“The quality of life is in proportion, always, to the capacity for delight. The capacity for delight is the gift of paying attention.” Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way.
Saturday my husband, daughter and I drove to Rhode Island on a preliminary college reconnaissance mission. After strolling through curving asphalt paths past the red-brick buildings at University #2, we took a detour through Providence, up through Federal Hill to a specialty Italian Food Emporium that I visited seven years ago, but have not been to since.
We had no plan to purchase, only to wander around the large central glass case where soft lights shined on home-made Italian delicacies, layered lasagnas, breaded eggplants, stuffed green artichokes, bracciole and hard sticks of imported pepperoni. My mouth salivated at the bins of briny olives, wedges of salty Parmigiano Reggiano, meaty slabs of prosciutto, expensive green olive oils, and balsamic vinegars that pour like syrup. We inhaled the scent of garlic and stared at the side wall-freezers stacked with frozen flavored raviolis—butternut squash, lobster, mushroom and cheese.
Around us, clerks spoke in Italian accented English, and in the corners, white haired men sat at marble tables, black button-up shirts opened at the neck as they sipped red wine and a yellow drink I took for Limoncello. Any temptation we had to open our wallet faded at the line of customers stacked two deep in front of a smiling cashier. We left, after savoring the complimentary pizzelle slathered with Nutella a cheerful clerk offered us, wishing for five more circuits through the store, a bottomless purse, and a walk-in freezer back home in which to store the delicacies. Can you believe that we only went to look?
Of course I longed to buy things at the store in Providence, but rationalized not doing so by labeling it a big-picture visit. We would have relished the Nicoise olives I wanted to buy, the quarter pound of textured cheese I imagined ordering, the anticipation of dinner as we plunged lobster ravioli into boiling salted water—we would have savored it all—but then—it would have been gone—a short term extravagance, swallowed and then forgotten.
Instead I left empty-handed but dreaming about the store offerings, which I subsequently cataloged to use at my own discretion. Now that the images and smells from Saturday reside in my memory, I can pull them out when I want to serve them in a story, as an appetizer or a dinner, arranged on a bright blue terracotta platter beside a stem of plump red grapes and a sweating bottle of chilled white wine. I can slice hard sausage and place it in layers on a decorative plate along with ripe tomatoes and dripping mozzarella, dribbling the whole thing with aged balsamic. I can serve steaming artichoke hearts and lemon aioli beside plump stuffed mushrooms, using an ornate silver spoon—or slather garlic infused white bean puree onto toasted ciabatta bread, sprinkling the tops with chopped green parsley.
I can eat until my stomach protests, or graze, an olive here, a sliver of cheese there, a dip of bread into a simmering pink vodka sauce. The feast can arrive at midnight, or three in the morning or for breakfast, and I can offer it to friends or eat it all by myself, licking my fingers one by one when finished. In brief, I can dish up whatever I want, when I want, with whom I want, and however I choose to design the layout of the luxurious repast, well, it all came to me for free.
And, if that’s not enough, Saturday I uncovered a bonus. If someday, all this imagining gets to me, the store sells selective items via mail order.