How a Netflix series changed my life

 

Three Parts

 
 
Part I
 

Cosme lunch reso at 11:30 tomorrow. Gotta start early if we wanna eat all day,” Jen Tran says, followed by loud laughter.


Jen sits next to Dave Park on his childhood bed, both on their phones. I calculate they’re looking at Instagram due to their rapid fire scrolling and oceanic eyes. The two of them have been engaged for several months now.


I lay on top of an evergreen sleeping bag, arms tucked behind my head, staring at the orange house-slippers that Dave’s adorable, Korean mama insisted I wear.


“Ooo—that corn husk mousssse!” Dave says with the finesse of an R&B singer. “Let’s watch the Enrique Olvera Chef’s Table episode to get us pumped for his restaurant tomorrow.”



The three of us flew in from Chicago to explore top-notch NYC food joints. We stayed with Dave’s parents in New Jersey to see his family and save some dough. Dave was on a mission to gather some delicious inspiration for his next tasting menu at Hanbun—Jen and Dave’s first restaurant (now Jeong).

 
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“Oh yeah, I know that Netflix show. I’ve seen a couple episodes, but won’t let myself watch it,” I say in a sombre tone.


“It’s so good! What do you mean ‘won’t let yourself watch it’?!” Dave exclaims, utterly flabbergasted.


I stammer, but struggle to find the words.

 
 

 
 

6 months earlier

 

“…So I watched two Chef’s Table episodes last night. But, I can’t watch that show anymore. It makes me like a thirteen out of ten passionate. And we’re just so busy right now, I can’t be distracted,” I say to my boss, sighing and shaking my head.


“Hah!” my boss half laughs, half hiccups at the absurdity of my level of enthusiasm. “Theresa, some people go their whole lives looking to be a three out of ten passionate for anything…I don’t know what this means for you, but when you find yourself a THIRTEEN out of ten passionate for something, I think you should make note of it.” He raises his eyebrows and smirks, then continues texting and driving while we idle down the perilous, swerve-n-crash lanes of the Dan Ryan.

 
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I flash a worrisome smile and gaze down. Coming from a large Catholic family, I had learned that being the martyr and peace-maker are prized-roles. If I could somehow manage to stifle my passion—in order to remain focused and loyal to this nice man’s company—I wouldn’t hurt anybody, so that’s clearly the right path.

I made a vow to never watch Chef’s Table again.

A few moments of silence pass, then I aggressively nag, “I swear to God, if you don’t stop texting and driving I’m gonna tell your wife on you. She hates it when you do it.”


We laugh, he puts down his phone and turns up the radio. Fever by The Black Keys bumps throughout his Hyundai Sonata.

 
 

 
 

Nearly three years passed. I finally realized that the decision of stifling my passion did hurt someone. So I scheduled a meeting with my boss, and distracted myself with political articles moments before. And lo-and-behold I struck gold.


Rahm Emanuel had just stepped down from his position as Chicago mayor. I copied and pasted his opening remarks in the grey matter of my brain.



“This is the job of a lifetime, but not for a lifetime,” I say to my sweet, sweet boss.



The role of Chicago mayor is much more important than my position, however being a female Vice President of a successful food consulting agency with a global reach by the age of twenty-six was no small accomplishment.

 
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A photo of me moments before I facilitated and moderated a chef innovation panel in 2017.

A photo of me moments before I facilitated and moderated a chef innovation panel in 2017.

 

I explained to my boss point blank: I was done putting out my passion like a cigarette butt. I wanted to harness it, make up for lost time, and air out the embers to spark a forest fire—and in order to do that, I had to quit.

I had finally given myself permission to be happy and it felt really, really good.

There are moments when your heart pounds louder and feels electrocuted by joy. Those are moments to take note of. They cue you’re onto something.

 
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My fault, my failure, is not in the passions I have, but in my lack of control of them.
— Jack Kerouac
 
 

 
 

I had reached a breaking point. We all have one. I knew that in order to chase that thirteen out of ten, I had to reassess the nouns in my life that were distracting me and taking up time and energy. I had to make radical changes and fast. So I got rid of most of my things, sold my car, and sublet my apartment.

