The restaurants you frequent are not brick and mortar. They are days piled on top of days of relentless research, cross-continental travel, a warren-like co-habitation with people to whom you are not married.
Your reservations are interminable lunches; eating and drinking and eating and drinking and then driving, changing if you’re lucky, perhaps a shower before going back out and doing it all over again except now it’s dinnertime and your meal lasts long into the night because everyone knows you have nowhere else to be.
The menu you’re perusing are words of allegiances sown in the backseats of rental cars, in the shadows of what once was sea and in the rat-a-tat patter of perennial directives; I need my phone. Turn left here! Do you mind if I just…rest my head?
In your salad is a piece of cheese made from row houses set against a caliginous river. An egg that floats. A mad professor who keeps peacocks and trees made of jam. Your vinegar is a castle. A fireplace. A mouse running across a well-hewn floor, the viscous sweetness a woman’s smile, evidence that where you are at this moment is exactly where you're supposed to be.
The bowls of pasta at your table are four generation’s hands; a rubric of ever-changing names, evanescent memories of childhood, the brodo a sweat bolstering candy-shaped twists revealing a wrist’s secrets; love, hate, joy, hope, compromises bob to the surface like stars longing to be pulled from the sky.
The secondi you have chosen to share with the table is a cellar of 3,000 hides, the smell alternately repugnant and sweet, your fork making its way from plate to mouth a myriad ruler’s rises and falls.
The story of your truffle is a cave where men stand hunched for hours, gently turning the soft spores in their large, leathery hands. Look closer and you will see an outfit of Wellingtons slogging through the muck of a Piemonte hillside so secretive tracks must be covered, directions never inscribed.
In the legs of your wine glass is dirt. Clay. Sand. Rain. The sun and the three moons.
The liquid is patience.
Vagaries of weather.
The angel’s share, a must.
You sit back down. You order grappa. Your glass is a tulip from Mesopotamia where shipwrecked sailors build fires in the sand. It tastes like fountain pens, like war. When your server sets down dessert, you can smell the dusky remnants of expired candle wax from nonna’s birthday, the phyllo layers crafted from misting rain.
This is your restaurant, this tangled vine of an extended family tree: the inosculation of its stories, dust your plate.