We come with expectations, us humans.
A Creator must have accurately thought our packaging through: see, when we bleed our wounds heal, when we need water we feel thirsty, when in fear we produce adrenaline, run faster, tend to survive. This superb machine we have been equipped with is a quite complicated one: it contains liquids, bones and bacteria, yet it can look outstanding and smell quite attractive. We believe it recalls the divine.
That same Creator must have had two or three moments of uncertainness, I believe, when crafting the mother board of this very prototype of ours, that component we define as our ‘soul’.
Some of us come without one, for instance. Having to cope with one of these mere bodies is a cold experience, it makes you feel unwanted, inadequate. Some of us learn instead how not to listen to that internal buzz and proceed like chickens in the dark: these ones do a lot of things and mean none. Some other of us depend completely on feelings, which I believe are echoes of our Kaaba built-in, and visit their status on everybody around them – we call them Peter Pans, or ‘women on the verge of a nervous breakdown’, but they are nothing like a cartoon or an off-Broadway character: they are a danger to our own mental health, a poison that takes you on so many levels. Very few of us have a healthy, tranquil relationship with their own soul, and function properly: these work hard, eat well, behave, sleep enough, love as they want to be loved. These are nice, round, developed human beings whom we love to be around, as they inspire others to be a better version of themselves. Some of us dig deep in the lurid, but I consider them an exception, a mere statistic mistake.
We all skip from one category to the other, from time to time.
Our behaviour is a more or less programmed reaction to an input, yet sometimes it’s more of a wince, a sudden shrink with words coming out, with things being done for no reason. How human we have managed to become, or not, lies in how much spontaneity is involved in our reactions of any sort: are they fair or have we exaggerated yet once again? Can we let go this time or do we enjoy creating storms in our cup? Do we consider often never contacting that person again, no matter what, if we feel hurt?
Truth is: any attempt of mastering ourselves fails outstandingly, and we find each other wrapped up in jobs, hobbies, obsessions, so that we don’t really have the time to go through how poor our control of things is. Life is beautiful yet tough, we all cope as we can, with some tools we were given and a lot of instruments we have procured to ourselves, somehow.
We all want and expect to be loved, for instance.
We think we should be granted a certain amount of happiness, health, money and – why not – fame. We have seen too many movies not to think we will end in the countryside with a number of animals and grandkids, that we will become wise, respected, that we will die in our sleep. We shall be missed for ever.
So, what is the effect of expectations in our lives? Not good at all, I must say.
But in my case that could (also) depend on the fact that I am the one who never wins the tombola, the lotto, the nothing: there is no hint of fortune in my flesh and bones, although I can positively consider myself as one of the luckiest people I have ever met. Expectations are a mistake for people like me.
I never found one four-leaf clover, or a golden bracelet at the beach – I am Italian, it just happens all the time. Never been chosen for a free trip somewhere. Never been upgraded on a plane, not even as a frequent flyer on a rather empty flight. You can make sure that if a shop launches a half-price sale, I will be the person that picks the wrong item in the sale basket – I believe they put those there for people like me, so we can go to pay and get ashamed by the shop assistant. They hide and laugh at us, then put non-sale stuff back in non-sale baskets as we exit the shop having spent eighty pounds for a tee shirt.
My credit cards do not function abroad by default, and I have come to terms with that: I believe is my savings angel protecting me from spending too much, so I always carry a little bit of cash with me and come back from trips with a rejuvenated bank balance. When back home they perform again and they work perfectly in my in-laws hands should they borrow them. A malignant creature holds my slot of memory for pins. I was once refused admittance to the local library for they didn’t believe me when I said I couldn’t remember my home post code – “And how long have you been living there? Two years? Yeah, right”. If an aperitif is offered for the launch of a new bar, I will stand in the wrong queue and by the time I get to the bar counter all food will be terminated. I will have to pay for drinks. Twice the regular price. I could go on for hours.
Boys never offered to me, for I was always the one with cash.
People like me start working early generally, for we know nobody is going to carry us on a free holiday: we are heavy duty, we don’t laugh unless something is really hilarious, we don’t (necessarily want to) look well in a mini bikini, we don’t let people fool us with words and can not deal with small conversation. We like consistency, facts, integrity. I believe we are the majority. I also believe we are all ashamed of ourselves for the poor choices that empathy leads us to do sometimes.
People like us try to avoid expectations, cause we know we have to fight hard even for the more insignificant things: nothing will be given to us as out of luck. This is the greatest of fortunes: what we get, we own. What we achieve, we deserve. When faith is benevolent, we take that train and ride it until mission is accomplished.
I have left my few expectations to very few departments, those where falling down wouldn’t be that bad either, so since a very early age I have appreciated good food and wine. Of course a dinner can go wrong and a Sauvignon can turn out to be too sweet, but no matter what happens it’s not a failed surgery.
I rarely get so disappointed that I need to storm off a restaurant and I have gained quite an experience with grapes, so I know that below eight pounds nothing good for me can come from a bottle – and I just don’t go in those territories. Atmosphere is important too, so is kindness, an attentive yet not suffocating service is a plus, while ingredients take the lead, for me: I do not require jaw-tiring smiles, pompous refills of my glass – I have learnt to buy and serve my own Brunello, thank you very much, and I do it whenever, however I want.
I don’t fancy little pralines of chocolate with my coffee if this incurs in a 25% service charge: that is not important to me. I expect to have an experience rather than a supper, and that will not happen because of minuets around truffle. I am happy when tongue-spotting an imperfect tagliatella: maybe this dough was pulled by fingers with osteoarthritis, or maybe they were meant to be all different, so I could have fun, as long as they taste as good as at least like my mother’s ones I am fine with the whole thing.
A surprise is an expectation gone well.
My constant surprise is La Torre, in Montecatini Alto. I go back every time I am in Italy, Tuscany to be precise, and order the same dishes over and over again – this will be my twenty-third year, in July. I must not be the only one, as the place is open since 1951. I don’t need great changes to the menu to be attracted to a restaurant, I actually enjoy finding those very same dishes year after year, yet more beautiful than previous time, with that little add-on element that will twist it all, although nothing changed.
I love the tongue pricking that comes from their oil in the zuppa: it’s like an unexpected, innocent kiss on the neck. I adore the consistency of the filet – and I like it quite raw. No lunch passes without a cheeses board, for Fabiano, the maître, goes up and down in Italy to find some weird stuff which results to be fantastic.
It’s a successful family run business, yet they spend a lot of time in the kitchen, between tables, in the cellar, and that to me makes an immense difference: beware of those who place people to do a job they probably don’t like as soon as the ‘business’ has taken over. I will drink whatever Fabiano or one of the Sabatini says: I have tasted in this place some amongst the best bottles uncorked in my entire life, I trust each one of them like a confessor. They smile with composure, it’s not meant to make you feel special, or a very important person that deserves to be adored - there are Freudian analysts for that purpose.
I will have my coffee with vin-santo and some cantuccini biscuits. I will have spent hours at the table outside, I will have felt endlessly happy, accomplished, like this little hamlet where brains, behind hands, have created a magnificent oasis of tradition and integrity, a place with soul.
This is what matters to those like me, who don’t rely a lot on luck and prefer ‘timeless’ to ‘fashionable’.