I'm still working on the book. Various friends who've walked this path before me have referred to this point in the process as "the black hole of despair," "why crystal meth was invented," and "the point at which you lay in bed at night wondering if you should just give back the money." All of those characterizations seem about right.
Writing a book is hard. Really, really hard. Don't let anyone tell you differently.
On the upside, I've been writing and thinking a lot these days about how I came to be a cook, and what I learned in my first years in the kitchen, and I thought of this courtyard.
I was on my junior year abroad, living in London, the first time I went to Italy. Everyone told me I had to go to Florence, so I managed to get there and stay in a hostel for a couple of nights. I was totally stunned by the beauty of the town. Just up the road from my hostel was this stunning courtyard, behind a cast iron gate, and each time I passed by I imagined the kinds of people who must live in a place like that, in a town like Florence, in a country like Italy. I was about twenty years old, and had never imagined that life could be lived in a place where beauty like that was so quotidian.
I remember hoping that perhaps one day I could live in a place as beautiful as the building locked behind that gate.
A few years later, I returned to Florence, to apprentice myself to Benedetta Vitali at Trattoria Zibibbo. For the first couple of months, she put me up in a convent in the hills above Florence, from which I could walk to work. I ate my meals with nuns, stumbling through conversations with them in my pidgin Italian, washed my clothes on a washboard in the courtyard, and slept beneath a giant crucifix in my sterile dorm room. It was amazing, but secluded and lonely.
Eventually, Benedetta moved me into town, onto Via dei Serragli, which is still one of my favorite streets in the world. I packed up my bags, was dropped off in front of the apartment and handed a key. I was so excited to be moving into the center of town, near museums and bookstores and cafes and non-nun-people that I hardly noticed where I was being moved into. It took a couple of days of exploration before I realized that my new apartment was in the exact same building I'd spent all of that time day-dreaming about when I'd first come to Italy. "Perhaps one day" had come a lot sooner than I'd ever imagined.
There's been a lot of this kind of serendipity in my life, and it helps to remember that. Especially when I'm deep in the black hole of despair.