 
 
Life begets life. Energy create energy. It is by spending oneself that one becomes rich.
— Sarah Bernhardt
 
 

Ready to turn the page with the veracity of a lion, I now had to find the culprit of my passion. What was it about this food TV show that sparked my bull-in-a-china-shop curiosity?


My degree in Food Science demonstrated that I had already mastered a deep, technical understanding of food. I had spent my academic years surrounded by test-tubes and sponsored nutrition books. My career saturated with food marketing KPIs, working with PhD engineers in laboratories and stainless steel production plants. I had earned a role as a marketing thought-leader and speaker at industrial food conferences.


I could talk in circles around how to achieve the perfect rainbow popsicle with artificial colors, the synthetic preservatives in white bread, the manufacturing process of enzyme-modified cheese, how to make a frozen waffle look and taste like “blueberry”—without using any blueberries, how to increase salmon shelf life from three days to twelve months, how to make vegan sausage taste like real meat, and how to avoid the inevitable conversation about the true origin of most citric acid (no, not from limes and lemons—but black mold grown in a lab).


I was a cocky know-it-all.

 
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But what did I know about real food?

Nothing.

I had no idea how to find it, but I knew where to find it.

Italy.

A cuisine famous for its simplicity. So I bought a one-way ticket to Sicily.

 
 

 
 

I found myself in Palermo ready to live week-to-week with two goals: 1. Understand real food and, 2. Keep an open mind, an open heart, and open arms.

 

“Real food” definition: I was unable to define this phrase, but knew what it wasn’t...and it was not what I was doing with my career.

 

Then reality hit like a ton of graffiti’ed bricks—and knocked some sense into me.

“Now what?”

 
 
 

I was without a plan for the first time in my life. I didn’t know what to do. I had thought that surrendering and following my heart was the path. But sitting all alone in my Airbnb did not feel like a victory. I was in a city with people who weren’t used to crappy weather, in the coldest, rainiest week of the year. The atmosphere of bad moods permeated the streets.


Read more about my disappointing trip to Palermo.


Friends and family were eager to hear updates of my new adventure. Many of them naturally had scenes of Under the Tuscan Sun running through their minds, as if I had packed my bags and bought a magic plane ticket to live in an alternate-Hollywood reality that they desperately hoped was possible.



What am I supposed to say to them?: “The dream that many of you secretly fantasize about as you stare out desk-job windows on long, frustrating days, ‘Screw it, I’m gonna run away to Italy! Life will be better there!’—turns out ain’t so good! Sorry to crush each and every one of you!”


No, I couldn’t say that.

 
 
I felt confused and defeated with no one, nothing, and not a of clue how to find my way.
 
 

I felt confused and defeated with no one, nothing, and not a of clue how to find my way.

 
 

 
 

Guilt and fear are clawing feelings, they get a hold on you. They drain you like a muddy-lake-water leach until you become the prostitute of your own life decisions. You wake up at 2:00AM in a cold sweat wondering how things got so complicated, how you got so off track. You want to undo the chains, but upon taking a step back, you become discouraged, because each knot leads to a wad of tighter knots. Overwhelmed, you give up trying to think through how to find your freedom, and accept the shittyness of the many unwanted aspects of your life, and conclude that staring at the ceiling until your alarm goes off is your only choice.



A life of pleasing others out of guilt and getting stuck in comfort out of fear. No, I could not go back to that.

 
 
Mistakes are part of the dues one pays for a full life.
— Sophia Loren
 
 

I needed to prove that following one’s heart wasn’t just for the movies.

 
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So I decided to do the thing I had sworn not to do.


I turned on Netflix.

 
 

 
 

Season Four: Episode Three of Chef’s Table took place in Noto, a town of just 24,000 people, located on the far Southeast corner of Sicily. “Inspired by the orchards and farms of his native Sicily, Corrado Assenza turns out rich gelato, almond granitas, crispy cannoli and other delicacies.”

