Moving is difficult in a way that many don’t talk about. It’s a psychological upheaval, a dismantling of home. I was prepared for the culture shock, but I don’t think I was prepared for this feeling of the kitchen I’ve lost. There are all kinds of excitement and we’re settling in, finding a more permanent place to live and Marituccio found a job, but I’m also mourning my sense of home and place.
While I was preparing for the move to Italy, every time I was struck with terror, the what-ifs and the whys of moving, I would calm myself down by thinking about all the things I would be able to cook and eat once I was in Italy. I’d imagine the kitchen, my cookbooks and all the food I’d find in the markets.
And now that I’m here I keep wrinkling my nose or feeling weirdly blasé at the bounty. Fresh fish from the fishing boats that arrive in front of my window every morning? Ho-hum. My eyes glaze over the tangerines that are falling from the heavy trees. Inside the bakery I pass by the fresh warm loaves of bread that are almost steaming and grab a box of crackers. I’m someone who can eat cheese 24 hours a day and I will stand in front of the cheese counter and take it all in and then walk away with nothing. Only sometimes a lemon tree will catch my eye and its sharp yellow vision jolts its way through the ennui into my heart and I’ll notice it and think, ‘o wow, isn’t that something.’
It’s so beautiful here and this part of the world is where I’ve lived my most important and special and favourite childhood moments. I should be ecstatic, shouldn’t I? And there are wonderful things happening, I’ve been meeting people, making friends, getting to know other writers, drinking coffee at the bar, talking long walks along the sea front, hiking in the hills, watching the sun rise on one part of the island and then watching it set on the other side, listening to and absorbing the Neapolitan dialect and smiling and laughing at this familiar language that makes me feel at home. And yet?
I don’t like the food. I go shopping with Marituccio and let him cook and I eat and I don’t feel anything. Fuck the fresh fish and escarole. I want to eat burgers, ramen noodles and Chinese take away and make a Moroccan tagine stew with preserved lemons and za’tar. I want to eat shredded wheat for breakfast and beans on toast and a fried egg. I want a roast chicken with gravy and cranberry sauce. I want to eat an omelette with a slice of chevre cheese and a salad of wilted greens while listening to the BBC.
I miss the cooking that makes me feel at home, cozy, taking care of myself and Marituccio. At the moment, cooking is awkward, full of doubts, testing and wondering. I’ve tried making my mom’s recipes that come from the island, but I keep messing them up. And then I eat and there’s numbness, a pastiche of memories that don’t fit into my life right now.
Years ago, when I first moved to Rome, the first meal I cooked for myself was hot dogs and I would often get intense cravings for McDonald’s during those first months. Hot dogs and McDonald’s are things I hardly ever eat, but I did eat them when I was a kid, so I suppose I was looking for something comforting during those lonely, unfamiliar and difficult months. Right now I’m still shell-shocked and bamboozled. It’s like a bomb went off and I’m just emerging from the bunker waiting for the air to clear. Once it does, I’ll probably go to the garden and make myself something really good to eat and feel relieved.