How much time do you need to really relax during an important vacation, longer than a long weekend?
I don’t usually reach a true resting point – the downfall of work and the stresses of everyday life, an “Oh, you’re still here!” recognition of a source of inner calm that I rarely take the time to access – until about five days. In a typical week off, I barely wind up and then the break is over. You may know the feeling.
This month, for the first time in my adult life, I took several weeks off. (Many thanks to my colleagues Daniel Hernandez, Jenn Harris and Lucas Kwan Peterson for filling in the newsletters while I was away.) I turn 50 this weekend and my partner’s 50th birthday came during the days dark days of April 2020, so we’ve decided to mark the occasions this year by splurging on overseas travel.
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We started the trip in Sicily to visit two close friends who live on opposite sides of the island. Jennifer Cole, former editor of Southern Living and Travel & Leisure, now works with travelers to plan itineraries for Sicily; she lives in a town above Catania on the east coast. Lebanese-Syrian cookbook author Anissa Helou, whose books have helped change the way I understand the world, stays part of the year in Trapani, a small crescent-shaped town west of the Sicily.
On day 5, when like clockwork I began to feel something approaching serenity, Jennifer drove us to the southeast tip of the island. We stopped in the seaside town of Marzamemi, still quiet before peak tourist season, for lunch with mutual friends also visiting Sicily. We ate the famous local red prawns raw with olive oil and fennel, and twirled spaghetti tangled with anchovies and raisins on our forks, while the Ionian Sea shimmered in the sun. Then we looped back to Noto, one of the towns rising from the hills in this area.
We passed the limestone cathedral of Noto on our way down the block to Caffe Sicilia; Corrado Assenza’s pastries and ice cream have rightly been featured on Netflix’s “chef’s table.” I instinctively ordered blood orange granita. Jennifer nudged me towards the ricotta and pistachio ice cream, a masterpiece of flavor and subtlety. We sat there, staring dreamily into the distance, talking only to talk about our next stop and dinner plans. It was a storybook afternoon.
Eat your way through LA
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I will stop there, because the reality imposes itself. We weren’t so disconnected as to miss some of the most horrific events happening in the world while we were gone: the murder of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was shot in the head as she was on a reporting assignment; the racist attack on a Buffalo, NY supermarket that left 10 black people dead; hate crime at a Taiwanese church in Laguna Woods, California.
And this week: 19 children and two teachers killed by an 18-year-old gunman in Uvalde, Texas, with questions growing over the confused police response at the time of the rampage.
Unspeakable and banal; another senseless tragedy, another round of news in the United States. We rage on social networks. We write blustering condemnations. We give to bereaved families. Politicians who won’t budge on gun laws will spew platitudes or remain silent until the latest wave of outrage subsides. Will anything change this time around? I was sure there would be a change when the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting happened ten years ago.
If I came back wanting to write a little something about the privilege and pleasure of traveling, well, the topic seems irrelevant right now. It might be a weird thing to say, but I take comfort when other food writers also stop posting cute photos on Instagram after another monstrous incident. We’ll all come back to this – it’s part of our job – but for a day or two it reminds me of friends sitting together without needing to talk because there’s nothing left to say (or, everything remains to be said , and we are gathering energy).
I still find so much value in doing my job – in the service journalism aspect, in the art of stringing words together, of documenting the complex and open era we live in through the prism of restoration. Many readers left comments and asked for recommendations in Sicily; it’s a popular destination, and I’ve picked out some personal highlights from my Instagram feed. I sense a cognitive dissonance between mourning needlessly lost lives and handing out restaurant tips. I say to myself: Welcome to the gift of living.
So I’m back in LA, settling back into restaurant review work, crying for the world, and helping people find places to eat. It’s all in one piece.
— Looking for the best restaurants in Los Angeles? Stephanie Breijo, Jenn Harris and I name our 25 favorites.
— In this week’s What to Eat Now column, Jenn suggests carrot tartare at n/soto and chicken wings at Uncool Bar.
— Samantha Masunaga verifies five workers who left the restaurant industry during the pandemic.
— Stephanie reports on the new location of Carnitas El Momo’s restaurant, and other news of the week.