Every Sunday of my life I’ve eaten the same dish. A bowl of pasta with marinara sauce (gravy) and a few slices of Italian bread.
I knew the ingredients and procedure to making Sunday sauce before my parents even let me use the toaster.
At school, no one could ever say my last name right on the first try. On the first day of the year when the teachers called out attendance, I would tell them, “It’s pronounced (CAR-BO-NAR-AY) like the pasta.” That would always get a few laughs.
Christmas Eve is the night of the feast of the seven fishes. On Christmas day we eat arancini (rice balls) and lasagna.
On the morning of my sister’s wedding day, we arranged for trays of pastries from our local Italian deli to be driven four hours down to her reception in Key West.
At 8, my parents would serve me tiny sips of wine with my pasta. When I went to my first party in high school, I was the only one of my friends who didn’t puke.
It was drilled in my head from a young age that Bank of America was originally The Bank of Italy and that America is named after Amerigo Vespucci, an Italian.
I’ve always dreamt of someone taking me to the opera. I’m wearing a stunning dress with red lipstick and then I cry like Loretta in Moonstruck.
The first time I went to Italy I cried. Not because the beauty of the country overtook me (albeit, a good reason), but because for a moment I felt the history of my family in my bones. I understood my dad a little more. I saw where we came from.
On the following Sunday I became vegetarian, my dad made two pots of sauce. One pot with the meatballs and braciole and one pot of a simple, meatless tomato sauce.
When I moved to Madrid and out of my house for the first time, my first meal in my new apartment was a bowl of linguini with marinara. It was coincidentally a Sunday. Then I cried because I felt far from home for the first time in my life.
I tried to keep the tradition going. Some Sundays I was successful. The scent of garlic sautéing in good olive oil gave me that homey, comfy feeling. Then I would sit on the couch and eat my pasta alone with a glass of wine. The steamy deliciousness sent me to bed warm and happy.
Then I started to have a hard time remembering. It would be 10 o’clock and I’d realize I forgot to make my pasta. “Next week” I’d say.
Only I kept forgetting. Then I started forgetting to eat altogether. Dinner would be a small baguette I’d buy on my way home from work in the bakery next to my apartment. I was working long hours, I was tired all the time and my roommate and I were fighting nonstop.
Then my roommate tried to rob me of my home (and later she did rob money from me). She would purposely rearrange my things so I couldn’t find them and have to ask her where they were.
She’d have her boyfriend over 5 days a week in our tiny European apartment. I’d come home from work late and the kitchen would be upside down so I couldn’t cook myself anything.
No matter how many times we talked or argued about it, she kept doing it all plus more.
I was suffocating. My life was work and sleep. When I ate, I would eat in my room alone. Everyone I loved was across the Atlantic. I moved there to see beautiful things but all I kept doing was crying in my room.
One Sunday morning, I walked out of my room to find my roommate and her boyfriend lounging on our tiny living room couch. That meant they were going to be there for the entire day. I got ready and decided to take a walk around the city.
I had only been walking for about ten minutes when I came across a store advertising a sale on candles. I walked in and smelled all the candles they had. I found a big one for 10 euros. It was warm and sweet, like vanilla and cinnamon.
When I left the store, I was only walking for another 10 minutes when I ran into a produce market in a local plaza. I had never seen a market before in this plaza. I asked a woman in passing “Is this here every Sunday?” she looked at me and smiled “No, it’s a specialty market. It’s only here once a month.” I made my way through the crowds and took a ticket. 15 minutes later my number was called. I picked a beautiful bushel of cherry and plum tomatoes, a fresh clove of garlic, and large strands of basil.
Before walking back into my apartment building, I stopped at my bakery and picked up a loaf of ciabatta bread. If I was going to do this, I was going to do it right.
The kitchen was a mess but workable. I found one clean pot and made some room. I gave the pot a decent layer of olive oil. Just enough to coat the garlic. The garlic sang and the oil sizzled. I added my tomatoes and seasonings and soon enough the sauce was simmering. I sliced my ciabatta while the spaghetti boiled and poured myself a glass of wine. I took my bowl of pasta back to my room where I lit my new candle.
It’s something so simple. A bowl of spaghetti with fresh tomato sauce. A lit candle. A glass of red wine.
But that night the humble combination was my savior. I was hugged by my dad who was 4,000 miles away. I was at my kitchen table laughing with my family. I was going to bed with a warm meal in my stomach.
You can’t change people. Sometimes you can’t change your situation. But you can find your moment of peace here and there. For me, that meant a bowl of pasta every Sunday kept the blues at bay.
Ever since that day I haven’t missed the tradition. Now that I’m back home again, it’s easy to forget how special Sundays are. But tonight, I can take a moment to remember my heritage and upbringing.
A heritage and upbringing that taught me independence and resilience. But most importantly, just about anything can be solved with a bowl of spaghetti.