Mother and Child Reunion

taorminam0007.jpg After a week in Dublin, the mother and child reunion tour moves to a town in Sicily, Taormina –built on a cliff above the aqua sea with a snow-capped volcano behind it. After settling into our room, Rachel says she wants to make no plans and have no agenda. There are hundreds of sites to explore in Sicily: more Greek temples than in Greece; Roman ruins; Arabian ports, and chains of volcanic islands with black sand beaches. But for the next week, we'll see almost none of them. We give ourselves over to il bel far niente, the beautiful doing nothing. Italians have raised this to an art form, but I get nervous when Rachel suggests I take off my watch.

She's been on a hurried schedule and relishes the prospect of living off the clock. We doze on "sun beds" placed on the sand, then I read and she wades. It's May and we're told the water's too cold for anyone but Germans to swim. Germans and Rachel. I keep checking on her, just as I kept an eye on both my kids when they were young, calculating how long it would take me to sprint into the water and reach them if they needed help.

She walks out of the water toward me, the breeze riffling her hair, and I tell her I want to freeze this moment.

"You can," she says. "It's called, taking a picture?"

I shake my head no. A snapshot loses its power the more you look at it. I want to freeze this state – here and now, carefree, removed from time and tethers.

That night we find the perfect restaurant, Castelluccia, where there are 12 tables and the owner, Antonino, a small man with a big playful presence, gets to know each customer. He recommends a pasta for me because it's "made with love." It's the best pasta dish I've ever had – it transcends pasta. Atop a mound of hand-made tagliatelle are fresh-caught baby clams, tiny as a dime and so sweet I suck the juice from the shells.

eggplant.jpg Then I bite into shrimp that are like candy. Small but crunchy – little explosions of flavor. And zucchini flowers are braided through the pasta along with parmigiano that coats the noodles like snow. Not a tomato on the plate, which blows my notion of Sicilian food as coarse and smothered in sauce. This pasta is an orchestral piece, where every instrument is heard while it contributes to the overarching harmony.

Rachel is hypnotized by her eggplant parmigiano, which contains the usual suspects but bears no resemblance to any e.p. she's had. The wafers of eggplant are thin and crisp, the tomatoes are cooked just till wilted and there are clouds of mozzarella in the act of melting on the plate. To conclude the symphony, Antonino treats us to glasses of Moscato di Noto, grown and pressed in a town nearby.

The week of the beautiful doing nothing passes quickly and we spend our last day in Florence, from where I'll fly home and Rachel will make her way to Sienna to learn Italian. After touring the Uffizi galleries, we have supper, then stop in a gelato bar. (There are three on every block.) This bar has the most seductive presentation: each flavored gelato is whipped up into a frothy peak, so we're staring at a veritable range of gelato mountains.

gelato1.jpg She orders Nutella, because while in Europe she's gone crazy for the chocolate hazelnut spread. I've never tried the Nutella spread and don't care for the gelato but she insists it's not a good representation. So we embark on a pilgrimage: she's searching for the perfect Nutella, and I want to find the perfect flavor – one that tops the chocolate mousse gelato I ate in Taormina.

We stop in every bar and ask to sample flavors: mango, crème caramel, frutti di bosco, sacher torte. We try the Nutella in every shop and it's never good enough. Sometimes we buy a cone but mostly, sadly, we move on. At one bar, the Italian woman server says,"What are you doing, eh? You just go around and try?"

"When we like something, we buy," Rachel says, a little defensive.

"Have a good night," the server says frostily.

But we're not deterred. Spotting the next bar, Rachel laughs. "We're gelato sluts." The server here is from Albania and points to a placard that says: "One sample per customer." Boo. I try lemon granita, which I like, but he tells me it comes in a cup and you drink it. I shake my head. "Try the lemon gelato," he says, looking both ways to make sure no one will spot him giving me a second sample.

Eureka! This lemon gelato is perfect: tart but not too sour, sweet but not too sugary, and creamy as the custard in an eclair. Warily, Rachel tastes the Nutella, then gives me high five. Satisfaction! The gelato sluts can now retire.


Sara Davidson, a journalist, novelist and screenwriter, began chronicling the boomer
generation in the Sixties in best seller, "Loose Change." The author of  five other best-selling books, she's also written for the New York Times Magazine, Esquire, Harper's, O, the Oprah Magazine, the L.A. Times, Rolling Stone and dramas for television over the past 25 years.  To read an excerpt of her latest book, "Leap!  What Will We Do with the Rest of our Lives?" visit