Saturday, July 23, 2011

"The bittersweet between my teeth, trying to find the in-between"

It may be a bit bold and overeager of me to use the lyrics from a band--a super rad band*, I might add--that I only recently discovered through watching the show Chuck. But, tip-toeing into my house last night at just past 1:30, flipping open my laptop, and "Young Blood" bursting through my speakers while my mother slept soundly two floors above me, it seemed that my mood and line of thought crept unbeknownst to me through the metal apparatus of the computer, exiting victoriously and elegantly to float around me and remind me of time.


It has been over two months since I last posted, and in my last post, I was almost halfway through my sojourn in Italy with the Art Monastery Project. Thankfully, the time didn't fly while I was there, but that does not mean that I was not having fun; those two months encompassed some of the most personally fulfilling, character-building, emotionally enlightening, and spiritually rich moments of my existence. One reason amongst countless reasons (feel free to ask me for them in specific) for embarking on this journey--a journey, I admit, about which I didn't know much--was to bring myself out of my comfort zone, in living and working with new people in a non-profit that is operated in a land whose conventions are sometimes foreign to me.

Being in Italy wasn't out of my comfort zone per se, since, up to now, I've been there five separate times. In more detail, out of my comfort zone was an enticing combination of shy Christina living with four strangers, having to make telephone calls to and meet other strangers while speaking a language I started to acquire only eight years ago (my family and friends can attest that calling strangers on the phone is one of my least favourite activities, even if it's just to order pizza), navigating a territory alone when my sense of direction is poor at best, accepting the fact that insects and arachnids larger than the ones in Quebec had equal access to my bedroom... Before I left, I knew this was the equation to which I was adding myself, and though I may have been slightly nervous, I welcomed the challenge; now, having lived all of those experiences and loving them (well, maybe not sharing my room with creatures such as this, below),

I know not only that I would do it all again (and I may just do that), but also that I would have a new set of challenges to embrace and silly anxieties to conquer if and when I engage in a similar experience. And I feel profoundly changed by my experience. I am grateful every day for having had the opportunity and what I would consider nothing short of a privilege to share daily life with the Artmonks in Labro.

So why did this post's song lyric so adequately captivate my feelings? First, please let me express that I don't believe I am some sort of anomaly living an extraordinary experience--extraordinary in its most rudimentary, basic definition--when I describe the current stage in my life. I am simply expressing my individual observations of growing into adulthood. I have considered it almost from afar in much the same way that many, if not most, people consider the idea of winning the lottery or, more tragically, losing a loved one: they never think it'll happen to them. But adulthood does happen and it catches one off-guard. Should I pack that Ginger Spice Barbie™ doll with my stuffed animals? Would it make sense to take the AFI, Nightwish, and Green Day posters off my walls and bring them to Toronto? What about my sticker albums--should I leave them behind with my Twilight books?

So, again, picture this: In April, I spend two weeks packing up most of my belongings from my childhood home into boxes to ship to the biggest city in Canada, where I will be living as of the end of August. On the very opposite end of the spectrum, I ship myself on April 14 off to a town in Italy so small that not even my Nonna has heard of it ('Labro'? Come si scrive?). I become so used and accustomed to and happy with my new, temporary home in Labro that I try, in vain, to extend my stay for at least an extra two weeks. I leave Italy on June 18 to return to Montreal and sleep not in my "old" room but in a hide-a-bed in my basement, since my mattress and accompanying belongings were guided out of my house by mum and sister in my absence (bless their hearts). And, in about a month, I ship myself off to another wonderful, fantastic, exhilarating unknown in the heart of downtown Toronto.

And I don't truly fear the unknown; I naïvely, trustingly embrace it, sometimes precariously. But I can't deny the bittersweet nature of finding myself in this land of in-between, this veritable Limbo where I float until I settle down, albeit temporarily, in a new home. It's bittersweet to leave one home to discover and make oneself at home in another locale. It's exciting and beautiful for all the right reasons but maddeningly forlorn for the exact same reasons. I find myself in this foreign territory, literally and metaphorically, situated between childhood and adulthood; between different homes; between working life and student life; between new friends and old friends.

Life is characterized by impermanence. In fact, life is impermanence. As such, it is futile to expect or even hope that things will remain the same, for disappointment shall inevitably follow. Allowing the fluidity of change to carry one around and over the boulders in the sea that transports us through life--and not freaking out when the current shifts suddenly--is our best guarantee to personal fulfillment and general satisfaction with the status quo of our individual lives. Even that, the idea that any point in our lives can be accurately considered a status quo, is a falsehood, because our lives are always changing.

So, then, our best bet might just be to dive in, to get our hair wet, to disorient ourselves as the current whips our surroundings in such a way as to render the landscape unrecognizable, and, thus, novel, breath-taking, and exhilaratingly challenging. This is what we are meant to do, and this is how we develop ourselves and equip ourselves to better face and embrace the constantly changing world of which we are an inextricable part.

