Sitting here in a friends flat in the ancient Italian town of Bologna, at the end of an enjoyable, but hard two weeks of study and work, perhaps along the way breaking a deep seated belief in myself, I have had a weekend to myself.
It was a comment a friend on Facebook said to me when asking where was I, and I replied, Bologna, she said, don’t I ever go home?
Well, yes I do, but not often.
I thought, what would I be doing? Perhaps much the same as i am doing here. Resting, catching up of odd bits and pieces, alone, not wanting to go out.
I became very hungry, and my mind began to sift through the alternatives of eating.
The disadvantage for me of being away from home so much, living in hotels mostly, is that I do not have a store of food, a fridge with cold snacks, a cupboard with biscuits or cereals, a bottle of milk or cold drink, a kettle so I can make a nice cup of tea, with milk of course.
I can always go to the hotel restaurant, the café, the bar. But they are usually to expensive, and the one thing I do not like is eating by myself in a restaurant.
Upon entering the restaurant, eyes fall upon you, as the other diners look you up and down.
Looking round for a friendly face, a waiter, owner, someone to welcome you, you are often left standing wondering what to do. Should you find yourself your own table, or wait to be seated?
The diners seem to smile under their breath, knowing the dilemma you are going through.
Eventually, a waiter comes to the rescue and takes you to a table, and hands you a menu, and chances are that if you are in a foreign country, you will not understand one word written there. What are the sections? Are they soups? Starters? Deserts? Main course? Drinks?
What seems an age, the waiter comes back, and you feebly point to what you may or may not like, at least it is something, and as the waiter writes the order down, they repeat back in their own perfect language what you ordered, looking down their noses, thinking “dumbo“.
Sorry, I did not know that the letter “J” in your language is pronounced the same way we English speakers pronounce a letter “G” and not “jay“.
Now you must wait for the first course. What do you do?
Do you take a book with you because it will be at least ten minutes?
Do you take a computer game?
Do you watch other people eating, twiddling your fingers, knowing that they are talking about you, “oh that poor person, sitting all by themselves, no-body loves them“.
Do you try to make conversation with the next table, the one with the two lovers on their first date, or the other table with the businessmen talking about the next sale? Anyway, you don’t speak the language.
The food comes, and you know that the cook is deliberately making the gaps between the courses long so that you will have to sit there self conscious, so you eat in small mouthfuls, with pauses so that the meal will last longer.
But no, the waiter and cook has seen that tactic before, and they rush out the next course before you have finished the the one you are eating.
And the food. You did not know that the main course you pointed to “Pesce“, or as it is written in Chinese “鱼”, is fish and you hate fish,
When the meal is finished, do you sit there for five minutes to start the digestion system working and to relax a little?
You sit there pondering, does the waiter bring you the bill or do you go to the main desk and pay there?
Eating out alone is a strain.
Now, with the restaurant chain McDonald’s, I know that I can walk in, go to the counter, point to the pictures of the food behind the counter staff and just make a sound, “ug“, and I know what I will get in a very short period of time.
I can sit by myself, licking my fingers, making a mess, everyone else is doing the same.
I know I can take as long as I like, or I can take it back to my room and eat in the privacy of my own four walls, a watch TV.
Throughout the world in every town, the quality is the same, I know what I will be getting, I know the tastes, and yes I know that if I eat an extra Big Mac for every meal for the next two months I would be very ill, just like a friend of mine who eat raw carrots for every meal, his skin turned orange.
Once in a while, a Macdonald’s will do me no harm, and especially if I have a salad like the one in the photograph, a lovely Caesar’s Salad.
Well I am in Italy, the birth place of Caesar, so it is good Italian food, isn’t it?