Four Seasons in Rome is novelist Anthony Doerr’s account of the year he spent in Rome (on a Rome Prize Fellowship from the American Academy–jealous, anyone?) with his wife and twin baby boys, trying to write a book, trying to learn Italian, and often, trying to figure out how to get food for his growing children. It’s a wonderful little book, part travelogue, part chronicle of new parenting, part history lesson, but of course, since this is Italy we’re talking about, there are many scenes and snippets that have to do with food and eating. After all, no matter why you claim you’re going to Italy, really, it always ends up being about the food. This passage comes near the beginning of the book–it’s autumn–when the family is recently arrived and still adjusting to almost everything, while at the same time completely bowled over by the majesty and beauty of their new home town. On the surface, it’s about grocery shopping, but what it says about Italian culture and the surreal magic of travel is just as vivid.
At the produce stand—we learn the hard way–you’re not supposed to touch the vegetables; you point at the insalatine or pomodori and the merchant will set them on the scale. The butcher’s eggs sit in open cartons, roasting in the sun. There are no tags on any of his meat; I gesture at something pink and boneless and cross my fingers.
The Kit Kats are packaged not in orange labels but in red. They taste better. So do the pears. We devour one and bleed pear juice all over the canopy of the stroller. The tomatoes–a dozen of them in a bag–appear to give off light.
The babies suck on biscuits. We glide through sun and shadow.