 
The clear air, the blue sky, the strong yellow of the wild herbs, the light, the sounds, the colors—the spectacular landscape that produces the best ingredients in the world. It inspires me to create from nature, to understand what is good and can be transformed into food. This is how you build a recipe. I want to protect and share our culture to honor our traditions with every expression of our work, bringing to the world a perspective that belongs to this land.
— Corrado Assenza, Chef & Owner of Caffè Sicilia
 
 
 

Corrado spoke of his undying passion for quality farming, ingredients, respect for Mother Earth, and the importance of building a strong community of diverse farms. The camera panned across landscapes of rolling green meadows; rocks splashed with salt-water foam; wild flowers and ancient almond trees; warm sunbeams; macro shots of dewy oranges and lemons; colorful gelato; and steamy brioche—all betwixt the sounds of mandolins and laughter from locals.

Woven between it all, I felt Caffè Sicilia displayed the tenants of what real food was.

My heart skipped a beat.

 
Corrado has inspired a whole generation of Sicilian pastry shops because of his creativity. For him, flavors are like colors—and he wants to color with the whole box! The greatest influence of Corrado is his island. He knows the history of every single ingredient he is working with and that is what has made him so special. He’s Mr. Sicily.
— Faith Willinger, Writer & food critic
 

This was it.

With a fever of impulsivity, I decided to go to Noto the next day and packed my bags at once.

 
 
Some things arrive on their own mysterious hour, on their own terms and not yours, to be seized or relinquished forever.
— Gail Godwin
 
 
 

 
 

I left Palermo the next morning with an umbrella in hand and a spring in my step. An easy-peesy three hour train ride turned into one bus, two trains, and a nine hour delay—a great way to get accustomed to the lax way they do things in Southern Italy.

 
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After a week of being cooped up alone in my Airbnb, I was hungry for human interaction. So I aggressively introduced myself to three Canadians on the bus—a mom, a dad, and their gay adult son.

“Oh, honey, you really shouldn’t tell people that you’re American. The EU hates Americans…and the rest of the world at that rate,” the Canadian mother casually explained.

“But, I am American and don’t like lying,” I respond, accompanied with an uneasy laugh.

“Maybe just tell a white lie. It might be better to just say you’re Canadian,” she explains.



“I’m not gonna do that…” I look down out of discomfort. “Sure, there are some rotten Americans who spoil our reputation, but I need to announce my nationality, because all tourists act as ambassadors for their home country whether they realize it or not. I want to demonstrate the good of America. So that maybe the next time when some foreigner thinks of ‘Americans’, they think of my smiling face and not a face of hate and ignorance,” I said with confidence.

 
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Surprised at my level of articulation for being a “dumb American”, she agreed with me and respected my boldness.

“I’m Kathy,” she said and held out her hand.


The Canadians and I commiserated over the lengthy commute with chit-chat, cappuccinos, and shish-kabobs.

“My older son,” Kathy says, “up and quit his electrical engineering job and bought a one-way ticket to South America.” She rolls her eyes as she takes a big bite of a cheap cannoli she bought at the train station—it looked more like plastic Barbie food than something for human consumption.

“I don’t even know where he is…Guatemala, Argentina, Colombia—who knows?! He’s been doing this thing called, Couchsurfing. Kinda reminds me of you,” she wipes the powdered sugar from her face.



“I don’t understand you kids these days…so unwilling to stay put and build a regular life.” Then lets out a heavy sigh, “I hope he figures his life out at some point.”


I nod my head and smile, trying to portray a neutral expression on my face and dismiss any offense I’m feeling, because yes, I could relate to her Millennial son.


“Is he happy?” I inquire.


“Yea, I guess, or at least he says so,” she says reluctantly.


The communication volley was in my court, but I determined that biting my tongue and looking out the window was my safest bet.

A few more minutes tick by, and the train finally pulls into Noto-Central train stop.

It’s 9:00PM.

“We’re here! This is it!” I yell out with childish enthusiasm, as if the train is pulling into the Wonka Factory.


I race to double check my passport and cell phone are near, and grab my heavy backpack and over-sized luggage.


I kiss my train ticket directly on the words: ARRIVAL - NOTO CENTRO and think to myself, “I hope this time around the marathon ends in victory.”

 
 
I hope this time around the marathon ends in victory.
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The Canadians wish me safe travels. I hug each of them goodbye.

...Welp, I guess there’s three less foreigners who despise Americans now, just 7.23 billion to go.

