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From Scratch: A Memoir of Love, Sicily, and Finding Home

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Now a limited Netflix series starring Zoe Saldana!

This Reese Witherspoon Book Club Pick and New York Times bestseller is “a captivating story of love lost and found” (Kirkus Reviews) set in the lush Sicilian countryside, where one woman discovers the healing powers of food, family, and unexpected grace in her darkest hours.

It was love at first sight when actress Tembi met professional chef, Saro, on a street in Florence. There was just one problem: Saro’s traditional Sicilian family did not approve of his marrying a black American woman. However, the couple, heartbroken but undeterred, forged on. They built a happy life in Los Angeles, with fulfilling careers, deep friendships, and the love of their lives: a baby girl they adopted at birth. Eventually, they reconciled with Saro’s family just as he faced a formidable cancer that would consume all their dreams.

From Scratch chronicles three summers Tembi spends in Sicily with her daughter, Zoela, as she begins to piece together a life without her husband in his tiny hometown hamlet of farmers. Where once Tembi was estranged from Saro’s family, now she finds solace and nourishment—literally and spiritually—at her mother-in-law’s table. In the Sicilian countryside, she discovers the healing gifts of simple fresh food, the embrace of a close knit community, and timeless traditions and wisdom that light a path forward. All along the way she reflects on her and Saro’s romance—an incredible love story that leaps off the pages.

In Sicily, it is said that every story begins with a marriage or a death—in Tembi Locke’s case, it is both. “Locke’s raw and heartfelt memoir will uplift readers suffering from the loss of their own loved ones” (Publishers Weekly), but her story is also about love, finding a home, and chasing flavor as an act of remembrance. From Scratch is for anyone who has dared to reach for big love, fought for what mattered most, and those who needed a powerful reminder that life is...delicious.

ISBN-13: 9781501187667

Media Type: Paperback

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Publication Date: 02-04-2020

Pages: 352

Product Dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.50(h) x 1.00(d)

Tembi Locke is an accomplished actor who has appeared in over sixty television shows and films, including The Magicians, NCIS: LA, Animal Kingdom, and Dumb and Dumber To. She is also a TEDx speaker. Her talk, What Forty Steps Taught Me About Love and Grief, traces her journey as a cancer caregiver. She is the creative voice behind The Kitchen Widow, an online grief support community that has received mentions in The New York Times and The Guardian. The author of From Scratch, she lives in Los Angeles with her young daughter, but can be found each summer on the island of Sicily.

Read an Excerpt

1. First Tastes I exited the plane in Rome, jet-lagged with a gaggle of fellow college coeds headed for customs and immigration, my passport in hand. I was twenty years old, and it was my very first time abroad. My exchange program from Wesleyan University to Syracuse University in Florence had begun.

In the terminal, I got my first sounds and smell of an Italian bar. It was teeming with morning patrons downing espresso and eating cornetti. I went up to the pastry case, put my hand on the warm glass, and then pointed like a preverbal child when the barista asked what I wanted. I held up three fingers. Three different cornetti in a bag for the road. One plain, one with cream filling, and one filled with marmalade. I didn’t know yet that a version of this bar existed on every street corner in Italy. That what I had in the bag was as common as ketchup in America or, more to the point, a doughnut. I was just happy in anticipation of the first bite.

Italy had never been in my grand plan. The only grand plan I had at the time was becoming a professional actor after college. I had wanted to be an actor since I remember being conscious. It was the big-picture plan of my life as I could see it, even if I had, as yet, no specific road map as to how to achieve it. It would be a leap. Nor had I planned to leave Wesleyan and its sleepy college town along the Connecticut River, except that I had stumbled into an Art History 101 class at the end of a difficult freshman year. The class was taught by Dr. John Paoletti, a world-renowned Italian Renaissance scholar. On that first day of class, when the lights dimmed in the auditorium and the first slide came up, a Greek frieze from Corinth circa 300 BC, I found myself spellbound. Two semesters of college finally came into focus. Within three weeks, I became an art history major. The next semester I was studying Italian, a requirement to complete my major. By the end of my sophomore year, I had taken up a tepid but steady affair with my Italian TA, Connor.

Connor was a senior and New England blueblood who had family in Italy. After one late-night romp in his bedroom on the top floor of his frat house, I helped him clean up beer cups while he helped me decide to take a semester abroad in Italy.

