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Food  |  Travel

A return to routine (and a recipe for a cake)

Rome in August: Envision a ghost town, a city empty except for throngs of red-faced tourists fanning themselves with maps. Envision closed stores, closed restaurants, closed coffee bars; metal serrande pulled down tightly over doors and vast swaths of empty parking spaces where it's normally impossible to park. The best way to enjoy Rome in August is to get out of Rome in August. We managed to escape the city for most of the month. First we drove down south to Sicily, where a beach or a sizeable serving of ice-cold almond granita is always nearby to counter the often-oppressive heat, and then,...

Travel

A birthday, a boat and some islands

How do you fill the empty space that inevitably takes over the days after the best week ever is over and done with? You can mope around the apartment, hot and dark with all the shutters closed against the force of the summer sun. You can throw yourself back into cooking and trips to the market, optimistically try out new recipes, then regret turning on the oven. And you can sit in front of the computer and scroll through your photos from that week over and over again, soaking up the colours and the light and the memories while trying...

Life

The sudden season

It’s May. Nearly mid-May, actually, since the first part of the month seems to have spun away into nothingness without me noticing anything, rushing past while my mind was telling me that we were still lingering somewhere near the beginning of April. May means that we’re deep into the heart of spring, a season that always manages to surprise me. Winter in Rome is such an undramatic, subtle affair that I never really notice its arrival; the trees shed their leaves so slowly, and the vines cling to their colour and foliage for so long that I start to wonder whether...

Life

Parking alla Romana

This morning, walking towards Campo de’ Fiori, I heard the distinct crunching noise of plastic forcibly contacting more plastic. I stopped, turned, and immediately spotted the source of the sound: A car wedged partway into a parking space considerably too small for its length, its bumper pressed up firmly against the car in front of it. My first thought was that the driver had returned to his car, which he had perhaps parked perfectly normally the night before, to find it thoroughly boxed in on either end by later arrivals. This, therefore, would give the driver little choice but to nudge...

Food  |  Travel

Streets of food: Naples in a day

A few Saturdays ago, at 7:30am, I found myself sitting on a Frecciarossa train as it streaked towards Naples; Lazio blurring into Campania as green hills flashed by. I hadn’t eaten breakfast yet – just a quick cappuccino downed in the train station – and the edges of my mind still felt heavy with sleep, but I was already contemplating the pizza I would be eating for lunch and the sfogliatelle that would precede it, as one does during a spontaneous, food-motivated day trip to Naples. This would be my third such trip to the city (early train in, whirlwind morning and afternoon,...

Food

Artichokes, Roman-style: Learning to love a traditional food

I had been suspicious of artichokes for a long time. As far as foods go, they’re rather bizarre and thoroughly inhospitable; between the hard, thorn-tipped outer layers and the puff of inedible cottony fluff at the centre, there’s not much about the artichoke that might convince you to turn it into a quick and easy weekday dinner. When I was still living in Canada, I didn’t think I particularly liked artichokes. The fresh version almost never made an appearance in local grocery stores, and the jarred version, free of any thorns but swimming in an oily liquid, seemed to exist exclusively...

Travel

Postcards from Sabina

My first visit to the region known as Sabina coincided with my first ever trip to Rome, years ago now, when I had booked six days in the city and then decided that one of them should be used to explore a small town within day-tripping distance. The list of potential destinations inside that radius is not exactly short – the countryside around Rome is full of small towns, a constellation of tiny dots with mysterious names filling up the map and making a choice difficult. My only requirements were that the town would be charming and that it could be...

Life

Holiday tradition, looking back and forward

The Christmas lights have been going up all around Rome. I first spotted a lone tinsel-draped tree standing defiantly in a shop window in mid-November and thought, huh, that’s oddly early this year, and then the decorations started gaining momentum and spreading steadily through the city until one day it was undeniable. The holidays had arrived. So here we are: December. On the first day of the month, embracing one of the few holiday traditions that I actually look forward to, I headed to one of my favourite bakeries and bought a loaf of panettone – a sweet, cake-like bread that appears...

Life

Horror story without an ending

I found it just after lunch, a seemingly insignificant brownish shape on the floor behind the table, right next to the baseboard. It was a leaf, I assumed, blown in from outside. Possibly a scrap of dark paper. I swooped down to pick up and dispose of it, then stopped. Something was wrong. This was not a leaf. This was rather three-dimensional, more defined, more… leggy. This was a scorpion. There was a scorpion in my apartment. There was a short pause, maybe two seconds, although it felt much longer, during which my brain processed this discovery: First, a fleeting feeling of...

Food  |  Life

Lamenting and then savouring summer: A recipe

Yesterday afternoon, I did something that I haven’t done for months: I pulled a cake out of the oven and set it on top of the stove to cool. It was a simple cake, a fairly basic batter studded with halved plums and showered in brown sugar, but it felt oddly symbolic: plums are an end-of-summer fruit that make their appearance just before the season changes, and the cake itself – the first thing I’d baked in ages – was a celebration of the temperature finally starting to feel cool enough that turning on the oven wouldn’t make the kitchen...

Life  |  Travel

The wrong side of the road

I was introduced to my adversary, a tiny white hatchback car, in a nondescript parking lot in front of a bland-looking low-rise office building. It would have been the most unremarkable, non-threatening encounter ever, had the parking lot not been in Ireland and the office building not an outpost of a car rental company. But, as it happened, I was about to rent the car for four days, which meant that I was also about to drive on the opposite side of the road for the first time. The car, with an overall style that edged more towards adorable than...

Travel

Moments from a weekend on Procida

One: Lemon salad We were on the bus, jolting down a terrifyingly narrow street, when I learned how to make lemon salad. I was perched sideways on a slippery plastic bucket seat that made cracking noises whenever the bus hit a pothole or a poorly placed cobblestone, and Alessandro was wedged in the back with a young family. Like us, everyone on the bus was on their way to the beach and generally looking very relaxed and jovial in the way a person does when they know that they’re minutes from a lounge chair next to the sea. I can’t remember exactly...

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