Photo Journal: In Search of Italy’s Secret Sauce

When my brother and I were little, our mom would occasionally break the seemingly endless Chinese-food marathons with a special treat to pizza night. Little did we know it was because we couldn’t afford dinner ingredients and pizza was a mere 75 cents (remember those days??). But we didn’t care, everything about it was glorious: the tangy sweet taste of tomato, the gooey saltiness of the cheese, the crunch of freshly baked dough.


Since then, I had dreamed of visiting the land where pizza was invented. Surely it must have other secrets to be discovered, I thought. And last month, I finally booked a trip (just a few decades later) to find out for myself!


Over the course of my twelve-day birthday celebration in Italy, I traversed the sites, stores and eateries across 6 cities (more posts to come on those) and was pleasantly surprised that this thing I sought was actually not a thing at all, but a word.


I remember the first time I heard it; it was a gentle rustling of a word. The two syllable response rolled off the surly underpaid, overworked doorman at my hotel in Rome like a trickle of fresh virgin olive oil over stale bread.


Despite the hard stare he gave through barbed-wire framed irises, his lips pursed to form the most perfect sound in two puffs. It was a soft staccato that gently rang through the dawn.


And with that, gone was the rigidity of his formal soldier-like posture. Instead, his head tilted ever so slightly in a subtle curtsy.


For me, it was the secret sauce that diffused all awkwardness and tension.


Then began my obsession to receive the word as frequently as possible. Like a junkie, the more I got it, the more I wanted it; and I thought constantly about my next fix. Within an hour of receiving it, my ears ran on empty and perked north, south, east and west to catch it, even if at a distance.


Even though I knew it was a fleeting formality between strangers, it gave me a sense of comfort and commonality. And so I eagerly thanked everyone from waiters to porters and strangers who gestured directions. I lingered to ask questions and exchange civilities over spices, wines, bottarga. I emphatically gestured with emotive aura to express the tastiness of the country’s delightful dishes. All to receive this single word in response.


For twelve days and twelve nights, I basked in the powerful glow of the word and as I stepped into the cab to Fiumicino Airport on my last day in Italy, I wondered how I could ever live without it.


In the cab, my elderly silver-haired driver and I struggled to make conversation and the clumsy exchange between us fell on deaf ears. Instead, we settled on exchanging a few quiet smiles in the rear-view mirror. We were both helpless in finding a common ground between the conservatively buttoned-up Roman taxi driver and his transient younger Asian female traveler.


As we arrived, he carefully stepped out of his car to help me out.


“Grazie,” I said for the last time bidding both him and the country I had dreamt so many times of visiting, adieu.


And then there it was.


Pregggo,” he hummed as we bowed our heads in understanding.


From the man with the kind teary-eyes, it was the master fix of all fixes and the vast gulf between us disappeared for just a moment.



Hotel Stendhal
Via Del Tritone, 113
00187 Rome Italy
+39 06 422921


The First Luxury Arts Hotel
Via del Vantaggio, 14
00186 Roma Italy
+39 06 45617070


Rome Cavalieri, Waldorf Astoria
Via Alberto Cadlolo, 101
00136 Rome, Italy
+39 06 3509 1



Write a Comment

  • Your writing is magnificent. It just brings you in. Then your photos a treat beyond any special desert that can be made. I hope someday to travel to Italy but I fear what I will see will never be translated as well as you did. Thank you for sharing your most wonderful experience. I cannot wait to see the rest of your trip detailed here. :)

    20 January 2014 at 6:19 AM
  • What a beautiful description of your experience. Like you, I’ve dreamed about visiting this country and I continue to. The pictures you’ve shared paint a real visual for me. Will you be sharing a Tuscany-specific post at some point?

    18 January 2014 at 5:10 AM
  • I love how every time I read your posts it’s like time stands still and I’m swept away from my computer into your whimsical, magical world of travel and adventure. Thanks for allowing me to live vicariously though you! A damn fine job.

    Riddle me this, how do you get so much time away? If I remember correctly from your bio you have a big-time corporate job… do you still work while on the move?

    14 January 2014 at 3:42 PM
  • Stunning photos. I love the depth and beauty captured in each one!

    14 January 2014 at 1:21 PM
  • katelindsaylifecoaching

    It was a number of years ago that I visited Rome. You have done its beauty justice for certain. Awe around every corner.

    14 January 2014 at 12:09 PM
  • Bellissimo! Gorgeous pictures and a wonderful story. I’ve not been back to Rome since 2005, you’ve captured its best side! Thanks for the reminder, now I need to grab some pizza tomorrow.

    13 January 2014 at 12:39 PM
  • My favorite Elleyess post thus far, so many good shots!

    28 June 2013 at 10:11 PM
  • narf

    killer photos

    27 June 2013 at 5:53 AM
  • Looks amazing! I wish I could have joined you!!

    8 June 2013 at 10:35 AM