Like many women, I dabbled in vegetarianism. It wasn't for any particular reason. Red meat didn't repulse me. It wasn't necessarily for health reasons. One day I just decided that since I ate such little meat, that maybe I'd try to eat even less of it... like none. For me, this lasted about 5 years. I don't really remember the day I started, but I very clearly remember the day my vegetarianism came crashing down. Actually, a more appropriate description of my end to vegeatarianismo would involve a romantic interlude with an Italian man in a tiny village called Chiavenna, nestled in the valley above Como Lake. This glorious man who converted me in an instant was at least 80. And so very wonderful.
The late afternoon sun was dropping quickly, and most of the tiny village was still dozing for their afternoon siesta (I know that's Spanish, but I can't remember the Italian version!). It was freezing, and yet I was determined to capture as much of this spectacular scene as I could before that soft, yellow light only found in this part of the world disappeared for another day. Winding around each corner was so exciting, I wanted to explore each and every narrow little alley in the village! But, we were also very hungry (I think I inherited this low blood-sugar thing from my father, and those who know me don't want to be around when it dips too low!). Just our luck, or be it fate, there was one store open, selling fruit and olives and grappa and cheese. The old Italian man called us over, seeing how cold we were, ushered us inside and was quick to offer a tasting of grappa to warm us up. The liquid fire warmed up my tummy in an instant. As I stood there, taking in the small store, I noticed a frayed black and white photo of the store owner and George Clooney. George towered over the old man, his arm draped loosely across his shoulders and a warm grin on his face. By their interaction, it was apparent they were friends and this was one of George's regular haunts when he was at his villa down the valley. It was warm inside, and I could smell a duskiness, probably from the huge rounds of cheese, fresh bread piled in baskets, garlic hanging from the ceiling, fruits piled neatly in various containers, no doubt all grown within 5 kilometers... and of course, the unmistakable smell of cured meat. As I took in the scene, this very special place that was so authentically Italian and reeked of tradition and passion, the old man told stories in his old Italian dialect. He spoke of the grappa and his brother in law that made it, he spoke of the cheeses and how they are aged in caves, which ones came from his own goats milk. He spoke of his life and how it has been spent entirely in the same valley. He said it with pride and a smile that made his eyes sparkle. And then... he grabbed my hand and brought us into the back room where he kept the salami and rounds and rounds of cheese. He cut into rounds of cheese bigger than a tire, peircing the thick skin and letting us be the first to ever taste them. Every piece was a gift that he presented as such. And then he pointed to the salami and his excitement heightened. Saving the best for last, he couldn't wait for us to taste his biggest accomplishment, his home-made salami. How could I possibly refuse? I knew my days of vegetarianism were over as I relished slice after slice of the best salami I've ever tasted (and still to this day). I savored every moment spent in that tiny Italian store. I knew it was an experience I would cherish the rest of my life. This old man opened his heart and his store and his life to us, no questions asked. And we gave it back in return. I can't think of a better way to give up being a vegetarian!