Yesterday was the official first day of spring at my house because I left the doors to my terrace open all day. I marked it by doing what my Italian neighbors call Easter cleaning—that is, spring cleaning. I worked at a leisurely pace by doing a task (or part of one) then retiring to the terrace to read a chapter (Elizabeth Zelvin’s excellent Voyage of Strangers). Sitting on the terrace gave me an olfactory tour of my neighbors’ homes.
On this first day of daylight savings time in Italy, I charted my neighbors’ waking hours by the aroma of espresso wafting through the Rome air. I imagined that I could hear the hiss as steam rose in each caffeteria (the stove-top espresso maker that graces Italian kitchens) and the gurgle of the last drop of coffee entering the pot. People rose at different times throughout the morning, and the coffee ritual repeated itself with each awakening. I drank my own cup before any of my neighbors stirred, and found myself making a second round before too long.
After placing all movable furniture (chairs, small tables) onto non-movable pieces (bed, sofa), I returned to the terrace for another chapter. This time, someone was roasting peppers; the tang tickled my tongue as I contemplated what dish the cook planned. Nice fat noodles with sausage and peppers, perhaps. Or a very traditional side dish combining the peppers with roasted eggplant and zucchini. Whatever, it made me wish I had more than half a red pepper in my fridge.
Retuning to the matter at hand indoors, I plugged in the vacuum. After sweeping through half the apartment, I went back to the terrace. This time, I sniffed someone baking a chocolate cake. That’s a rare smell. Usually for Sunday pranzo, people visit a pastry shop—in years past, one of the few businesses open on Sunday. Traditionally, the treats from a pastry shop are wrapped in paper (proclaiming the identity of the shop) and tied with a ribbon. It common on Sunday mornings to see people scurrying through the streets with this precious cargo. But this week, a luncheon table in my building carried a homemade cake.
Finished the vacuuming. When I retired to the terrace this time, I was blasted with the heady scent of that most traditional of Sunday dishes—chicken roasted with potatoes and seasoned with rosemary and garlic. My fingers slipped over the chicken skin as I imagined rubbing it with olive oil. The prickle of the rosemary needles tickled by fingers in my imagination. Alas, while my cupboard held potatoes and garlic and my terrace a pot of rosemary, I had no chicken.
After being enticed by the scents of my neighbors’ kitchens, I entered mine and made a sandwich from leftover pork roast (studded with garlic and rosemary) accompanied by a glass of freshly squeezed blood orange juice. No aroma to reveal myself to the neighbors. I settled on the terrace again, munching my sandwich and getting back to Diego and Rachel (Elizabeth Zelvin’s characters).