For all the sluggishness of the Italian economy, there is a lot to be said for the importance the Italians put on mealtimes. At midday in the factory a bell rang, and all the workers as one, put down their tools and walked out for their two-hour lunch break. Lights were switched off, leather left half stitched, machines left idle.
The last time I had a fixed lunch break I was at school, so I really enjoyed the novelty, especially since having a proper amount of time for a break, meant there was time enough to eat a proper big lunch of carbonara covered in shavings of truffle.
It was such a treat to eat so much lovely food, but one I indulged in a little too much in the two and a half days I was there. Monday night I had antipasti of egg and truffle omelette, and then rabbit for my main course, plus tiramisu, a quarter litre carafe of red wine, and then cappuccino to polish it off.
Tuesday night, after having eaten carbonara at lunch with a salad, the photographer and I shared a plate of meats as a starter, then I ate a whole pizza topped with aubergine, followed by chocolate meringue, all washed down with red wine again.
And the morning we were set to fly… well you get the idea. It was all carbs and protein. How this is one of the healthiest diets in the world, I’m not entirely sure.
Tolentino is one of those many tiny places in Europe that is significant enough to be a place of pilgrimage. We got up early to see the 13th century frescos in the Capellone de St Nicola. We got caught up in an early morning mass, and it was as the priest was sprinkling ashes on the heads of his penitent congregation, that I realised it was the first day of Lent.
The idea is of course to eat up all your fat before Ash Wednesday, ready for a season of prayer, that will conclude in a joyful Easter. To get rid of the richness and frippery and simplify your life right down to the bare essentials. It seems I ate a little more fat than usual in prep this year.
We left the church and I had the most exciting coffee I’ve ever seen made – coffee with a dollop of thick cream dropped in, chocolate powder poured over, and then the milk, followed by chocolate sauce on top. It looked so pretty, I took a picture, and it tasted so rich and creamy, it was wonderful. I sipped it in the cold spring sunshine in Tolentino’s main square, watching the Italian pensioners stand around and pass the time of day.
Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat Pray Love, started her quest to rediscover herself in Italy, by eating and eating and eating. Then she spent a season of spirituality in prayer and meditation. And ultimately, this leads her to love.
I ate so much in Italy, I feel like I gained a stone in two days. So what I want to know now, is if I spend Lent in prayer, is this a magic formula that will result in wedded bliss?