Let’s say this is the 100 word prose poem you write when you’re in Spoleto, Italy:
Imagine a city in darkest November. It always begins with silence, then rain. Then silence again. A city in which fog never quite gives in. This is a city which makes people sad. So, they invent beauty. Ancient streets glisten in rain. Cypresses were planted and have grown so large and gorgeous, even to look at them gives shelter. In such a city people often look afraid: something terrible is sure to happen. The beauty only makes it worse. So we look down at the street as we walk. Hunted down on all sides by what we must leave behind.
So you write the poem, but, of course, it doesn’t solve a thing. You find yourself in Spoleto on a rainy November evening. And let’s say further that it’s not Tuesday night. Then what you really need to do is make your way at 8 PM to La Torretta in the old part of Spoleto. Forget about ambiance. Forget about a view. The guy who will meet you at the door—Stefano, by name—will greet you looking serious. Because it’s a serious business, eating the best food in all of Umbria.
And don’t fool around with the menu. Don’t try to eat something “interesting.” Not that they really go in for “interesting” at La Torretta. It’s the traditional Spoleto food you’ll be eating.
You will probably want to do a small starter. Get Stefano’s advice. (His English is just fine when it needs to be.) It will be a small plate and will be seasonal. It could be a tart of some sort: maybe something dark and fragrant, maybe mushroom; or it could involve wild onions; maybe eggplant.
But wait: why am I trying to do a menu. Just trust Stefano. Well, don’t be shy about telling him you want a pasta with truffles.
Strangozzi is the name of the local pasta. It’s a thick noodle. Fit to strangle a priest with. Which is where the name comes from because it resembles a shoelace. In the bad old days priests were apparently strangled with shoelaces when they tried to sneak into Spoleto.
What am I really trying to say here? I think this: you will feel at home in a strange land. It’s something to do with the physicality of the place—a couple of smallish rooms with low ceilings. With a sweet man who is so clearly the kind of person with whom you are happy to spend the evening, if not the rest of your life. And this: the food gives “comfort food” a whole new depth. It is food fit for a rainy November, for a darkness deepened by fog. In other words: “soul food,” because this is the weather of our souls much of the time.
(If you eat meat you will certainly get the sausages after the pasta.)
(If you drink wine just tell Stefano to bring you a nice Montefalco rosso.)
(Why am I writing this in parentheses? Maybe because I want to keep writing about this beautiful place, but I don’t have any reason to go on.)
Jim Moore often teaches in the Hamline MFA program in St. Paul, Minnesota. His New and Selected Poems will be out in fall, 2014 from Graywolf Press. Jim is a recent recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship.