Pranzo | Freckled Italian

"Let's try not to eat so much for breakfast today because we're going over to my tia's house for lunch later," my mom explained to us over her small cup of strong, sweet coffee. The hot Italian sun beat down on us despite the early hour. It was July.

We were in Avezzano, a small mountain town about an hour away from Rome, and we had just woken up and were eating breakfast outside on the patio of another cousin's home. Breads and cookies and chocolate and fruit were laid out on a tray before us and I remember thinking how much I preferred drinking coffee like an adult and being able to eat cookies for breakfast. I was eleven.

We spent the afternoon shopping and trying not to eat. I was amazed by how beautiful Italians make everything--an espresso becomes a work of art with crema, steaming in all its perfection in a tiny ceramic cup and saucer. My mother purchased a bracelet and I watched in awe as the saleswoman put it in a box and tied a gold ribbon around it, then placed it in a small shopping bag with purple tissue paper and handed it across the counter with a smile on her tan face. "Grazie, signora." Even their words are beautiful.

Later in the afternoon we drove closer to Rome to my great-aunt's house, and the lunch festivities began. My great-aunt, my mom's tia is a small, round woman who wears floral dresses and brought out plate after plate of delicious dishes. First, two kinds of pasta, then chicken, then beef. Lasagna and salads followed. We ate for two hours, and my younger brother and I stuffed ourselves until we could barely breathe.

My dad sat next to us, laughing and telling us about the first time he ever went to my mom's house when they were first dating. My grandpa Albino also had several dishes ready, but my dad filled himself up on the first pasta, unaware that there was more to come. Today, he only took a little of each course--he had remembered and he was prepared for the marathon lunch banquet.

My mom sat in the middle of the table, rapidly conversing with her family in Italian and sometimes turning to us to say something in English. She's trilingual but says Italian is the hardest. Without knowing for sure, it's impossible to tell which is her first language.

After all the plates were cleared, my great-aunt came out bearing dessert, and I somehow managed to sneak away from the table before tiramisu was forced upon me. I walked into the backyard and sat beneath a shady fig tree. The afternoon had edged into evening and it was finally a bit cooler, but I was uncomfortably full and told myself I wouldn't be able to eat again for days.

I laid myself down in the grass to take a nap, but there was a low-hanging branch and a dewy purple fig sat right before my face, so I picked it and ate it and then fell asleep.


This post was originally published on February 26, 2011. I wrote it in college, but I've been thinking about it a lot this week (there are figs everywhere right now! At the grocery store, on Instagram, in my kitchen, on my plate). I had to do some digging to find this post (I thought I had accidentally deleted it), so I thought I'd re-publish it for any of you who haven't been around since 2011--can you believe I've been writing on this blog for that long? If you have a favorite vacation/travel memory, I'd love to hear it.