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  • Writer's pictureLaura Botten

Three Ways Rome Changed Me

Updated: Jan 18, 2023

We were back in the Midwest where the winters are long and the only way to get quality olive oil is to have it imported. Our plane touched down onto O'Hare's runway, the sleet falling like wet globs from the dark gray sky. Physically, I was back at home in Chicago. But mentally, I was still in Rome.

RELATED: Feel like you're in Rome with Laura's free "Taste of Italy," including recipes, a Spotify playlist, and more when you sign up for Laura's monthly newsletter here!

I'd just spent six fascinating, wonderful, delicious days in the Eternal City-- not even a full week-- but that was all it took to shake me out of my Great Plains monotony. I'd sipped fresh vino while standing atop volcanic ash, felt the spirits of the apostles in Vatican City, trekked through ancient ruins. That's the kind of stuff that leaves a lasting impression on a gal.

The sleet was melting on my glasses, speckling my view as I re-entered my reality a changed woman. A woman kissed by the sun shining down on the piazzas of Italy. Mine is not the only soul touched by the boot-shaped nation; many have fallen under Italy's spell. The lovely language, the scrumptious cuisine, the rustic charm of the cobblestone streets... I was merely Italy's latest target, and I'd come home with a quiet confidence to alter my life-- to enrich it, just as those six days had.

The first thing that I'd improve were my culinary skills. When I was in college, I'd come home on break with the mistaken notion that I'd gained cooking skills while living in a dorm room that had a kitchen which consisted of a microwave and a fridge the size of a Costco tub of mayo. But I'd lived. I'd experienced. And I'd come home thinking I could whip up some pasta because I wasn't a kid anymore. I was a college girl. Surely, macaroni and cheese from a blue box would be a cinch for someone with my esoteric collegiate cognition.

I'd overcooked the pasta until it was a blob of colorless mush that I couldn't even stomach after mixing in the cheese powder.

But after Italy? I soaked up an appreciation for the art of a good meal that went beyond boxed pasta and dorm food. Was it the nightly fresh pasta we dined on? Was it the cooking demonstration where I learned to craft pasta from scratch among vineyards and olive groves? It was all of that and more. Food was no longer something to mindlessly binge while watching The Office marathons; it was now a creation to be celebrated. To be indulged and savored.

Aside from overcoming my fear of cooking, visiting Italy also made me want to speak the language. I mean, I've spoken English my whole life; why not shake it up a bit? Italian words flow like freshly poured vino. And the body language to go along with the words-- the wild gesticulating hands, the expressive faces-- enraptured me even more.

Okay, so I'm not exactly fluid in Italian just yet-- a free app only gets you so far-- and maybe I never will be. But somehow, saying the words out loud makes me feel more connected to the lovely country that forever has a piece of my heart. Besides, knowing a few key phrases is a good incentive to go back one day.

The third way Italy changed me isn't quite so tangible. Flying across the ocean and landing smack dab in the middle of another culture encouraged me not to shy away from unconventional opportunities. In other words: Don't run away from crazy ideas, but embrace them. I'll admit, there was a split second when I considered not going on this trip because it was rather last minute and I'd be surrounded mostly by strangers. Would I be filled with anxiety and panic on this trip instead of being able to enjoy myself? I wondered.

What a bunch of rubbish.

Obviously, I went on the trip. I flew to Rome with an old friend I hadn't seen in fifteen long years and a bunch of his co-workers I'd never met, and you know what? It was the greatest week of my life. So much so, that when the crazy idea to write a novel based on the experience occurred to me not long after hitting that snow-covered runway, I ran with it. With any luck my book will be out within a year or so.

Until then, I'll be concocting new recipes and rolling my R's like there's no tomorrow.

Laura Botten is a voice actor and producer who is currently working on her first book, a novel set in Rome. Get a FREE "Taste of Italy" when you sign up for her monthly newsletter here.

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