 
 
 
Part II
 

It’s a mild temperature outside. Stepping onto the blacktop at Noto train stop felt like coming home after being lost in the dark, and a friend hands you a light and holds out their hand saying: “There you are, I’ve been looking for you.”

A smile progresses across my face. My heart cavity rattles like a car engine and I can hardly catch my breath. I allow the warm sensation of welcome to wrap me up like the childhood memory when my mom would bundle me with a toasty towel hot out the dryer at bath-time.

For the first time in my life, I feel I am absolutely in the right place at the right time.

I stand with knapsack on back and suitcase at feet, eyes galloping around. Then I realize: I have no phone service and do not know how to get to my Airbnb.

That’s when Faosto, his wife, and eight-year old daughter step out of a storefront across the street and make eye-contact with me.

“Are you lost? Do you need help?” Faosto inquires.

I show an address that I had written down on a navy notebook.

“It’s a three minute drive, but up winding roads. I will drive you,” Faosto explains with a friendly smile.

His wife and daughter enthusiastically nod their heads. I bashfully accept.

We arrive lickity-split. I gush over how grateful I am for their help and hug each of them.

I place down my bags at the Airbnb, then take a walk to the city center, about 1-1/2 blocks away.

There’s music and cheering up the cobblestone hill, yet I cannot see what the commotion is around the corner. I walk faster, look around, trying to take in clues. Runners with numbers pinned to their shirts whiz by. They partially collapse, grab their knees, and catch their breath. A small booth with a D.J. calls out names and gives loud congratulations in Italian. People rush over to the panting runners with posters, excitement, hugs and kisses.

I had found myself at the end of a marathon.

 
 

 
 

First thing the next morning I make a beeline to Caffè Sicilia, the reason I am in Noto.

See more photos from my trip to Noto.

It being November, it was the off season. There was no line or crowd at the caffè. I order the classic: almond granita, brioche, and un caffe`. Many scenes in the Netflix episode feature people enjoying food on the outdoor patio encompassed by stunning Baroque architecture, so I ask the server if it’s okay if I sit outside.

“Of course it’s okay if you want, but you do know it’s raining, yes?” the server asks.


“Yes, but only a light rain. I don’t mind,” I say quietly with a smile.

“Prego, tutto bene.”

I grab a spot right near the entrance and position my back to the caffè, so I can people watch.


My items arrive right away. I look up joyfully towards the sky and feel the lukewarm mist hit my face.

 
 

Who cares if it rains when I’m so happy?


The server comes out and checks on me to see if I’m still okay sitting in the rain. He explains that this is the last weekend Caffè Sicilia is open for the season, and I am lucky that I happened to come just at the right time.

“What else will you do in Noto?” he asks.


I explain that I have a scheduled Airbnb Experience on a farm that morning.


The Experience I booked is on an agriturismo (agriculture tourism farm) just a five minute drive from Noto center offered by a young farmer named, Fabio.


“How wonderfully stereotypical, an Italian farmer named Fabio.”


The description on the website is 95% perfect English, with just enough errors that I know an authentic Italian wrote it—there was something so endearing about that 5%.


I signed up immediately.



The description goes to explain that the ordinary Experience is as follows:



Four hour event. 1 hour: Pick seasonal vegetable and herbs with Fabio on farm, 1 hour: Bring produces to my fidanzata (fiance) to cook in our 400 year old stone-cabin, 2 hours: Enjoy a Sicilian meal over history and ecology discussions while sipping delicious locals wine.



But my Experience on Fabio’s farm was so much more than that.


After finishing my food and espresso at Caffè Sicilia, Fabio scoops me up down the block in front of Il Teatro.


As soon as I meet Fabio, it’s as if we were long lost friends and had known each other in another life. When we laid eyes on each other it was not: “Hi, nice to meet you, stranger”, but: “How’ve you been? It’s been so long, my friend”.

 
 

 
 

With hiking boots strapped tight, Fabio commences the Experience with a ladder in one hand and a yellow bucket in the other. We stomp through clay-like muck to select and pluck ripe limes, lemons, and various bloomed herbs in the valley of his wild orchard.

