Monday, May 28, 2007

A Trip to Italy & Cuttlefish

My wife and I just returned from a two week trip to Italy. We visited Rome, Tuscany, Florence and Venice. Our bellies were filled with amazing food: gnocchi, pasta, fresh mozzarella and bruschetta with the ripest red tomatoes and freshest olive oil I have ever tasted. The table wine, which was the cheapest option on the menu, was often the best. In Tuscany, small medieval towns like Siena, Montalcino and San Gimignano were perched on hilltops, surrounded on all sides by vineyards and beautiful rolling hills.
Along with amazing views, the region of Tuscany is known for its fly fishing. As this was my first trip to Italy, I did not even think of bringing a fly fishing rod. This was an oversight I greatly regretted after learning about the trout of Tuscany. Some of the Tuscan fly fishing rivers are the Lima, Scoltenna, Nera and Tevere.
Tuscany Pictures:

Leaving my fly rod at home was only my first fishing mistake of our trip. Another mishap occurred with a “fish” in Venice. The city of canals is filled with sea food restaurants. One such establishment was tucked away in an alley, small and romantic. I saw an item on the menu listed as cuttlefish. I asked to the waitress, whose English was not very good: “What is cuttlefish?” She said: “It’s cuttlefish.” I said: “What is cuttlefish?” She said: “It’s just cuttlefish.” Not getting anywhere, I decided to be adventurous and I went ahead and ordered it. A few minutes later a plate arrived with many black pieces of squid on it.
Seeing this squid in black ink on my plate was a problem because I follow the Jewish customs of keeping Kosher, which prohibits eating shellfish of any kind. I tried to explain to the waitress that I am Jewish and do not eat squid. She had no idea what I was talking about. I sent the cuttlefish back, ordered the sea bass, which was terrific, and I ended up paying for two meals. Apparently in Italy, when you make a mistake ordering, you cannot get a refund.
Picture: Cuttlefish swimming
What did I learn from my culinary adventure in Venice? I realized that not everything labeled as a fish has fins and scales. But I also learned a lesson about mishaps and mistakes. When I think back on our Italy trip, I will remember the times when everything went well. I will also think of my cuttlefish story and other problems that we faced, and laugh about them.
We all have these type of travel stories, times when we reserved the dirtiest hotel room ever that looked great on the internet, or when the rental car broke down in the middle of nowhere. At the time, we might say to ourselves: This is terrible, what a disaster. But then something funny happens. We get back from the trip. We look at each other and we smile and laugh about the problem. And we tell the story for years to come.
Some of the best traveling mishaps happen on the roads. During our Italy trip, my wife and I planned to drive from Rome to our Bed and Breakfast in Tuscany. Soon we found ourselves on a “detour,” very lost and without a good map. It was getting dark. The Bed and Breakfast would be closing soon and we would have to sleep in the car. With the help of a kind woman who spoke broken English in a cafĂ©, we finally made it. Today we laugh about that drive and the panic we felt being lost in the middle of nowhere.
Why is it that the best travel stories are not about the perfect view or the amazing piece of art, but the time when you order a fish that is really a squid, or you take an unplanned detour? Perhaps the answer has something to do with the value of mistakes. Problems are surely something to try to avoid. But it is those very mistakes that are also part of the good stuff of life, the stuff we remember. Let me offer this counterintuitive idea: problems can be precious.
The mishaps that we encounter in traveling, and in life are not meant to be erased or forgotten.They give our lives texture and meaning. The next time I go to Italy I will remember to bring my fly fishing rod and not to order cuttlefish. But I will also keep my eyes open for those mishaps and mistakes and problems that happen, for they make the best stories.

Here's a site for fly fishing in Italy:


Andrew said...

Oh, come on Eric -- did you seriously not know what cuttlefish was? Am I going to have to buy you some Discovery Channel DVDs?

Rabbi Eric Eisenkramer said...

Yes, please!