He assured me it was the only way I could achieve fluency, and I could also take a much-needed break from the confines of small-town Connecticut and still graduate on time. He suggested Florence. He had a sister there, Sloane, who had cast off the idea of an undergraduate degree from Vassar College in favor of life in Italy as an expat. She was a few years older than I was and had a long-term Italian beau, Giovanni, with whom she had gone into business, opening a bar called No Entry. Connor assured me that she would take me under her wing. His instructions were simple: “Find the nearest pay phone when you arrive in Florence and call Sloane—she’ll introduce you around.” Her number was tucked inside my passport when I boarded the Alitalia flight from New York.

The reward of jet lag is a new set of coordinates, a new language, and local delicacies. Italy did not disappoint. Eating my pastries as I looked out the window, on the bus ride from the Rome airport to Florence, I watched the passing cypress trees, hills, and farmhouses. It was like seeing a place for the first time that you felt you had known your whole life. When we finally made it to Florence under the midday summer sun, we stumbled out of the bus near the church of San Lorenzo. By then I realized I couldn’t wait to get away from the bulk of the girls on the exchange program. One transatlantic flight and then a two-hour bus ride was enough.

Unlike them, I wasn’t in Italy to shop and hang out with my sorority sisters. I didn’t have my parents’ credit card in my wallet, and I wasn’t looking for a tryst with an Italian boy and trips to Paris once a month. I had a semester’s worth of modest spending money, and I actually wanted to study art history. There was more I wanted, too, from my three-month stay. It was a yearning I couldn’t put into words yet.

After I gathered my duffel bag from the luggage compartment of the bus, our large group was divided and shuttled off to a series of pensioni near the train station for the first night or two until we would all be assigned and delivered to our Italian host families. The first thing I did after walking up three flights of a narrow stone staircase to my three-person room was put my duffel down and get into line to use the telephone in the main entrance. I did what every other girl did: I called home. Or two homes, actually—first my mom’s and then my dad’s—and assured both of them I had arrived safely. Then I called Sloane.

“Ciao, Tembi!” Her voice rang out as if we had just seen each other a couple of nights before over an aperitivo. “Connor told me about you. I knew you’d call. Where are you?”

“I’m near the station at a hotel.” I didn’t say pensione because I wasn’t sure I’d pronounce the Italian correctly.

“I’m coming to get you,” she said in a smoky New England lilt overlaid with an Italian cadence. I knew in an instant that she was more European than I’d ever be. “Let’s have dinner. I have to be in the city center tonight anyway for work. Pick you up at eight.”

It was sometime after lunch when I hung up the phone, as best as my jet lag could tell. Time enough to nap and then shower and be ready for my first real Italian dinner. When all the other girls began joining up and making plans to explore the area around the hotel, perhaps window-shop and get something to eat, I declined their offers to join them.

“I have a friend who is picking me up later,” I explained. It was the kind of understated brag that didn’t win me any friends.

Sloane whizzed up to the pensione at 8:45 p.m. in an old bluish white Fiat Cinquecento. It was a car I had seen only in I Vitelloni, a movie I had watched in my Italian Neorealism film class. She pulled it up onto the sidewalk, hopped out of the driver’s seat, and came around to throw her arms around me. Apparently, we were long-lost friends who had been dying to get reacquainted. She had curly auburn locks that fell at her tan cleavage, which she managed to somehow have even though she was braless. Her smile was as bold and bright as her pastel Betsey Johnson floral minidress. But it was her infinitely long legs that I couldn’t take my eyes off of. Connor had mentioned that she had been a theater major, and that made perfect sense as she carried herself as though she were stepping onto or off of a stage. Standing next to her I felt like a troll in Gap jeans, V-neck T-shirt, and lace boots, a look that had seemed so cool while walking across the lawn back at Wesleyan.

“Hop in!” she said when she finished hugging me. She opened the door on the passenger side and crawled over the gearshift to take her place behind the wheel. In the process, she threw her fringed leather purse into the back seat, then, on second thought, reached back, put it onto her lap, and pulled out a joint.

“Want some?”

“No, thanks.” It looked as though she had already had a few drags. There were lipstick stains on it.

“Later then, there’s time.” She turned the motor. “We’re going to meet my friends near San Casciano first. Dinner at their house. He’s a painter, she does the window dressings for Luisa. Then we’ll all head to the bar.” She took a long drag, then extinguished the joint on the floorboard of the car.

“Put this in back,” she said, handing me her bag. “And yours, too,” she added, lifting my maroon canvas backpack from my lap.

