Throughout my life I was constantly told that being “good” leads one to a happy and fulfilled life. “Work hard”, “pay your dues” and “don’t expect” had become mottoes I believed in. Throughout grammar school, I had been told that basically everything was a “mortal sin” and feared the sisterhood of the teaching nuns (I use the term “teacher” VERY loosely) with every word, move, and decision I made. That’s not to say I never tried to kiss a boy behind the enclosed brick walls or pass a devious note to a girlfriend-but oh the guilt and weekly visits to the confessional would eventually consume my morale.
I attended an all-girl-private high school where skirts were measured and blouses were buttoned. My group of friends never dared to touch alcohol or drugs and we seemed to attend more dinner parties then clubs. I spent my weekends dressed in khakis and a polo shirt at our brother school’s lacrosse, football, and soccer games. When it came time for college applications most of my friends were worried about getting perfect grades, adding as many extracurricular activities as possible to their repertoire of accomplishments, and rubbing elbows with elite Ivy alumni so that they themselves could have that same powerful experience. We all left high school with a warm and cozy feeling of security. Little did we know that the world was about to show its true colors.
College was the first time I realized the world was not cast in black in white, that indeed it was a very, very colorful place. Washington DC is really just a city filled with hippies who thought it might be a good idea to shave and put a suit on, but when it came down to it loved their “pot” and a little excitement. There was an awareness of globalization and foreign cultures within the city like I have never encountered. People knew what was going on in other parts of the world and they experienced life in these places. They loved food, wine, and travel and did not apologize for getting crazy and having fun. The students at my school represented every race and culture imaginable and their excitement for life was intoxicating. I had friends from Macedonia, Kosovo, Puerto Rico, Africa, London, Trinidad, Spain, Italy and Greece. They did not seem to carry the same puritanical attitude that was so deeply rooted in me as a child.
Meals were a festivity to be reckoned with. The constant alcohol, swearing, and laughing lasted into the wee hours of the night which was just the induction to a relay of parties, clubs, and evading monuments at dawn. It was whimsical, freeing, and pure satisfaction. I was learning how to live and live with my senses. I was no longer feeling guiltily over guiltily pleasures and I delighted in anything that involved spontaneity and adventure. By my senior year I was living my dream- interning at People Magazine and working part-time at a popular radio station- all because I was no longer afraid to take chances. The world was my oyster and I was ready to pry it open, devour, and delight in it. I was ready for New York City.
Then again, maybe not. Going home was not what I expected. I returned to the same salmon colored bedroom I had grown up in, became a prisoner to my parent’s requests, and commuted four hours a day to work at record label making $8.65 an hour. I eventually left the record label and worked at five different companies doing anything from casting for a television show to working at a scientific lab. I was obviously lost. My boyfriend of two years proposed and we set a wedding date a year- and- a- half later. I felt myself slipping into the comfortable world I grew up in. I was so lost and discouraged with the non-existent career path I was on that I decided to go into a “stable”, “sound”, “respectable” career-I was going to be a teacher.
Now many people “pay their dues” but I truly believe I have taken that phrase to a whole other level. Besides the countless bottom level jobs that I had just spent the last three years as a slave to, I was now going to school part-time, working 10 hour days at a daycare making $7.50 an hour, and saving for a wedding. I was a walking depressed zombie. My college days were a bleak memory that seemed to never have existed at all. For the next four years I buried my head in wedding stuff, lesson plans, and more. My husband dealt with things much better than I did. He insisted that we take relaxing vacations twice a year to relieve the stress. He knew it was the medicine that my sullen body needed.
Each time we visited a new place I felt renewed. The impulse to follow my senses took hold and the possibilities for pleasure were endless. We would dine at the most divine eateries, indulging in completely sensual,out-of-body-food experiences. Our palettes satisfied, our souls quenched, and our desires searching for more. The fascination with meeting locals, exploring remote wilderness, and wallowing in the exhilarating feeling of being somewhere new and exotic became an addiction. We had traveled to Anguilla, St. Martin, Italy, St. Thomas, St. John, Mexico, Arizona, Aruba, Bermuda, Miami, Cayman, South Africa, and Napa Valley. This love of travel and food took hold and became the reason why we worked so hard and settled for mediocrity in our daily lives. The sacrifices all became worth it if we could escape to an unknown place that created a world where we never knew who we would meet or where we would end up.
Little by little we began to see the promise of living so close to New York and Philadelphia and slowly embraced it. I realized the culinary opportunities were endless and the secret food cult we reveled in could be visited every weekend. Food became my soft blanket after a cold, exhausting day. I dreamed about how I could recreate dishes from places we had visited to reignite the spark that had tantalized our senses.
The quest to find the most entrancing places to dine and roam has become the vain of my existence and the inspiration in my writing. I want nothing more than to share these experiences with others so that they can unleash their inner desires and reunite with their senses. We must stop believing that it is OK to spend our lives paying our dues and view each day as a rebirth of who we want to be, what we dream to be, and what our inner conscience whispers to our heart.