I walked into this kitchen to cook some Lebanese food. I’m really interested in practicing Middle Eastern cooking and I have great supplies available here in Tunis to do it. The pot of chickpeas is bubbling on the stove, but everything else I touch wants to go Tuscan instead, as if by enchantment. I bought a nice, small beef loin at the market today and my mental taste buds chanted: rosemary, lavender, sage in response. I bought baby bell peppers and again my mind wanted a cracked wheat stuffing or pilaf with the roasted vegetables. Oh, and now I just got the message that we also want roasted balsamic onions on the side so I’d better get those going, too.
I don’t consider myself to be experienced at Tuscan cuisine. I did go to Florence in September for a weekend conference, which sounds like code for I went to Florence and didn’t really go to a conference, but indeed, I went to the conference for long hours each day, escaping for only a few hours one night to see ‘David’, eat a pizza, and buy some staples at a grocery store before flying home the next day. So what do I know of Tuscan cooking? It’s from the buffet table at our conference hotel (cringe), but I did notice this: There were multiple dishes and they were each based on a central piece of meat, vegetable, or grain. You could look at the platter and say, this is the roasted beef platter and the next one you could say, this is the roasted tomatoes platter. That might sound really simplistic and a little boring except that when I sat down and started tasting each of those preparations, I realized each one was of a perfect specimen of ingredient and then treated in the most whole manner possible, yet with nuanced seasoning or finishing. Each bit tasted unique and incited audible “ummms” as I ate. So that’s what I think I’m up to with my Tuscan cooking: whole foods wrapped or braised in other whole herbs and seasonings with, hopefully, something unique and finessed coming through each one.
I’m in a Tuscan state of mind to begin with because Allan and I finally got our heads into planning a Spring Break escape in three weeks. We haven’t done it sooner because we have been conflicted. Here is the conflict: Our sons are music majors in the US and they will both be in a production of Don Giovanni the weekend before our Spring Break. This is Gabe’s third production in the opera department and he is the co-lead, Leporello. Anton will be playing his double bass in the orchestra pit. Gabe, in particular, has been working on this part for nine months, translating and learning the words, learning the music, then the blocking, and now the finishing touches to the performance. He carries a score that is about 1 ¼ inches thick and a recording of his entire part with him wherever he goes and he rehearses, and rehearses, and rehearses. Will we be there? These are words that have been very hard for me to acknowledge, but we won’t and because of copyright and profit-making issues, there will be no live-streaming and if past performances hold true, no recording that we will ever see.
Why is getting there such a big deal? For one, it is expensive. The two of us can’t go to the US for even a short visit without dropping thousands of dollars. With two sons in college, loan free, and investments not having performed at peak levels the past 10 years, we need to save some money during this 10 years. I know, this is an exceptional situation. It sounds like being just the weekend before our Spring Break would be a good thing, that it’s so close that we can just roll it into the break, but that is the other part of the problem, and maybe the greater issue. Many employees at our school would love to extend the Spring Break for a variety of valid reasons and Allan is the director of the school. He cannot set the example of leaving a week early and he can’t give me permission to do it. I’ve thought of taking days without pay, but that approach exacerbates problem number one and is still bad for problem number 2.
My friend, Richard, says simply, “We make the life we want to live.” That cuts me to the heart, although he means it all in kindness and I know he has had his own sacrifices to make over his years. I paraphrase that as, “Make your decision, deal with the consequences, and don’t blame anyone, but yourself.” It’s just that it seems that almost none of my decisions anymore affect just me. I have children who I pine for and who need me. I have aging parents, and siblings, and friends who I cannot get enough time with and who are all affected by choices I make. I can deal my own consequences, but I can’t be fully in charge of the decision. I pressed this with Allan, everyday. Bolstering myself with Richard’s haunting words, I said, “I know we will regret this if we don’t go.” He agreed and believe me, this is in no way easy for him, either, but his answer couldn’t waver. I could just say I’m going, but we don’t live like that. We haven’t ever done that to each other in the almost 29 years we’ve been married and I feel I would be breaking a trust agreement we have which is we don’t do things we can’t both support.
So this is what is horrible about this expat life. It was so wonderful to sail off with our boys when they were young and so were the other people in our lives, but the sacrifice doubled when they separated from us and it grows exponentially each year. Now this is the work and life Allan and I know and are invested in and it takes us away from so many people and places we love.
What a weird economy of choice that we are planning a walking trip in Tuscany as an economical alternative to going home to see our sons. I can’t expect you to understand. I know I will regret it, but that appears to be what we are doing.