I did as I was told and we set off, summer city wind blowing through the open windows of the car. She drove us through a labyrinth of timeless passageways and narrow cobblestoned streets lit by amber streetlights. I stuck my hand out the window, and Florence moved through my fingers.

When we finally arrived at Massimo’s house, a Tuscan villa somewhere near Niccolò Machiavelli’s childhood home, I was fighting carsickness and nerves.

“Does anyone here speak English?”

“A bit, but I’ll translate. Come on.”

With that she turned the knob of the unlocked front door and immediately charged through the house like a tornado that had just touched the ground, following the sound of jazz and chatter that seemed to originate from some far corner of the first floor.

I trailed behind, timid and awestruck by the sights around me. I was convinced that I was walking through what was surely a Merchant Ivory film set. Stone floors, exquisite tapestries, mahogany bookcases. Sloane looked back to grab my hand just before we entered the outdoor terrace, where I could see at least ten to twelve Italians gathered in a smattering of duos and trios. Every conversation seemed intimate and theatrical, all happening behind a scrim of cigarette smoke.

Sloane squeezed my hand and leaned in for a whisper. “I’ll make Massimo show you his art collection before we leave.”

I anxiously tugged at the back of my T-shirt, pulling it over the backside of my jeans. Self-conscious, I was unable to conjure up a response.

“He has a Picasso in his bedroom.” With that she thrust me onto the center of the terrace.

Eccola, Tembi! Un’amica americana.” Then she gave me a dramatic kiss on the cheek, pivoted, and left me. Were people doing tiny lines of coke off a farmhouse coffee table?

I turned to join the impossibly cosmopolitan and bohemian group clustered in conversation. I knew enough to decline the coke. I never did ask to see the Picasso. Frankly, I didn’t know how, and I wasn’t ready to ask a man I had just met to take me to his bedroom. Still, even through my jet-lagged haze, a self I had never known was beginning to come into focus. The energetic pulse of the evening took over me, and I vowed then and there to welcome the unexpected. This new me would embrace every part of the adventure. I was open, for better or for worse, to whatever might come. Like an egg with its yolk exposed, I was vulnerable but jolly. Sloane would point the way, and I would follow—within reason. I already liked the feel of this new country on my skin, its language taking root in my mouth. And over the course of the night, as I fumbled through my kindergarten Italian, I stopped blushing, growing more and more confident with each conversation. In one day, Italy was already making me easy with myself. My expectations were few. After all, I told myself, I would be here for only a few months. When I looked around the terrace, I couldn’t imagine that any of the people would ever be lifelong friends. Italy was just a quick adventure, a time apart from time. A perfect interlude.

By morning I was back in my three-person room at the pensione, staring at the ceiling and seriously considering pinching myself. The smell of coffee from the breakfast room below rose up through the stone floors. The clatter of cups hitting saucers, spoons clinking against porcelain, plates being stacked, the aroma of coffee and fresh pastries, seduced me. Full of delight, I couldn’t wait to take on another day.

Two months later, Sloane found me scrubbing the toilet in her bar, No Entry. It was in the heart of Florence’s historic center, near Piazza Santa Croce and a stone’s throw from the Arno. As was typical, she had dropped by in the afternoon and found me, scrub brush in hand, Billie Holiday mix tape on the boom box. My friend had by then become my boss, so I was cleaning the place. Despite my early promises of discipline, in six weeks I had blown through a semester’s worth of spending cash. It had disappeared in the form of belts, purses, dinners, and weekend trips to Rome and Stromboli. I was broke but refused to ask my parents for more. As a result, I cleaned toilets at No Entry off the books, before or after my classes.

“We need vodka!” Sloane pronounced, dumping out a bowl of day-old maraschino cherries. Her bar was almost out. In a flash, she decided we should drop everything and head to another bar, MI6, immediately. She was friends with the owner, and they borrowed stock from each other when liquor was running low. It was just a few blocks away and presumably fully stocked with vodka, plus her sure-thing joint connection would be there. The promise of an afternoon hit made her already fast pace that much more brisk. I trailed behind, struggling to keep up with her long-legged stride and drug-induced urgency. I had never liked drugs, but in Florence I was trying to be open to the light stuff. A puff here and there can’t hurt, Tembi. Come on, don’t be such a dork. I imagined Sloane had tried everything, which was exactly what I was thinking about when we rounded the corner of Via dell’Acqua and I collided with a man. “Mi scusi,” I mumbled.

As fate would have it, Sloane knew him. Of course. She knew everyone. She introduced him: Saro.

