I survived the Venice Marathon and it was certainly a case of mind over matter. Running this race was all about preparing and controlling the body and when the body said “no”, the mind pushed on. I haven’t quite come to any conclusions from this experience. It was amazing and I have never felt such a natural high and sense of accomplishment. It was a very solitary achievement but one that taught me many things about myself, about my strengths and weaknesses. I am much stronger than I thought.
Yes, I imagine marathon running is a lot like fasting from a chemical and psychological perspective. However, for now I am entirely unprepared to give up food and wine. That experience will have to wait.
I am off to run the Venice Marathon. This is my first crack at this crazy race and I am sure it is going to be an experience of a lifetime no matter what happens. It has been a long lonely road and I am glad it is coming to an end.
Believe me, I won’t be going on a fast any time soon (I don’t think I have enough self discipline). However, this is a subject I have been reading and thinking about this last week. People all over the world fast for different reasons: spiritual, health and eating disorders. I have even seen fasting compared to running a marathon, where physical limitations must be overcome by the mind. Fasting is said to create a state of euphoria that is medically documented and scientifically explained by the changes that occur in the chemistry of our bodies. It is interesting that through fasting the body, the thing that ties us to the physical world, helps the individual reach a higher plane (spiritual or mental). There is something contradictory about fasting in this respect: deprivation (absence) creates greater presence.
For some interesting reading on fasting, check out this article in the Guardian that looks at Ramadan fasting from a nutritional perspective. The author asks if breaking the fast each day with sweets and rich foods is really a healthy practice. In addition, if Ramadan is about self control, what does this end of the day gorging say? I am not sure how well I would do after a 12-hour fast.
Another recent article by Judith Thurman looks at American spas where the rich go to starve themselves. I was happy to see an article on fasting as part of the New Yorker food issue. For me the spa phenomenon in North America underlines our societies obsession and discontent with our bodies. Some people call this a holiday. I tried to stop drinking coffee for a week and I thought I was going to die.
It’s bittersweet. Sometimes I want to scream and shout, throw things and just leave. However, there are moments when simple pleasures win my heart: a leisurely lunch and a fabulous bottle of wine shared with friends; the glint of passion in a farmer’s eye as he explains the history of a nearly forgotten fruit he has lovingly cultivated; or the bus driver who drops me off at my door after a hard day at work. All of this keeps me coming back for more, even after having left two years ago with no intention of coming back.
My relationship with Italy is dysfunctional, passionate and largely irrational, like so many great love affairs. I know I am not the only one who has lived this kind of experience, but it is interesting that my most troubled relationships are with places and not people. On the bus back from Pollenzo last night, Allyson and I were discussing this phenomenon. It would seem that at the University of Gastronomic Sciences there other troubled lovers of this complex, un po stronza but lovely country. Italia, we are trying to love you but it is not always easy!
As I was walking home tonight through the streets of Bra, I saw a man closing the door of a transport truck and I noticed it was filled with Styrofoam boxes like the ones used to transport mozzarella. I stopped and asked him if by chance he was selling cheese. He responded that indeed he was! I asked him what he had and he showed me a great selection of burrata and bocconcini. I selected a bag of bocconcini and, as I hand over my 6 euros, I asked the vendor where he got his cheese. He told me that each Thursday he drove up from Caserta, in the province of Campania (not far from Naples), to sell fresh mozzarella di bufala and other products from the south of Italy. This is a good thing and I love that you can find such amazing things just walking down the street here in Piedmont.
I got home and barely took off my coat before tearing into the bag of bufala. Was this the real thing? Good mozzarella di bufala is almost impossible to find outside of southern Italy and it generally doesn’t travel well. It must be kept at a cool temperature but not too cold because that is when it becomes a rubbery ball you could play tennis with (much like most mozzarella you find in North America). I could not wait: I popped a little bocconicino into my mouth and bit down on the spongy cheese that oozed its lovely milkiness immediately. This is one of the best tactile, taste sensations in the world. Eureka! This was the real thing and damn was it good.
Someone once told me the story of bufala. This is a popular milk producing animal in southern Italy because it is extremely faithful to the person who regularly milks it. Apparently, if a stranger tries to milk a bufala, it gets quite violent. This is considered a real positive in southern Italy, where all types of theft are a major issue.
While I was on Vancouver Island this summer, I heard that there is a farm that is raising water buffalo (see photo above) and producing mozzarella. I haven’t tried their cheese but this is a very interesting development. Please let me know if anyone reading this blog has had the pleasure.