March 2, 2024 | Rome, Italy

Spark plugs

By |2023-07-02T03:34:17+02:00June 22nd, 2023|"Suzanne's Taste"|
Throw a coin into the Trevi fountain and see Rome again.

y cat writes a blog. She does pretty well — for a cat. Sometimes she slips a bit too far off the deep end, but in general she means well, and uses my minimal secretarial skills to polish up the text.

But even if I am only the copy reader, I must comment on what she came up with today, a Monday. In the blogger world, Monday is Spark Day, a day on which many bloggers post a “spark,” a saying or aphorism or simply a word to the wise about something that can perhaps enhance your life or stimulate healthy changes in your thinking or behavior, and today’s Spark was a doozie:

Don’t let yesterday take up too much of today. From Will Rogers.

Funny she should come up with this from her kitty home in France and that I, her mama, should read it and think, Wait a minute! This is exactly what I need here in Rome, as I slip along through rain puddles and lament the loss of a really great pizza source and voice my garbage grumbles, attributing the detritus of food wrappers and empty soda cans to the myriad tourists who roam Rome’s sweet streets.

No one shoos you out in Rome after meals. Your table is your table ostensibly forever.

Grumble, grumble. It was never like this, I tell myself. My past life in Rome was warm in May, not drizzly, and every Sunday night I delighted in a new pizza place, the mozzarella bubbling happily on a home-made crust that had sailed through the air from artful hands, deposited itself on a peel, and was crisped in a wood oven in a matter of minutes, and had perfect charred edges.

As for several of our favorite little trattorie, with mamma in the kitchen and a son or daughter or cousin waiting tables and papa at the cash register doing heaven knows what as we waited patiently, or often impatiently, for our conto. Why did it take so long, I wondered, to ask us for money that would certainly add to the coffers? Perhaps because orders were often written on little shards of paper that might or might not turn up at meal’s end, and often scribbled in hieroglyphics: acq gaz, arrabbia,1, 2 coda (alla vacinara? di rospo, who knew?), but of course, we could sit at our table throughout the evening, if we wished, and chat over the last of the vino with friends.

That’s a plus.

No one shoos you out in Rome after meals. Your table is your table ostensibly forever, and over the years in some of our favorites we are considered “family.”

Two or three of these sweet little places are still cooking “a la romana,” with artichokes and fava beans and porcini in their various seasons, but alas, too many have gone “creative,” with pasta swirled into towers on the plate, or presenting combinations of foods that never were meant to get along.

A drawing in the shape of a butterfly done with a balsamic vinegar reduction, or dots of whatever it is those dots are made of are now the mark of a gourmet dish instead of a simple oxtail stew, slow-simmered with onion, garlic, and tomato, or a plain spaghetti, aglio, olio, pepperoncino, with fragrant olive oil straight from the owner’s farm, fresh garlic (never powdered) and a touch of Rome’s flavorful pepperoncini.

Of course, I cannot look out of my window without marveling at the little marble foot that lurks in the nearby alley where tourists gather to absorb some of Rome’s ancient history. And I cannot sleep easily with my spring seagull chattering away as the morning arrives, but oh, I would miss not starting the day with his messages, just as nothing would be the same without the little putti that adorns the next-door building and graces my bedroom view.

I cannot sleep easily with my spring seagull chattering away as the morning arrives, but oh, I would miss not starting the day with his messages.

Even the scattered items around trash cans have their place in my weird heart; how often have I photographed the telltale discarded signs of life in Rome and thought them so artistic! So much to love along with the inevitable changes through which a civilization must go, like it or not.

Still, I harbor dreams of protest movements against cornstarch in clam sauce or tough 3-day old mozzarella di bufala or truffle oil on everything from salame to supplì.

No matter. I am prepared for change. Adaptation to life, and all that. But the day may come when I find cream in my spaghetti alla carbonara or try to cut a tough old mozzarella di bufala and decisions will have to be considered.

In the end, I’ll be off to the Trevi fountain with my coin in hand, and no matter what adjustments of heart and mind I will have to make, my dolce vita will be assured.

About the Author:

Suzanne Dunaway, a longtime major magazine writer and artist, is the author and illustrator of "Rome, At Home, The Spirit of La Cucina Romana in Your Own Kitchen" (Broadway Books) and "No Need To Knead, Handmade Italian Breads in 90 Minutes" (Hyperion). She taught cooking for 15 years privately and at cooking schools in Los Angeles, and now maintains a personal website and a blog. She divides her time between southern France and Italy.