Ciao, mi chiamo Tembi. Sì, Tem-BEE,” I said in my best classroom Italian. I sounded stilted, as if I weren’t sure that the words were coming out right. My saving grace was an accent that wasn’t totally embarrassing and the fact that I could say my own name with relative ease.

Sono Saro. Tu sei americana?” he asked, smiling. He wore a black leather bomber jacket and white pants. In October. His jacket was open, and underneath I could see a white T-shirt with the word DESTINY written in big orange bubble letters across the center of his chest. Its design was a mélange of graffiti complete with random illustrations including a rocket, a slice of pizza, an amoeba, a guitar, a constellation, and the number 8 floating randomly and all topsy-turvy in hues of blue and yellow. It struck me as a cartoon of someone’s unconscious. I hoped not his. And why do Italians wear shirts with random English words emblazoned across them? I turned away, but not before I saw his shoes. They were ankle-high black boots. Instantly I thought of elves.

I looked at him and smiled. “Sì, sto studiando la storia dell’arte.” Bam! I had run out of all of my Italian. So I let Sloane carry on the conversation without me. We were standing in front of Vivoli, which, I had been told, made the best gelato in all of Tuscany. I turned away from Sloane and Saro to get a better look at the crowd spilling in and out. When I turned back, I really took in Saro, all of him. A blind person could see he was handsome. But the way he had kept his eyes on me made me suddenly aware that I wished I had worn a better bra. His gaze was sultry and focused. It made me conscious of my own breath. It made me take note of his brow line and the length of his eyelashes. I had to focus to listen to them talk. I began to gather from the exchange he and Sloane were having that he was leaving work at Acqua al 2, a well-known restaurant popular with locals and tourists less than a block away. He was a chef. He was a sexy black-haired, brown-eyed guy with a beautiful olive complexion in a country full of handsome, black-haired, brown-eyed, olive-skinned men. But this one put my body into a tumult.

For the next few weeks, he made it a point to be at No Entry each evening after he finished work, and we would chat for twenty minutes. Each time he reintroduced himself, which I found endearing. I learned that he had been born in Sicily to farmers and had lived briefly in Buffalo, New York, when his family had relocated there during his teen years. The United States hadn’t agreed with them. They had returned to Sicily and he left home within a year to study translation at the University of Florence and in so doing had broken a bloodline of farmers going back centuries. After two years of studies, he had dropped out and found his way as an apprentice chef. We talked enough for me to know he was attentive, kind, engaged. Often, when we finished our conversations, he said, “Let me take you for dinner.”

Each time I gave him a noncommittal “Sure, maybe, sometime, of course.”

Saro, in all his ease, openness, and attractiveness, was not the kind of guy I went for—stateside or in Italy. He seemed way too available, way too nice. My kind of attractive was aloof, noncommittal, and definitely hard to catch. After having had multiple on-campus affairs that had gone nowhere fast, I wasn’t looking for anything serious. I needed to focus on school, not men. But that was easier said than done.

In fact, my first hookup in Italy had been with a guy on the island of Stromboli off the coast of Sicily. How could I have been so stupid as to have a one-night stand on a tiny island during the off-season, where the only departing ferry left once every five days? Not my finest hour. I had spent four days hiding from the locals and my new amico, Rocco, who wanted to show me the island’s vulcano just one more time. They had names for girls like me back home in Texas. And stupid wasn’t one of them. The next tryst had been with a person I had nicknamed “Il Diavolo.” He was a rapturous combination of every stereotype of Italian men—sexy, attentive, allergic to monogamy. He worked construction, restoring fifteenth-century palazzi in Florence’s historic center. He was arrogant, aloof, a master of mixed messages, and he didn’t speak a word of English. But again, I wasn’t in it for the conversation. The whole thing had lasted a few weeks, tops. But when he had finished with me I looked like I had seen seven miles of bad road, barefoot in a windstorm. The whole thing was doomed and I knew it, but every time I saw him, somehow I found my way back to his place. He was kryptonite sprinkled on a pizza, my personal weakness.

I had no intention of going out with this chef in the bomber jacket. Despite the fact that every time I saw him, something sparked inside me. I tried to keep him in the friend column—no sex—until one night I couldn’t.

David Bowie was singing “Rebel Rebel” as I had made my way from the bar through the crowd of Florentine bohemians, European PhD students, and recent North African immigrants that had descended on No Entry that night. Secondhand hash and reefer smoke clogged the air, making me feel as though I were starring in a remake of Scared Straight. My eyes burned, and my clothes reeked. When I made it back to my seat, I nursed my third whiskey sour alone and sang, “Rebel rebel, you’ve torn your dress. Rebel rebel, your face is a mess” to no one in particular. Then I felt a tap on my shoulder.

