• James Eric Fristad

Ho-hum or Yum

Part of being in a new place (unless it's an all-inclusive sequence of days you find yourself committed to, which while okay, never ever seem to yield the enjoyment promised), is food. Eating meals. Nibbling appetizers. Noshing snacks. And not just the doing of it but the preparation for it. It seems a big enough deal to merit exploring and eplaining during these run-up days to our Major Sojourn.

This photo is one I re-used from the website's Oceania page, from a paragraph where I talk about self discipline and caloric intake and similar stuff, things that one typically refuses to take very seriously on vacation. I mean, it is vacation, right? Why even bring that stuff up?

Because this is not about worry or control or discipline; it is about the delight of looking forward to meals in unfamiliar surroundings. It's about what it is like to anticipate making decisions and deciding on menus for a particular day or succession of days. Being on the lookout for a place whose ambiance and (only secondarily) chalkboad-posted offerings speak to our mood at the moment. That stuff.

While not particularly good at it, and for sure not passionate about perfecting my culinary skills, I do enjoy trying my hand/wrist/fingers at cooking. Michele watches good-naturedly, ever ready to explain what a written instruction means, as I'm in pursuit of following some bewildering recipe. Whew. For me I think it's the newness of the whole business. There have been quite a number of decades I have spent at mealtimes, being glad for something reasonably tasty being put onto my plate and yet, except for making cornmeal & buttermilk waffles now and then, and continuing to insist that making a loaf of bread CAN be fun as well as tastier than most -- I am pretty much a culinary Philistine.

But since these trips in general and this one even more so, are my thing, it seems only right that I either a) stride into the kitchen batter's-box myself, or b) budget a whopping amount for frequent eating out while at the same time numbing any criticism I'm tempted to speak regarding what's put on the table in front of us. "And they call this PAELLA" kind of snarkiness.

I think there are two factors operating here as I imagine those upcoming mealtimes, which make such a prospect kinda exciting. One is the unusual mechanics (for me) of doing it. Conferring about the kind of result we want to experiment with -- after some token practice with Kindle-mounted cookbooks, at home here, before we ever leave -- then the frisson of wandering along the aisles of some French or Italian market studying labels whose exact meaning I have no notion of but still, with a helpful picture on the label, deciding yea or nay for it as a dinner ingredient; figuring out pound/ounce amounts and converting to liters and grams and back; being dazzled by the fromages one sees spread across an entire wall. Looking in vain for peanut butter. That is all fun, for me. Weird, but there it is, a condensed description of the first factor in my fascination with this stuff.

The second factor, and really the biggie, is entirely fiction on my part. It is the pretense of being a native in an almost completely foreign place. For the moment when it's all unfolding, I want to imagine I am Spanish, or Portuguese. French. Italian (Ligurian or Roman, in this case -- they don't have a strong national identity), wherever we may find ourselves adventuring over several days.

[A note of personal history to help explain this seemingly odd feature of our travel value system. A number of years ago we two were newly in the magical city of Venice. Walking along and keeping to ourselves, you know, chatting quietly about the wonders unfolding. And a younger American couple latched onto us. From Ohio, I believe, he in sales of some kind, and she a teacher. And they needed to talk about home and where they had been and what was next. Sheesh. I think we ducked into a shop of some sort and just kind of huddled inside until they moved along out of sight. The point is that we were there in Venice strolling along a canal on a perfectly fine-weather day, and we wanted to be there as fully as possible; not to limp back and forth between continents. Not any more than we absolutely must -- a determined attitude that has only grown more intense through the years.]

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