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SALTER:Missing the Mediterranean

Published: March 18, 2005
Section: Opinions


These past few weeks Ive come to find myself in another happy middle-of-a-Waltham-winter rut. I have watched every episode of Sex and the City more than three times and eaten my way through too many packs of those chocolate-vanilla swirl Jello snacks (which, by the way, I highly recommend;

what genius idea those were). But this morning I woke up and I made a resolution: today I would try to do things the Italian way more relaxed, more hopeful unsullied and fresh.

First I got out of bed and opened the window. In Italy, when you open your window in the morning, you smell purple flowers and fresh early-morning pastry. Here, you smell commuter rail and ice. I closed the window and turned up the heat.

And then, as I smiled at the memory of not having a heater in Italy, I started to think of other things I could do today that would make me feel more Italian. Unplug the Internet. Walk around and look at the buildings;

take photos. Read an Italian book in the library. Eat Boulevard pasta in a plastic to-go box. Have a leisurely afternoon cappuccino at the bar (Java City counter). Talk to my neighbors. Cook something from scratch, or go out to eat have a Boulevard pizza in a plastic to-go box. Or microwave a C-Store lasagna. None of this sounded like it would relax or refresh me much and so I forgot about the whole thing. While I forgot, I started to remember.

My time in Italy went by quickly, and as it did I gave up my pining away for the Internet at home. I adjusted to the no-to-go-cups confusion. No sushi, no peanut butter, no pancakes. I learned that when the washing machine was on, everything else went off. The fuse would blow every time you plugged in your blow dryer. I got used to the crispy clothes, crispy from being hung outside on the balcony to dry. I got used to the wet clothes, wet because it rained. The temperamental oven. The missing wall.

In a short while I found myself pretending not to be American. I tried to walk, talk and act Italian not like a tourist. I remember this one time I was in an elevator in a hotel in Rome, and half-way up, an obviously American couple joined me. They were both round and strapped up with camcorders and florescent fanny-packs. The man wore a too-tight tee shirt and a cowboy hat. The woman was in a visor and a sort of floral mu-mu. They were funny-looking, but the reason I remember them so well is because of what they said. The man turned to the woman, who was now putting their euros in color order, and said in a humid Texas accent, I can not wait to get back home — where the elevators are bigger, and theres enough water in the toilet. The woman chuckled and bounced and zipped up all of her zippers. I went to sit at the bar, and I watched the two of them waiting just inside the front entrance of the hotel, mans hands on his waist, and a loud, So whats there to do around here anyway? Do we have that map?

I fought feisty old women for the freshest fruit on the street stands. Drained the flooded bathroom. Extinguished the stench in the sink, or somewhere around the sink. Sometimes the busses didnt come and Id have to walk to school in the rain. Very often my high heels got stuck in Tuscan cobblestone. I almost got hit by a car, running across an intersection.

It all became routine. The church bells on Sunday morning will wake you up, no matter how thick your walls or how deeply your sleep. The smell of Vespa fumes, the bump on your head from the scary loose-headed shower, and, some days, no milk. One day I went to the Supermercato and there was no milk. I looked again, and then asked the man in the apron where the milk was and he frowned in a friendly way and shrugged, as if, oh well, I guess we ran out. The next morning, I had dry cereal.

But now I am here, in the Village. And I find myself looking for old women to fight at the Usdan salad bar. Im a little let down when the mailroom is always open when its supposed to be. Im sad to see that there are so many malls and parking-lots and varieties of junk food. Certainly Michelangelo would never have finished the David if hed had access so many malls and so much junk food.

As inconvenient and inefficient as it usually is, I sometimes wish we did things the Italian way once a month would be plenty. Just often enough to remind ourselves not to get too rutty. Keep us on our toes.

And so I give you this advice, if you, too, are all out of new Sex and the Citys and Jello pudding snacks: by all means, relax and enjoy all of the big elevators and the plentiful amount of water in the toilets. And when youre done doing that, I advocate that you do one thing today the Italian way. Make things more interesting. Go to Gordons and buy a 2001 bottle of Chianti and drink it out of a real wine glass no to-go nonsense;

take a stroll in the snow;

hang your clothes out your window to dry;

turn off your AIM. I couldnt possibly, you say. I say: try it;

it may help. Buon giorno.