“Come outside, I have something for you.” I turned from my cocktail to see Saro standing there. The neon light blaring the bar’s name gave his tufts of jet black hair a crimson halo. Wow, maybe I should have stopped at two drinks.

“What time is it?” I asked.

“One a.m.,” he said. His skin glistened. I wanted to reach out and touch it. Instead I looked down. He still had on checkered chef’s pants and again those curious boots.

“I actually need to get going. I have a morning class at the Uffizi.” I downed the last of my drink and stood up. This time my legs wobbled. It occurred to me that I must seem like the textbook cliché of the American girl in Florence—compulsively shopping, lit up on Chianti, and floating from one Italian beau to the next, all under the guise of studying the Renaissance. Somewhere inside me I admitted that I was missing the point. I had not come to Florence to be a frequent barfly by night and a hungover student by day. I was lucky to be experiencing a veritable European dream of culture, art, and ideas, but I was doing it through a haze of cheap Tennessee whiskey. I felt a headache coming on. Then I took a step toward the exit, tipped forward, and had to brace myself against Saro’s shoulders. That’s when I noticed that his cheeks were flushed and he was slightly out of breath.

“Here, you have a seat. I’m leaving. Take mine.” I am nothing if not polite when buzzed.

“I’m fine,” he said, beginning to unzip his jacket. His neck was flushed. It was the first time I had seen a cluster of hair at his neckline. I wondered what his chest looked like. “I just ran here in the hope that you would not have left.” Did he just say “in the hope”? English never sounded so lyrical. Without a second thought, I reached in for two kisses on his cheeks, my Italian hello and good-bye. But I teetered, and in the process, I propped myself against his shoulder just a moment too long. He smelled of charcoal, olive oil, and garlic. I inhaled deeply. The combination was salty and beguiling. It took me a moment to recover.

“Just come outside, one moment. I want to make you a surprise.” English should always sound like this. I let him take my hand.

He led the way, and the gust of wintry air that greeted me on the other side of the door sobered me instantly. I batted my eyes to buffer against the wind. Suddenly everything seemed harsh and in sharp focus. Shadows were elongated by the amber streetlight above. And there, just outside the door, leaning against the massive stone wall, was a bicycle. It was candy apple red with a basket and bell.

“For you. You said you needed a bike to get around in the city. Better than the bus, no?” With that he handed me the key to the oversized padlock. “It is all I could find in such a short time.”

My mouth fell slightly agape. “No, I can’t take this.” Yet I wanted it so badly that I had to stop from screaming right there on the sidewalk and waking the residents above. No man had ever heard a need of mine in passing and manifested it days later. But then another thought crept in: Nothing comes for free. “Let me pay you for this.” I reached for my purse, a double-stitched tote purchased for a small fortune my first week in Florence. I loved carrying it around town even if it was big enough to contain only a hairbrush, a copy of my passport, one lipstick, and a crinkled Baci Perugina chocolate wrapper with the Oscar Wilde quote “To love oneself is the beginning of a love affair that will last a lifetime.”

“I would take offense to be paid. The bicycle is a gift. Here, take it home.”

If you don’t pay him now, you’ll be paying him later. Shit. “Please let me pay you something. It would be the American thing to do. How about we go Dutch?” The reference was lost on him. “How about I give you thirty thousand lire?” Which was all I had in my wallet. Even drunk, I knew that was only about $18, with the best exchange rate. The offer was paltry and insulting, but I didn’t care. For $18, I figured I could have my peace of mind and a brand-new bike. Then, as if overcome with some sudden attack of high-minded principles, the kind my grandmother in East Texas had taught me to have, I added for emphasis, “I won’t have it any other way.”

Va bene.” He said it in the casual way Italians concede and dismiss an argument in the same breath. “But at least let me accompany you home. It is late. I have my Vespa, I can ride alongside you to be sure you are safe.”

I felt gushy inside, flush with liquor and excitement. My pant leg caught the pedal as I tried to mount the bike. I was in no position to refuse. The rush of adrenaline and liquor in equal measure told me so.

“You are living with a family near the stadium, no?” This guy had really been paying attention during our chats.

