This Sunday, we will celebrate my youngest child’s birthday, and he has requested that we recreate the meal we learned to cook in Venice with Anna, a very talented chef. (http://bit.ly/2wb1nBF) The experience, of course, will be impossible to replicate entirely. Certainly the ingredients will come from a supermarket rather than the fruttivendolo and markets of the Rialto, but the other primary difference will be the kitchen we will prepare the meal in. To be clear, we cooked a multi-course meal and dessert with Anna: octopus, pasta, braised artichokes, and tiramisu. We made pesto by hand, without a Cuisinart or even a mortar and pestle. Eggs and sugar were whisked without a mixer, and we used a sturdy dining room table to prep potatoes and peaches. The kitchen in this apartment was not large, although there was room for a gas range with a clever fold out hood, a water heater, sink, dishwasher, washing machine, and refrigerator. No space was underutilized, and the efficiency was a little magical. I watched as four people stood and cleaned the octopus, chopped parsley and washed beans in that kitchen and wondered at the prevailing assumption that more kitchen equals better food.
While walking in Rome one evening, I asked my kids about what they noticed was different about life in Italy and their life here. Aside from “I can’t get stracciatella gelato every night,” they actually picked up on some of the principles that had been part of my architectural history and urban design classes, although in a less jargon filled way. We talked about the street life in Rome and how the squares are kind of like theaters, dining rooms, and playgrounds all rolled into one. They noticed that people come outside to walk at night, to get ice cream for sure, but also just to stroll and be a part of whatever was happening in the square or the street below. We talked about where you live affects how you live – how big family rooms feel right in a suburban house, but tiny apartments are geared more towards being part of the square and street outside.
We recently returned from a long planned family vacation to Italy, specifically Rome and Venice. I spent a semester in Venice in graduate school and traveled fairly extensively in Italy during that time, and my husband and I had also spent our honeymoon there 18 years ago. Those long ago trips were recorded not only in photographs but also in leisurely sketches, quick diagrams and journal entries capturing the youthful musings of a twenty-something architecture student.