It takes a really great plate of pasta to inspire a smile like that.
A friend once asked me, “Given a choice – would you prefer a life that is stable and relatively uneventful, or a life of drama and extremes?”
“Well, happiness is defined by sadness,” I said at the time, “I’d rather experience severe depression and be able to feel extreme happiness than never experience either at all.”
What does it take to make great pasta?
Is it the complexity of the sauce?
The blend of the seasoning?
Is it the strength of taste, the richness of flavour?
The unique combination of ingredients?
The past two years, I have embraced lily petals, shattered glass, false eyelashes, and orange peels.
I’ve climbed over the ledge of the Tribune Tower. I’ve sobbed beside the curved edge of a porcelain chair. I’ve been trapped in a sweltering vehicle with hyenas and leopards prowling outside. I’ve spent seven days filling sacks with cow manure in Guatemala. I’ve floated high above a pulsing dance floor and shivered at the brush of a finger against my arm. I’ve worked as a finance aide, a preschool instructor, a sales associate, a pianist, a model, a sermon editor, a club promoter.
My life is a fusion of
screaming fuchsia and cool pine green
rotting spider plants and white lilies
scrambled eggs and still water
needles and grenades
I have a love affair with extremes.
And luckily for me, life – in most cases – is only as extreme and dramatic as one wants it to be.
In December, I spent two days in Rome with my parents and – with the help of an amazing friend – we saw and did every possible touristy thing there was to do: Piazza del Popolo, Castel S. Angelo, Piazza di Spagna, Fontana di Trevi, Pantheon, Piazza S. Pietro, Colosseo, Circo Massimo, Bocca della verità, Terme di Caracalla, Foro Romano.
“Rome, above all else, Rome.”
Audrey was absolutely right: Rome is an unparalleled city of sights and sounds and smells.
But for me – above all else – Rome was a gem of Tastes.
Ever since I left Rome, I have struggled to find a plate of pasta that even compares to what I tasted in the Eternal City. But no matter where I go or how much money I spend, nothing comes close to the profound greatness of a simple plate of Pasta Arrabbiata in the Campo di Fiore.
There isn’t really anything complicated or particularly special about Pasta Arrabbiata. It is essentially pasta accompanied by a tomato base with garlic and chili.
But that plate of pasta in the Campo di Fiore was really something.
I tasted the full richness of a tomato more than I ever have in my life. I felt the harmony of firmness and elasticity in the texture of the linguine.
No Parmesan cheese needed for this plate of pasta.
And perhaps that is the magic of Rome – that one can catch the bus where Caesar was stabbed, one can stroll through the ruins of one of the greatest civilizations in history, one can essentially live in a city-sized museum.
And that’s precisely it.
In my life of extremes,
I’ve been ecstatic.
I’ve been depressed.
I’ve been in love.
I’ve been brokenhearted.
But there’s one thing that I’ve never been:
I thought embracing extremes meant living a life inclusive of the full spectrum of experiences. But what I failed to realize is that a life of extremes is a life without true contentment, peace, and satisfaction.
In a life of extremes, there is always something needed – another extremity to reconcile and balance out the other.
If Paris taught me to see beauty in living, Rome taught me to find contentment in simplicity.
A lesson in great pasta: The richest, most eclectic, most expensive variety and combination of ingredients can still not rival the greatness of a single good tomato.
Thank you to Naina, Lauren, and Angelo for being the Gregory Pecks of my Roman Holiday.