Cruising through the Aegean Sea this past weekend with Rome and Greece behind me and Naples, Sorrento and the island of Capri in front of me, it really hit me how much the Europeans get it – food, love, laughter and life. Over the past two weeks, our magical stay in Rome and our breathtaking stops in Sicily, Kusadasi (Turkey), Mykonos, Santorini and Rhodes (Greece) underscored for me how important it is to enjoy a true passion for living that comes from sharing time around the table.
What I have found so often missing in American culture today seems to be intact throughout Southern Europe. I really felt like I had gone back to my mother country on this trip because everywhere we went, people were living life the way I have tried to live it, and the way I always thought it should be. I think we all rush too much, miss too much and give up too much by skipping real meals and by not taking time to cook and eat and enjoy time. Amazing time. Real time. Not fast food time.
People at cafes on ever corner from Rome, Italy to Rhodes, Greece, sat and ate and talked and drank, less to satisfy hunger than to connect with one another. When is the last time you’ve done that? Just invited someone over for a cup of coffee or tea — or made someone a sandwich, just so you could spend an hour talking with them?
That’s the difference, too – enjoying food with an eye towards sharing it and serving it and using it as a vehicle for social connection, instead of just feeding our faces or getting eating done as a chore. There were so many examples of this on our trip.
In Kusadasi, a Turkish shopkeeper named Niko sat with me and my husband John for half an hour to talk about life over Greek beer and baklava and black Turkish coffee across the street from his store. The language barrier was unimportant. In the middle of his work day, he had stopped to chat about local restaurants and his mother’s wine and the differences in the foods we were eating.
At Piperno, a restaurant in the Jewish “ghetto” section of Rome, on a side street so small and cute that we thought we were on the set of a Broadway play, we had only food to help us to communicate with the waiter and chef.
“Speak any English? No.”
“Speak any Italian? Some.”
What followed was ten minutes of descriptions by hand, laughter and a lot of pointing until we had ordered a tableful of wonderful foods, local wine and even better homemade desserts. I could go on forever about what we ate (see blogs next week for recipes and photos), but the time John and I spent that night laughing with the kids over Chianti, pasta and pastries will be one of my best memories of the trip.
When we just order take out or grab fast food or cook prepared frozen foods, what’s lost is the fun part. Preparing food for others involves picking ingredients and planning similar to buying a gift. How meaningless it would be if you always gave just money as a gift to others so you could get it over with instead of putting thought into it and shopping for just the right thing. Food is like that too, I think.
The Europeans certainly have their share of problems but when it comes to food and enjoying life we can learn a lot from them. This week, I challenge you to invite a friend or family member over for a meal, coffee, or a snack (and prepare it yourself). If you think you are too busy, then cancel something to make it happen.
I know one thing for sure — when I am on my deathbed I won’t be wishing I worked more or had more money or more to do. I will be wishing I spent more time with the people in my life that matter to me most, maybe having a good cup of coffee or a bowl of homemade soup.
Don’t wait, do it today.