If you've read this far, I thank you for indulging the product of countless hours of contemplation, time I've spent in the company of my own mind on long walks through winding, ascending, and descending country roads. I've spent many hours in meditation trying to disentangle myself from the intertwining thought patterns to see where the silence of my own mind could take me.

And don't get me wrong: that's all perfectly fun to me, but I cannot forget, and can assure you that I have not forgotten, one of my true passions amidst all this pensive activity: food. Enjoy!

Vegan risotto made at my friend Emanuela's friend's (got it?) restaurant by the Pantheon in Rome
If I were to go out to eat every day while living in Rome, I would indulge in this delicacy of cicoria every single day.
I noticed an abundance of chestnut flour in the pantry at the Art Monastery, left over from when gluten-intolerant guests had stayed over. I was determined to use up some of before it expired and sought bread recipes using chestnut flour. My attempt at chestnut-flour focaccia was neither a success nor an immense failure. Let's say it tasted a whole lot better once it soaked up tomato juices and seasoned olive oil from a salad.
The dynamic at the Art Monastery was communal, that is, all tasks were shared and shifted around in a fair manner. Therefore, whoever prepared a meal would never be expected to clear the table or wash dishes, and vice versa. While I was often on lunch or dinner preparation, I cooked under the genius guidance of my friend, Charles. When the artists were out of town for two days, I experimented in the kitchen with the ingredients we had on hand, using some vegan blogs for guidance. Above is Susan V's Tofu and Vegetables with Lower-Fat Thai Peanut Sauce, sans tofu. As much as I love Italian food and the hearty, tasty meals we prepared at the Art Monastery, I longed for peanut butter, and even for tofu. So I dished out the four euros (about six Canadian dollars) for a jar of Skippy peanut butter (with trans fat! I never eat trans fat, or Skippy peanut butter, for that matter!) to satisfy this longing and to add to the stash of foods considered delicacies in our kitchen (like peanuts. See a trend?). And I will learn for next time to bring JARS of peanut and almond butters with me when living or vacationing abroad. Here I was thinking that I'd miss maple syrup--what I've been known to call the Life Blood--most; such was not the case. (Please excuse the crappy photo quality; the photo was taken with Photo Booth.)
Vegan Dad's Cajun Chickpea Cakes were an immense success.
Me being a jackass in the kitchen (surprise!)
We made vegan chocolate cake! The recipe came from a cookbook with recipes compiled by a European commune.

We were invited to partake in the festivities on the occasion of the hotel manager's nozze d'argento (25th wedding anniversary). Here is an example of our elegant place settings. The names of everyone were indicated on the verso of the hotel's postcards.
If I remember correctly, I ate six pieces of this warm, fluffy, and simple but flavourful salt-and-rosemary pizza, made by Colle di Costa's very own Ulisse.
Now, I don't know about you, but I'd favour a vase filled with zucchini flowers over a bouquet of daisies any day (do people bestow bouquets of daisies?). It's simply more practical! Mmm... edible flowers... This was in the restaurant by the Pantheon.
My partners in crime during my stay in Labro. Ci rivediamo!
It's a shame that I didn't take more photos of what I considered to be daily epic meals at the Art Monastery: polenta; gnocchi; pasta covered in luscious green sauces made with zucchini; beans; couscous; home-made eggplant- and zucchini-based dips; hummus; grilled eggplant; fresh and flavourful cantaloupe. Taste fruit in Italy or anywhere, really, in the EU and you'll be sorely disappointed when you try to find identical tastes in North America--unless you always consume organic foods. Tomatoes just don't burst with flavour like the ones in Italy do. Figs and watermelon here just are not as sweet.

But this just ties in to what I was waxing poetic about earlier: holding fast to certain ways of life--or ways of eating--will simply lead to disappointment when said ways are no longer sustainable or possible to enjoy. I made sure to relish the culinary delights, to bask in the deep and enduring friendships I made, to savour the purifying and tranquil environment, knowing that all but the friendships I made there would come to an end, and that, two months later, I'd be embracing this same change of space again. But, heck, I knew I'd be going back to a land where peanut butter is cheap and aplenty! I took comfort in knowing that there's beauty everywhere, as Brett Detar of the now-defunct The Juliana Theory, cries in earnest in the song...

"We Make the Road by Walking."

How à propos...

We just need to sensitise our hearing and our sight, and even our palates and touch, to be able to access and locate the beauty around us. And it's always there.

Until next time, and thank you for reading,

Vegan in Suburbia (for now...)

*The band is called The Naked and Famous. The song was featured at the end of episode 13 of season 4 of Chuck. I offer no spoilers but I strongly encourage you to watch this scene... and I dare you not to squeal in delight as I did.