It may be too much to call this trip to Europe a homecoming–I’ve never met this branch of my Italian family before, so I can’t really come home to them. But I feel something similar, a coming-home-for-the-first-time. Which means that I want to meet everyone who has any interest at all in meeting me. Most of my family is still in the South of Italy–Calabria–but Salvatore lives in Florence, and my cousin Patrizia and her husband Seamus in a small Swiss town outside of Lausanne.
So here we are in Switzerland, staying with Patrizia and Seamus on property that’s been in Seamus’ family for hundreds of years. Right down the hill from us: Seamus’ uncle’s chateau and a garden full of irises. And beyond: Mont Blanc looming.
Our first day here, we walked the iris gardens, learned how carefully they’re grown and tended, that no one has yet developed a purely red iris, that thousands of visitors come each year during the month that the irises bloom. We walked beyond the gardens through a wooded area and on a sloped hillside above us, the ringing of bells: cows grazing with bells tied to their necks. We sat in the woods and listened to the bells and talked constantly–about our childhoods, our family, Swiss politics, the troubled economy, how grapes are tended and made into wine (Patrizia is a sommelier), how worried we are for Obama’s re-election.
That night: a dinner party. Seamus is renowned chef, and in seemingly no time at all, he pulled together a vegetarian dinner party in our honor: cheese soufflé, asparagus risotto with a hollandaise sauce I would have eaten like soup, stuffed peppers and eggplant and zucchini, a green salad, cheese plate with six different cheeses, strawberries with meringue and fresh cream. And wine from his brother’s vineyard–crazy delicious.
And that was just the beginning of the amazing food we’ve eaten–Patrizia’s chickpea and potato soup with a drizzle of the best olive oil, fresh white asparagus perfectly steamed, artichoke pasta, green pea soup with cream, endive salad, red Thai curry that Zac says is the best he’s eaten. And last night, at a typical Swiss restaurant overlooking all of Lausanne, raclette and fondu, crusty bread, miniature pickles that aid digestion.
It’s true my pants have grown tighter since being is Switzerland, but it’s also true that I couldn’t care less. I feel full in every sense: with scenery–stepped vineyards, red tiled roofs, row after row of irises, red poppies peeking through wheat fields, snow-topped mountains that dip down into the lake, grassy parks, stone chalets–with food, with wine, with conversation, with new friendship. New plans.