Guest Column: Gelato, Cheese, and Men in that Order

Source. Pexels. Formaggi - pecorino fresco e stagionato

by Jennifer Miller

First, American Cheese (certain varieties in Wisconsin are considered an exception) is an abomination.  It’s a public embarrassment to even call it cheese. It’s yellow food coloring on a sheet of plastic. Are Americans too jaded, blasé, or self-absorbed, or, if I’m being generous, naive to not know about this public humiliation?   In Italy they have cheese like: Formaggio Montasio DOP, Formaggio Entremont Buche Noci, Form Lodigrana Forma Selezion, and Asiago Pressato Dop, etc. (and in case you’re wondering this is in a regular grocery store not some high-end cheese shop).  Nowhere have I heard it called “Italian Cheese” and if anyone has the right to do so it would be Italians. Mi senti?! 

I did not arrive in Italy thinking about cheese.  Not at all, but suddenly my taste buds have been re-born. I’ve quickly come to accept that I’m “ruined.”  I can never go back to frozen lasagna or spaghetti sauce in a can. It’s impossible (Americans and Italian may spell the word “impossible” the same, but that’s where the similarities end).  Italians sell their cheese in blocks (minus the embellishment of food coloring) and every mound of goodness I’ve tasted is 1000 percent better than anything I’ve ever eaten at home.

But my real passion is gelato (pronouced with a J… like J-lato)…I’m truly obsessed and proud of it.  I’m not sure why it took me a few days to have my first experience, or why I only got a medium size (for 3 euros…with three different flavors), because that was a mistake, but never fear that situation was quickly remedied.   I got a small cup which included two more flavors. Three scoops, plus two scoops, equals five scoops (in one standing), and that is the same math in both Italian and English! But that record, truthfully, isn’t all that impressive.  I plan to beat it… pronto or as the Italians would say “il pit rapidamente possible.”

But I’ve gotten ahead of myself, because first I had to get to Roma. Getting ready I felt more nervous rather than excited and it had been like that for days.  Leaving New Orleans was stressful as I had to prepare to be gone for six weeks making a pit stop in Washington DC for the “Interfusion Festival” and then two nights in New York or more specifically on Broadway (saw two AMAZING shows!) before catching that overnight flight.  I was so nervous about traveling and making sure I had my Covid tests I took the tests twice (in New York you can get tested right on the street) and I showed up 4.5 hours early to the airport!  Trust me, that is a first!

Taking the overnight flight and changing seat (first seat I was cramped between two people and then I relocated to having three empty seats together) saved my life.  I was able to sleep and watch movies instead of focusing on being 3500 miles above the ocean with nowhere to land should we run out of gas.

When you land at the Fiumicino Airport (don’t take the bus) you must get to the Termini station in Rome where you have like 1.5 minutes to figure out which track your train is on and then another 1.5 minute to run down the platform to “car 12” which is way the hell down the track.  Italians may know how to do cheese, but they aren’t too big on customer service. You have exactly 30 second (now that you are panting and have found car 12) to pull your bags onto the train without losing either your bags, your life, or your back giving out.  I am happy to report I managed to survive completely intact.

Once on the train you can’t really relax (yes, I sat in the wrong seat) and couldn’t figure out how to make the sink spit water in the WC (water closet for those of you who are also clueless).   Do not assuming (like I did) that the damn thing is broken, assume, I repeat, that you are rather clueless… like me).  Also note to self don’t fall asleep or you could end up in Timbuktu.  

I finally made it!   And arrived in Florence and got off the train only to see my dear friend, Fia, and her most adorable dog, Georgie, waiting for me!   Ciao, Bella!  Ah, that was as sweet as mango gelato. Wait for it!