“Brought by the wind or the animals that come and go,” Fabio explains as he picks a handful of mysterious green herb. My brain scans images from the Cook’s Illustrated Herb Chart, but this one was not featured.

 
 

“A rare type of oregano, I think,” he remarks.



“We didn’t invite them, but they’re welcome to stay,” Fabio says with a warm smile and effervescent laugh, perhaps testing the hippy waters to see how I react to the personification of plants.


I smile back.


Fabio and I immediately dive head first into discussions about food philosophy, politics, ethics, ecology, our responsibilities to Mother Earth, the destruction caused by monocultures, and ingredient quality and the importance of process.



Fabio explains that he studied history and philosophy at the University of Catania, but when all was said and done, he felt the best way to truly explore philosophy was to practice it. He believed it was important to stay connected to the Earth and to protect and preserve traditional farming techniques. So, he bought a farm.

 

Learn more about Farmer Fabio’s opinion on the balance of tradition and technology with food production.



Then, after going 45 minutes beyond the schedule, we climb back up the muddy pathway to his stone cabin to watch Annarella (Fabio’s fiance) prepare lunch with our foragings.



The kitchen is Annarella’s natural habitat. Her petite frame, poise, instincts, and elegant motions are similar to watching a professional ballerina perform in pointe shoes. A pot over here is boiling, the grill plate over there is smoking, the oven down there is sizzling, and the sink across the room is rinsing. Not a hair irked, not a nerve frazzled. Annarella is calm like still waters.

 
 

She grabs an old paring knife that is slightly rusted with a wooden handle and slices up an acorn squash. Her movements have the speed and precision of a machine, yet the grace of a harpist.



I’m asked to congregate in the dining room and relax. Annarella and Fabio bring family style platters to the table—like the great team they are. The colorful, striped tablecloth is now studded with antique plates piled high with fresh, seasonal fare.



Grilled eggplant drizzled with house-made olive oil and local sea salt; roasted acorn squash served with warm crostini and sheep’s ricotta; and pasta al limone using the lemons we gathered from their farm just minutes ago.

 
 

Our group roars and hums conversations about life, death, the elements, love and hate, and tell funny stories about family and friends. Fabio refills my stubby glass—my favorite type of wine cup, that says I’m reliable, sturdy and simple, unlike my stemmed cousin.

Overcome with joy from the easy, fulfilling chats, the spectacular food, and perfectly lovely wines, I say, “There’s no place I’d rather be right now, than here.” And really meant it this time.

They smile, and we cheers our wine glasses again.

“We have another hour left of the Experience. Do you want to go to Caffé Sicilia for un caffé and a small piece of something sweet?” Fabio asks.


“Yes, any excuse to go back there! Actually…” I prepare myself to explain the whole reason I’m in Noto in the first place—embarrassed that the reason is due to a television show...


“Netflix,” Fabio and Annarella cut me off in unison.


“Yes! How did you know?” I ask, completed perplexed.


“Ha! That’s why many people have come here since that episode came out. And we’re happy about it, it brings tourism which is good for us and our economy,” Fabio says.



On the drive I send colorful photos of my day to a family group chat over WhatsApp. My sister responds, “It’s like you are living in a movie.”

 
 

 
 

We arrive at the caffè. Fabio and Annarella seem to know everyone here.


We order three caffès and a variety of biscotti: one with fennel seed and spices, one with tart lemon, and one with fresh pistachio. I select the lemon one, as it’s always been my favorite flavor.

 
What he is doing is very important. His message is meaningful not just here, but for the world to hear. It is very good that you heard his message, and something about it made you come here.
 

“Corrado is a customer of mine. I sometimes provide him with lemons,” Fabio says then takes a slurping-drag of his espresso. “What he is doing is very important. His message is meaningful not just here, but for the world to hear. It is very good that you heard his message, and something about it made you come here.” He smiles and places his hand on my shoulder.



“And now I meet you, and we are friends. This is good.”



“…You know, Corrado does not like the limelight. He did the Netflix episode because he knew it was bigger than him. What Corrado has done, in a way, has helped people like us meet, and to show the world about the importance of quality...because many of us have forgotten,” Fabio explains as he takes the last bite of his cookie.

