Bravery Is Such A Freedom, For All I Fear Is Compromise
Updated: Mar 21
I think among the many privileges that I’ve had, of the one I find myself most fond, most changed by, is that of being able to experience how others live. Empathy is the strongest bridge between two places. There is no language more clear and more full than that of mutual understanding. And if we are otherwise open, ready and hungry for perspective, there is a world out there ready to teach us. And I will forever forfeit a challenge against this thought, as I am open to many ideas, but I hesitate to negotiate this one even slightly – there is nothing more powerful in this world than to bring people together through food. The experience of breaking bread, sharing a meal, sitting at a table, or on a floor, in a garden – or anywhere for that matter; is the most outstanding privilege we have as human beings. If we have not traveled, if we haven’t had to learn a new language, or eat a new thing, I beg to say that in life, we haven’t done a dam thing.
There are pleasures that are unbenounced to us that only bravery can buy. There is a cottage waiting for you on a hillside somewhere. Or a bungalow between the sea and nowhere. An apartment in Mexico City that smells of roasted pork skin and chilis, or a terrace in Marrakesh that catches the chilling winds of morning prayer & fresh bread with the sunrise. I don’t think we truly learn to be ourselves, to do the things we want, until there is nothing left that looks like home. The only natural reaction there after should be to explore. I’m not saying that we should like everything, or that we should say yes to all things, but you should say yes to most things and if you don’t like something, realize how intensely personal that could be – keep it to yourself and move on. All pleasure needs a context, and as tourists, as travelers, we never truly get to open up and level with a culture to the degree we need to be entirely understanding and immersed.
Spending several days in Cinque Terre’s Corniglia in the off-season was one of these experiences. Almost everything is closed. There is one bar and one café – they’re the same place. One grocery store, and one restaurant in the lower part of a fisherman’s living room, who catches the seafood that his wife serves and cooks from 7-8:30 pm every day except Sundays. Unless you’re a tourist who shows up at 8:45 pm and pleads for a meal, without understanding why you are being such an inconvenience. At the grocery store, which is just outside of the town square the locals hang out at is some limited vegetables and produce from Vernazolla, a collection of Cinque Terre wines, dairy from the region and some bread baked fresh in their home above the shop. If you are looking for something the shop doesn’t have, the owner Lisa calls over a neighbor and asks them to fetch it from their home. It takes the old sentiment of borrowing a cup of sugar from the neighbor to a whole other level. I bought over 200 euros worth of food to prepare a dinner and everyone looked at me like I had plans to lock myself in a cellar for the winter.
I spent time grabbing lunch with a new chef friend I'm working with here in Genova for a project, and within minutes of exchanging dialogue, talking through philosophy and expressing the things in the food industry we hate (culinary gossip and all), we brought out pictures of our mothers. We showed each other pictures them cooking in the kitchen. He showed me a photo of his mother making what could have been hundreds of pieces of gnocchi in Naples and said, "that man, that is love. That is real food, all food needs to be like this, or feel like this, because if it doesn't, it's bullshit. Bullshit is not food." And I couldn't agree more with him. Bullshit is not food. Food expresses the deepest parts of us. It's a vision of our history, our culture, our density, our identity. We are undoubtedly what we eat, and how we eat it, and is there then any better way to become familiar with someone and their values than through breaking bread? Or at least comparing pictures of their mothers cooking?
We as people (the many of us) have too much. We are spoiled - disgustingly so. We couldn’t appreciate the difference between an extra tomato, or half a loaf of bread. We think that codependency is some form of affliction. We need each other in this world more than we could ever know. The interactions that we create each day are the life force behind our community. Our gestures, our speech, our intentions – we are all drinking from the same water. And it takes a little town on a cliffside, with bone chill winters and sparse resources to inform us of that outstanding vanity. That as long as your integrity inspires you to wake up to grind the village pesto in your mortar and pestle, that someone is waking up thinking of you as they bake the daily bread for the town.
Between loaves of fresh Genovese focaccia, Lisa’s Coneglian basil pesto, Erika’s strong morning espressos and Gerardo’s line caught mussels that he proudly catches off the nearby cliffs of Vernazza, unnecessary steps and all - I couldn’t imagine the pleasures that have tied all these days together. The great late Bordian once expressed that "travel is about the gorgeous feeling of teetering in the unknown. [...] If I am an advocate for anything, it is to move. As far as you can, as much as you can, Across the ocean, or simply across the river. Walk in someone else's shoes or at least eat their food. It is a plus for everybody." And within that exploration, within the many privileges I've come to have, I've learned that I fear nothing, but as it were, compromise. Every wave is searching to meet its shore. Everything staircase leads to some place. There are no unnecessary steps - just progress.