With bags in tow, we stopped for pizza. Brilliant. Why go back to the apt first?   The pizza was insane, and we drank a sparkling wine “Lambrusco” from the Amerlia Roman region (like that makes me sound like I know something about wine, but don’t be impressed!), I do know it was the best wine I had ever tasted. When In Italy that will become your mantra “That’s the best (fill in the blank) that I’ve ever tasted.”  Trust me it will roll off your tongue like those “R’s”… that the best pizza I’ve ever tasted that the best wine I’ve ever tasted, that’s the best pasta I’ve ever tasted and, of course, that’s the best gelato I’ve ever tasted.  Promise.

Fia and I got into a happy routine.  She spent the mornings learning Italian while I sent the mornings fantasizing about gelato, sleeping in, reading, and sometimes writing about our adventures. 

Then magic happened inspired perhaps by this romantic paradise and Fia met the love of her life (yes, on Tinder!).  And, as her now finance, yes, finance, Mila proclaimed “it’s a miracle.”  Truer words have never been spoken. After years of bad relationships and homophobia they finally found each other across the continual divide and their love gives me great hope that all things are possible.

I first met Mila in her hometown and instantly felt her love for all things Italian.   She’s a scholar with a heart and I felt instantly at home with her and her beloved home Belogna. After our initial meeting she came to Florence to make “Sophia” dinner and I got to be part of this familia.  The dinner (she cooked twice) was risotto and the next day Bolognese pasta, and it was perfecto.  But it made me think of my family and how both of my parents are gone, and my children are creating their own families and I felt slightly cast adrift all while stuffing my face. 

I am no longer needed and there is an unfamiliar freedom that I’m having to get used to.  I am now the author of my own life.  Inspired by Sophia and Mila’s love story (or am I simply distracting myself) I got on Tinder. Are Italian men any different from American men?  I’m hoping they are more passionate and, well, sophisticated. No, dead fish photos so that’s an encouraging sign, but it doesn’t take long to get the “hello sexy” message.  Is it possible to find my “Mila” with a penis…? lol?  I remain skeptical.

When I tell one of my new potential suitors about my infatuation with gelato (“I know five words in Italian and my favorite word is gelato” and brag about the five scoops) … he responds, “so you like to lick.”  I tell him if all he’s got in his arsenal is a conversation about sex this is going to be a very short conversation.  

He unmatched me and I laugh. I’m making progress! And then there is the guy who writes “Bukkake” which I need to translate– it’s about wanting a bunch of men to cum on my face.  Seriously.  He clearly isn’t expecting a response, is he?   Is this titillation?   Passive aggessive?   Hostile?   I tell him I’m bored and unmatched him. Arrivederci!

Look, I’m not feeling sorry for myself.  After all, my true love affair is with gelato.  And it’s everywhere.  I didn’t eat it yesterday and I have no explanation, but I’m back on track today and you can bet your sweet ass I’m going to have some tomorrow.  Stay tuned to see if I can beat my record of five scoops (I’m confident I can!). And just in case you are thinking I’m a little too piggy, Fia, politely asked me why I was eating rice cakes last night (with cheese which made the wafer 1000 percent better).  I can’t leave here 500 pounds I protested (beside I must try and eat something healthy occasionally!)

Anyway, tomorrow I’m going on a tour in the morning, and I’m supposed to meet what’s his name?  (Marco) in the afternoon, but I’m most excited about helping Fia plan a surprise proposal on Wednesday (even more than the Uomo (man) I met tonight at the gelato shop who promising me homemade licorice gelato tomorrow!   The gelato stop was following a 9:00pm performance of Italian opera in an ancient church.

Can you believe this is my life right now?   I’m not a huge opera fan, but there was something about the passion that really moved me. Italy is full of favor and fervent desire for a sensual life, and I want to eat it all up.  

Postscript:  What’s his name didn’t show.  I literally walked across Florence to pee and get to Santa Croce (a couple blocks from where I’m staying) with a big blister on my big toe to meet him.  “Are you here?” That’s when he tells me he must work. A big fat Ciao to him.   After a big fat pee, I went back to the gelato place where the guy made licorice gelato and true to his word it was waiting for me… and true to my word I ate a scoop of that along with pistachio, mango, and tangerine gelato. It was all esatto delicious!!

Ciao for now!