope you had a wonderful holiday and i wish you all the best for 2015! thanks, aleya

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    • somehow i missed reading your ‘about’ page, which is strange! i just did that – love it. i remember writing this post italy…i wrote a lot in the first few days, but then let the journey take over. it was fun to revisit that time. as for things now, classes are done and i’ve been using this wkd to recover from all the intensity. i’ve not been that busy in a loooong time. for the next 3 weeks i’ll be in a practicum. then – who knows? i can choose from the buffet, as abe would say. πŸ˜‰ europe will always be on that list.

      thank you for the tweet-out, sister. i’m sending you great big good vibes in all your busyness right now. XO aleya

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  2. I can’t say that I have gotten comfortable with being alone. There is still that friggin pinch… but I don’t feel sad about it, nor do look pathetic lol. But the neon sign flashes to people who see less, for people who experience less. For those amazing people who found out of my adventure?? – they couldn’t be any more prouder of what and how I did it.

    It was the way it is. And I feel I needed it in my life to travel alone. To be able to feel happy with myself and my own company… and just love ourselves a bit more. =)

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    • i totally feel you my dear! does that pinch ever leave? and should it? hmmm…i wonder. as much as i value my solitude i’m feeling that we (humans) are wired for connection. i especially realized this through my school program. i’m negotiating this balance within myself. i’ve had to get out of my comfort zone so many times lately and that’s made me see how much i was used to my own little space. boxing myself into that. ahhh! i sense another post coming. πŸ˜‰ xo and don’t forget to wear your larimar today. hehe aleya

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      • I will wear my larimar. =)
        Is it odd to say that I want that pinch? However it feels scary like – oh my god! I can’t friggin breathe! ack! ack! – that breathtaking pinch is the very same that tells me I’m alive, and that I’m in love with love. Like you, I’d cringe before when I feel it. I still do at times and I love catching myself and whack my head silly… because the heart needs that friggin pinch to keep feeling. We feel it so why deny? Why hide? Why crunch up in our boxes? It may be a natural human reaction, fight-flight response… but surely we can change… transform with the pinch… keep feeling breathless… “Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away”…
        xo

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  3. Ha! I so know what you mean!

    Table for one please…
    For one??
    Yes. It’s only happy me.

    I got tired being asked that… until they came to know me, did not ask questions anymore… but actually talking to me. From the receptionist to the waiter to the server… they began staying a bit longer at my table… chatting, perhaps chillin’

    It was horrific at the first day, I have to admit. I eat standing when I’m at home as I multi task a gazillion things being alone. When I eat out, I am with friends. So to dine by myself… there was an amber alert going in my head!

    And I thought of Liz Gilbert… I took that opportunity as I savored eating at the Italian restaurant in the Dominican.

    I can so do this!

    And I did!
    And it wonderfully sweet. Allowing ourselves to actually sit and dine. I thoroughly enjoyed my own company… and getting spaced out. xo

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    • YES! i loved the timing of our posts. the bigger cities in italy weren’t too bad, but it was the small romantic towns that were brutal. i felt like i was wearing a neon sign that screamed, “she’s alone!!”. all good experiences though…even the harder moments (especially those moments) gave me perspective. how can i be really ok in my own company, and where have i gotten too comfortable with being alone? hmm… ❀ aleya

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  4. OMG I love everything about this post. Mainly, that I feel like I just got to hang out with you and you are so damn cool. Lingering. . . yes, please. We need linger in this culture of push, push, push. Linger without cursing or forcing. Linger with peace and joy.

    For now – ciao, bella! Big love, friend, so glad you unearthed this gem πŸ™‚

    XO

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    • allison! grazie! well i’ve planted the seed that you and i can linger over tea or coffee or vino, or whatever you are into, if i make it to NYC later this year. that’d be so, so sweeeet! xo aleya

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  5. when I visited Italy in 1991, before EPL was written and before the internet or blogs, I promised myself I would return. I enjoyed imagining myself at a table with my cappuccino and brioche soaking in the culture of my ancestral homeland. I hope we both can return there soon πŸ™‚

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    • i am drawing a blank…what is EPL? and i forgot you are italian! you’re so lucky! hahaha. hey maybe we should have our blogette’s convention there! roma 2015! xo aleya

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      • I was too lazy to write Eat Pray Love! Yeah thanks, I am lucky. Would love to be Indian as well. Have you been to India? I forget.
        Funny you mention that because my AAA mag arrived in the mail today with the cover story on Sedona πŸ™‚ Still grieving over this missed opportunity to be honest.

        I would love to see Roma again… Must get a steady flow of income again so I can resume travel. My soul has been so patient waiting for me to fulfill my promise to travel again. Perhaps you will ascend as our organizer sweetie πŸ˜‰

        xo Linda

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        • omg…duh. i thought EPL was some fancy computer term. i have been to india, a few years ago as part of a yoga retreat/tour. india and italy are very different places! i guess that’s what made EPL so appealing!

          maybe i will organize something for 2015. i have a feeling sedona could happen….fun!

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          • I have wanted to visit all 3 placs for years. First I yearned to see India, then Italy and later Indonesia. all start with an I and if you say italia, all end with an A. My dreams were made before the book came along and I hurried to read it and loooove it! How cool that you used the book as companion to your trip.

            You made me laugh about computer terms. I do not know html from hotel, lol!! That made my day!!
            PS, for months I held the mantra Namaste 2015 in Sedona. Maybe the manifestation IS still alive..

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