We rode through the streets of Florence that night in silent unison. We passed Michelangelo’s David and Donatello’s Judith Slaying Holofernes, and the play of shadows danced across his face. A nocturnal bike ride through the center of Florence on a foggy morning with an Italian chef at my side. I had not expected as much as this from my semester abroad. But maybe somewhere deep down inside I had hoped for it. I wanted to pinch myself. But I didn’t need to. This was too good to be real. Saro was too good to be true. This puff of Italian romance would implode in a moment. I knew it would. I didn’t trust what came easy. I certainly didn’t trust love or me at love.

As we turned onto Viale Alessandro Volta, the boulevard that would take me to my host family’s home, I got scared. I was falling for him.

“I can take it on my own from here. Thanks for the bike. See you around.” With that I rode off as fast as my flushed legs would pedal, without so much as waving good-bye. I dared not look behind me to take one last look at Saro. I could fuck up a good thing even in the most romantic city on Earth.

For the next month I left No Entry long before his restaurant closed and thereby avoided reliving the awkwardness I had created between us the night of the bike. I also dropped the curtain on the third and final act of my operatic drama with the stonemason Il Diavolo. He had dumped me for another American girl, with long black hair and her father’s credit card. I wrote term papers on the Medicis’ artistic rift with Pope Leo X and moved into my own apartment with two other women—one American, one Canadian, and one very impish Italian DJ who slept with the Canadian. All the while, I felt exhilarated, lost, charmed, but somewhat vexed by my new life in Florence.

One week into the new year, on a bright winter day, I bumped into Saro on the street again. When I saw his face, a light went on inside me. I had finally surrendered to the fact that I couldn’t come at love from a defensive position—what I wouldn’t do, what rules I would have to follow. None of that had worked for me. I suspected I had to be open, as spontaneous and brave and intuitive as the woman who had chosen to come to Italy in the first place. Something inside me said, You’re in the most romantic place on Earth, if not now, when? Go for love. Without a moment’s hesitation, I threw my arms around him, American style, and asked, “Do you want to go out?” His face was warm and open. I noticed the slight curl of his lips for the first time. He had been hiding in plain sight.

, of course, I am off tomorrow.” It was effortless with him. “My friend is editing a film at a studio near the duomo. You like film and acting, no? Do you want to stop by the editing room and then have lunch?”

Had I also mentioned that I dreamed of one day becoming an actress?

“Yes, I do. Acting is also a part of my studies back in the States.”

“I will meet you at Piazza del Duomo tomorrow morning. Eleven o’clock?” With that he released the brake on his Vespa, and I stood in perfect stillness as I watched his figure recede into the crowd as he headed across the Ponte Vecchio.

The next day, snow fell in Florence for the first time in more than a decade. I parked my spit-polished crimson bicycle at the edge of Piazza del Duomo, retrieved my backpack from its wicker basket, and made my way to the cathedral steps. That morning Florence was in a state of wonderment and scurry. Children, enchanted with the large sloppy flakes, stuck out their tongues to the sky as their parents drifted into and out of coffee bars, murmuring in disbelief at the snow. Florentines donned helmets to shelter them from the gentle flurries as their mopeds left tracks on cobblestoned streets. Even the buses took extra time to load and unload passengers, and the street vendors had all taken cover.

On the steps of the duomo, I positioned myself in front of Ghiberti’s voluminous bronze cathedral doors and waited for Saro. Behind me the cast relief figures from the Old Testament appeared all the more stoic and timeless as the snow grazed their frozen forms. Then I watched as the snow fell further and melted away as it landed on my scuffed boots, the chill of the marble steps beneath me penetrating the soles of my feet. I felt barefoot. The clock struck 11:00 a.m. My date was late.

By 11:15 a.m., my hat and coat were soaking wet. Of course I had taken our meeting time as an exact thing. Had Italy taught me nothing? Punctuality was only relatively important, time was always approximate. I reached into my bag to see if I had anything to eat. I looked across the piazza to the people seated inside sipping cappuccino and pounding back espresso. I began to wonder if this date would end like the less than perfect romances I had had since arriving in Italy months earlier. Just the thought made me want to get onto my bike and head back to my tiny new apartment in Piazza del Carmine.

Twenty minutes was more than even I could bear in the cold—picture postcard or not. I didn’t have classes that day, but I did have a shred of common sense. The last thing I needed was to catch pneumonia while waiting for someone who clearly wasn’t coming. So I pulled my coat tighter and tried desperately to remember where I had misplaced the gloves my grandmother in East Texas had sent. I brought my fingertips to my mouth