 
 

Then with a smoldering look in his eyes, he squints at the fire red evening sun peaking between the Baroque buildings.

 
Technology can also be a virtual way for like-minded people from around the globe to meet, to share, to change. To feel like hope is not all gone and that even though it may seem that the world no longer cares, it does.
 

“You see from our stone cabin, we appreciate tradition. But you and I met not because of tradition, but because of technology. Netflix and Airbnb—both digital platforms. When you think of computers, it strips away some of the romance of tradition, but not completely. Technology can also be a virtual way for like-minded people from around the globe to meet, to share, to change. To feel like hope is not all gone and that even though it may seem that the world no longer cares, it does. We’re just moving a bit too fast, but there is hope for a better future, the movement and community is growing. Just look at you—” he points at me—“you came all the way from Chicago. We found each other.”

 
 
 

 
 

That night Fabio and Annarella invite me to hang out with their friends at a fish restaurant by the sea in Portopalo.



It’s a beautiful autumn evening. The sun does a bow, and cloaks the colors with desaturated monotones—yet the Sicilian air is still fresh and very much alive in the absence of sunlight.

 

Eight more friends meet us. Our group of eleven grabs a large wooden table outside.




They test me: “Theresa, you are our guest tonight and we are happy you are here. This fish is very, very fresh. Dimmi, how should we tell the server to have it prepared?”



Each person, pauses mid-sip of white wine, places down their glass and sits up a little straighter in their chairs. Surrounded by twenty blinking eyes and utter silence—a rare scene for a bunch of impassioned Italians.


I think back to Parts Unknown episodes and see images of Japanese fish market in Jiro Dreams of Sushi, then clear my throat and respond, “Well, of course with fish this fresh, there’s only one answer...” I look around the table, each person giving me perfect eye-contact.



Crudo,” I say.



The stop-motion scene breaks with zealous head nods and a few sarcastic claps. “L’Americana sa!”




“Brava, Theresa. Crudo con limone, sale e basta,” Fabio agrees with all hand-motions included.



We enjoy giant platters of seafood that was caught 12 meters away, with local lemon that was harvested 228 meters away, olive oil that was picked and pressed 3,048 meters away, and local sea salt that was gathered 914 meters away, scattered with a few blistered cherry tomatoes from who knows where.


“Are the tomatoes local too?” I ask Fabio. Thinking that I’ll stump him here, because there’s just no way every single item is this hyperlocal.

 
The word ‘local’ and I had an ongoing battle of break-ups to make-ups; I loved it for what it was, but not for what it had become.
 
 
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I was still jaded from being a culinary trend analyst for years. The term “local” in US food marketing had completely lost its meaning and become a bygone buzzword used by giant CPG brands to switch-and-bate consumers so they can sell more products. The word “local” and I had an ongoing battle of break-ups to make-ups; I loved it for what it was, but not for what it had become.

Fabio scans around the restaurant, as if searching for answers and trying to put words together to perhaps explain that he does not know the origin of this tomato and maybe it’s from Turkey or some mainland region. Then Fabio throws up his arm and pointer finger, as if making a bold accusation in a courtroom: “There!” He gestures to a man leaving the restaurant. “He is the tomato farmer. He provides tomatoes and other vegetables to the Osteria.”

I smirk, and begin writing the words of an angry PSA to Big food. “Dear huge food brands, This is local. It is not a word used because it’s cute or trendy. It’s a way of life.”

I pop the tomato in my mouth. A burst of sweet-savory tomato juice and warm umami skin flood my mouth—and I take it all.

 
 
 
Part III
 

I spend the next few weeks at Fabio and Annarella’s farm. We pass our time cooking, harvesting, and talking about food and how to make the world better.

 
 

Fabio asks me about why I chose to come to Italy, out of all the places I could go with my new found freedom.


“Something was drawing me here,” I respond without hesitation.


He nods his head.


“My father’s family is Italian. Abruzzese and Calabrese.” I continue to say, “I remember when I was a kid…”


I look around the backyard—almond trees, oregano drying upside down, the cerulean blue sky, green fields, and warm sunshine.

