I wanted to have A Moment. Yes, the capital letters are intentional. I wanted to have one of those eye opening, heart filling, Oh-My-God this is the best…pizza, wine, view, walk, church, work of art ever…moments. I wanted to experience something truly profound that would sum up my visit to Italy in one neat, deeply moving little package.
Instead, I had lots of little, Oh-isn't-this-nice moments.
Isn't this a nice pizza?
Isn't this a nice wine?
Isn't this a nice view and look at that really nice, really old wall?
Perhaps it was because I was one the lookout for such a moment that it did not occur, or maybe I was distracted by my lingering sense of homesickness, or my worry that there must be something back at home that I forgot to take care of before I left, or maybe it's because I'm 43 and I've lost my sense of wonder, but truly I cannot lay the blame on any of these things. I can only blame one thing, I blame the lemon gelato.
It was just one scoop of gelato. One scoop of lemon gelato placed neatly aside a scoop of strawberry. Two small scoops atop a cone for 1.5 euros, sold out of a tiny storefront near the Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere.
The strawberry, pretty close to my favorite flavor of anything, was the one I initially wanted. The lemon was the one I'd not tried before; my adventure scoop. I was looking forward to that strawberry gelato that I imagined would taste of summer and sunlight. It was my back up, my safety net, just in case my adventure scoop turned out to be less than delicious. Perhaps if I'd eaten the strawberry gelato first, instead of saving it for last, things would have turned out differently.
The moment I tasted that first scoop I began to regret that my second scoop was not also lemon. This flavor was not just lemon, it was the essence of lemon. It was as though the world's most lemony, lemon, yellow and brightly flavored had been blended with cream and sugar. It was the coolest, most refreshing glass of lemonade you'd ever had put into gelato form. It was heaven on a cone, worthy of poetry. My strawberry gelato, slowly melting on the cone had become a contaminant in midst of this cold lemon perfection.
I looked longingly back over my shoulder towards the gelato shop and wondered briefly if I should turn back. I could buy another scoop. I could abandon all my afternoon plans and just sit at one of those small tables outside the shop eating lemon gelato. But this was Italy and I was in Rome; I had sights to see and antiquities to discover. I pressed on.
I visited numerous piazzas filled with stunning marble statuary and fountains. As I watched the water flowing and splashing from spout to pool I thought to myself how refreshingly cool it looked but I knew what would be even more refreshingly cool. Lemon gelato.
I climbed to the top of the Gianicolo to take in the Roman skyline. As I gazed out upon the towers, domes and turrets of Rome I was, for a moment in awe, but as the moments passed the towers transformed into cones and the domes into round, delicious scoops of icy-smooth, lemon gelato. I thought to myself that while Rome might be considered a feast for the senses, lemon gelato with its delicate lemon scents, its sweet and tart taste, it's cool and soft creamy feel on the tongue, was a banquet.
I entered the dark sanctuary of the Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere. I craned my neck to see the beautifully overdone baroque ceiling with the ascension of Mary into heaven at its center. I walked the exquisite marble floors covered in spirals and mandalas; no two were alike. I sat, head bowed before the painting of the black Madonna and felt humbled, but even then, in that quiet moment of meditation it was there.
Lemon gelato is where you will find peace.
Lemon gelato will bring you a sense of purpose.
Lemon gelato IS your purpose in life.
Lemon gelato is life.
I left the church and continued to wander the city, seeking something that would replace the thought…no, the desire that was tugging at my very soul. Before this day I had liked gelato, there were even flavors of gelato I liked a lot, but this was different. Lemon gelato was not merely a tasty cool treat on a too hot, too humid afternoon, it was a transportive experience; it took me to another place, a higher plane. It delivered what religion and Calgon promised but rarely delivered.
In my search for escape, for something else to replace what had become an obsessive thought, that day I walked nearly 15 miles. I saw artistic masterpieces that moved my heart. I visited churches that were so wonderfully full of tradition it brought me close to wishing I was still a Catholic. I ate pizza that made my taste buds dance. I drank wine that warmed me from head to toe. But at the end of it all I felt only one thought.
I really, really, really, really wish that I'd had a second scoop of lemon gelato.