After two weeks in a beautiful and distant land, I’m finally home, snuggled up in bed with my laptop. Relieved, exhausted, enlightened, confused, happy that it happened and sad to leave it behind–for a person who likes to keep her emotions locked away in a closet there are an uncomfortable number of them slipping out.
It was supposed to be a sort of hurrah to celebrate beginning the next phase of my life as an adult. As in, “Look at me, traveling solo like a boss! I can navigate foreign countries like it ain’t nuthin’.” Apparently it takes a trip halfway around the world to realize how much of a kid you are.
By the end of the first day I was there I already wanted to curl up in an air conditioned room and never wake up. It took me two hours in 38 degree weather to find my hostel, I didn’t know how the bus worked so I almost got fined, the world was speaking in a language I couldn’t understand, and I forgot my toothbrush. The hostel offered me a free drink at the bar during check-in but it only made me feel smaller.
Would you like an alcoholic beverage miss?
It’s not even like a big deal.
Why do you think it’s a big deal?
Oh because you’re a good kid from The States. Haha you can smoke and drive while wielding your semi-automatic but you can’t have a beer. (This was a recurring joke among the Italians…though it’s false.)
I don’t know, that’s how I remember it, but I could be wrong.
The hardest slaps in the face were always subtle realizations that would hit me mid-step though, like walking around the Expo realizing I couldn’t put half the countries on a map, and discovering that Italians often don’t speak English (what was I expecting?), and being blown away that Italians and Australians and Russians and Romanians are people, not merely the identical cells of their respective countries. Of course I knew that, but somehow a person’s response to “Where are you from?” automatically and unconsciously filled in some blanks that shouldn’t be filled in so quickly. Some Italians were partiers, others were quiet but quirky, some spoke Japanese, many were into American politics and pop culture–they were a colorful bunch, hardly described by their nationality.
And that brings me to yet another post of retracting what I said previously. A month ago I wrote about the cultural differences between Italy and America as if I knew what I was talking about. Because I thought I knew what I was talking about. Because I read it in a book. And now, after visiting the lovely country for myself, I can confidently say that I had no idea what I was talking about. I don’t even think I have the authority to make generalizations about America at this point considering I’ve only seen about 1/10th of it. Italians love tradition, but they are overwhelmingly progressive politically. Americans love excitement and innovation, but magazines churn out recipes for roasted turkey with cranberry sauce every year in November. Who am I to judge what country clings to tradition more? They are what they are.
For a while I think I’ll just stick to what I know, like what I made for lunch today. One of the friends I met in Italy recommended I make a soup after I told her of my ridiculous tomato bounty from the farmer’s market. Tomato soup is one of those rare tomato-based foods that I will willingly, happily, excessively put in my mouth so of course I agreed. (I usually have to sheepishly slide the tomatoes out of my burger at restaurants and push them aside in salads.) Paired with some yellow rice, a sofa, and several episodes of Parks and Rec, I spent my afternoon feeling quite at home again for the first time in a while.
Roasted Tomato Soup
I didn’t really have a recipe for this, I just went with my gut because it was that kind of a day. You can leave the skins on and the seeds in the tomatoes–they disappear to nothing in the blender.
3 pounds of fresh, ripe tomatoes (heirloom, cherry, red, orange, magenta…whatever you have on hand)
1 small onion, quartered
1 small leek, white and light green parts only, sliced into 1/4 inch rounds rounds
1 carrot, cut into 1/8 inch rounds (mine were larger, but they weren’t as soft as I would have liked them to be after roasting)
3 garlic cloves, unpeeled
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
pepper, to taste
hot water, or as needed
- Preheat the oven to 425 F. Core and halve the large tomatoes, or quarter the extra large tomatoes. Place them in a large baking sheet along with the cherry tomatoes (if using), onion, carrot, and garlic. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with sugar, salt, and pepper.
- Bake in the preheated oven for 30-35 minutes, until the onions are soft and the tomatoes are slightly charred.
- Remove the garlic skin. Scrape all the vegetables into a medium pot. Deglaze the baking sheet with some hot water and add it to the pot, leaving behind anything extra burnt. Simmer over medium heat for another ten minutes then transfer the chunky soup to a blender.
- Process in a blender until velvety. Adjust seasoning and thickness as desired. Serve warm.