 
 

“…I’d lay in bed with the blanket over my head. Scenes and sensations of a place I had never been before would race through my mind. And when I arrived in Italy, it was like deja vu. Like Italy was the place I had been dreaming of all along. ”


“I love this land like it’s a person...like an old Friend,” I trail off, knowing that my obscure message in half English, half Italian will not be understood.


I wanted to feel like my big life leap and pilgrimage to Italy had a purpose—not that I was just some Millennial brat who got burned out and wanted to vacation. Sharing 16mm memories made me feel more and more like a disillusioned romantic, who got caught up in thinking life could ever be anything like the movies.

Fabio reassures that he understands completely. Then rolls another cigarette and begins to explain how bad the economy is in Southern Italy. Matera Basilicata had a 50% mortality rate up until 1960, about 1/3 of Southern Italy is unemployed, and in 2015 alone—138,000 Southern Italians under 30 years old moved to Northern Italy to find work. Hungry children and entire villages that have fallen apart. .



“I am sorry to tell you bad things, Theresa, but you must know these things as true. You have not found yourself in some fantasy. Southern Italy is beautiful, but it’s dying. It needs serious help,” Fabio laments.

 
 

“What can we do?” Fabio states, then inhales cigarette fumes and looks off to the distance. “We must do something, si?”



“Yes, but what can we do?” I throw my arms up and shrug my shoulders, thinking it’s a rhetorical question.


“There is something we can do to help,” he says, and stomps his cigarette out with his tippy toe. “It’s called, intelligently distributed tourism. You see, I build websites on the side, professionally. I created a successful tourism website called, Eloro District. I think if we leverage a digital platform—and be very careful—we can bring a small, healthy number of tourists to many different small towns in Southern Italy. Helping their economies thoughtfully.”


“Dimmi, Theresa, when you think of Italy, where are the influencers coming from?”

 

“Milan, Florence, Bologna, and Rome…for the most part” I list.


“Si, all from the North! There are many reasons why the South is forgotten…but we need to try to fix it. If we were to send 20,000 tourists to a small town in Puglia or Calabria, you know what would happen? Disastro. Not enough hotels, not enough transportation, not enough vino and food, the plumbing couldn’t handle it, the locals would not know what to do—it would ruin the small town! So, there is a problem with the current approach to tourism and I think I know how to change things.”


“After learning about your skills, your background and passions...Theresa, I see that you and I are very alike. We have the same goals, the same values. I tell many people about my thoughts and hopes, and they just smile. But you really get it, you really seem to care. I have wanted to work on this project for a long time now.”

 
This isn’t a north versus south project, no, this is for the love of Italy.
 

“...And I do not know if it is going to work, I do not know how well, but we must try. We may be disappointed if we fail, but we are doomed if we do not try. If the head is strong, but the torso down is cut off...the whole body dies. This isn’t a north versus south project, no, this is for the love of Italy.”

 
 

It was then, that everything came full circle.


Is this why my heart lit up with Chef’s Table three years ago? Is this why I was a 13/10 passionate? Is this why I quit my job, blew up my comfy life, and bought a one-way ticket to Italy with no plan in impassioned haste? Was it because my heart was trying to say: Southern Italy needs your help! Get your ass over here and use your skills to help us. It is your responsibility as an Italian to help—or to at least try!


“I do think something was drawing you here, Theresa. You are the person I have been waiting for all these years. To come along and help make this project real, to help save Italy.”

When you find your 13/10 moments, don’t just make note of them—seize them and follow fearlessly into the dark. You will search for meaning on your path, and you’ll find clues in odd places. Some say I found my biggest clue 5,500 miles away on a citrus grove in Noto, Sicily. I say I found it watching Netflix in my living room.


We are each the hero of our own life stories.


My heart pounds like a drum. I turn to Fabio.


“I’m in.”

 
 
 
There is always another chance for you. You may have a fresh start any moment you choose, for this thing we call ‘failure’ is not the falling down, but the staying down.
— Mary Pickford
 
 
 

“For THE LOVE OF ITALY”

ALSO PASSIONATE ABOUT italy?

Get involved with Theresa and Fabio’s project to help save the economy in Southern Italy.

 
 
Theresa Cantafio