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Wednesday, April 24, 2024
The Observer

I want to know you right this second

Call it my cute, American ignorance, but I really believed Italian grocery stores would accommodate my need for ready-made vodka sauce. I really believed I could walk into Fantasia on Via di S. Giovanni and purchase a jar of that heavenly mix of onion, basil, tomato, garlic, parmesan and — you guessed it — vodka.

As it turns out, Italian grocery stores do not carry ready-made vodka sauce, and as it turns out, Amelia and I would have to make some ourselves (sans vodka) ... It’s not that we have anything against vodka, it’s just that hard liquor isn’t allowed in the villa.

So, that first Sunday night in Rome, we made penne alla vodka (sans vodka). Al dente pasta coated in an orangey sauce full of chunks of my poorly-cut onion. And everyone in the kitchen was chatting about God-knows-what, maybe talking about how Scholars Irish Pub is so overrated or commenting on the wonders of three-euro wine from Carrefour.

I liked to think perhaps we’d been doing this for years, cooking meals in large kitchens where the sinks don’t have disposals (Italy doesn’t do that), eating alongside people who feel like old friends but are more-or-less strangers. And even though I have this notion in Notre Dame, Indiana, that “everyone knows everyone,” sometimes it feels like no one knows anyone at all.

Naturally, that night, we sat around a long table, a group of 8 of us — some architecture, some engineering and one English major (me). And we played Shark Tank.

I pitched my new water bottle, which is small and flat and kind of looks like a flask, and we went around the table, taking swigs of cheap vino rosso, arguing if we were “in” or “out.”

“I’m in, but only if you turn the water bottle into a crossbody and add a phone pocket,” somebody said.

“I’m out because it’s totally impractical — you’d have to refill that thing every five seconds,” another said.

“I’m in only if we just make it an actual flask,” one said.

It’s weird doing things like you’ve done them before. Playing Shark Tank, eating penne alla vodka (sans vodka) with a group of people you know or sorta-kinda know or really really want-to-know (right this second).

And dear God, to want-to-know someone, to want-to-know many people, is my favorite feeling in the world. It’s the feeling I got that first night of freshman year when I met my friend from poetry class at the Grotto after a spectacularly mediocre dorm party (in Dunne, naturally), and we shared that sacred space together while we held the peace in our hands, and I thought maybe this was the beginning of the rest of my life. It’s the feeling I get now, often in the basement of the villa at 2 a.m. (Rome time), when everyone’s asleep, except me and four random people I just met and we’re talking about all the loves we’ve ever had. It’s the feeling I get every time I talk to the La Follia waitress when she asks for my star sign and crinkles her nose playfully when I tell her, “Gemini.” It’s the feeling I get when I pass those really well-dressed John Cabot students, the girls who smoke cigarettes for breakfast and wear low-waisted jeans with Adidas Gazelles. 

Don’t we call this magic? The kind of magic you find only in the first nights of a new experience, when every forkful of penne alla vodka (sans vodka) tastes like hope and every swig of cheap vino rosso tastes … well, cheap.

Don’t we call this truth? The way we unravel after a couple glasses of rosè, making ourselves more unafraid, more unapologetic. The way we somehow have this chance to more boldly confess who we are to these people who might hurt us or love us (might kiss us or cry with us or talk crap about us on the morning coffee run). 

And, of course, perhaps we always had this chance, even back in Notre Dame, Indiana, to be more free, to be more us. Between those days we felt trapped — compelled to believe this was all we’d ever be — we were still people who deserved to be known (right this second).

We deserve to be known for our style, our intellect and our humor (which doesn’t always land). We deserve to be known for that dorm we live in or that apartment we’ve adorned with digital photos and fairy lights and alcohol. We deserve to be known for that PowerPoint presentation we spent weeks on (which might very well have shaved 10 years off our lives). We deserve to be known for our embarrassing attempts at speaking Italian, the way our voice wavers when we say “posso avere una pizza margherita.” We deserve to be known for our homemade penne alla vodka (sans vodka) and those friends we made that first Sunday night in Rome.

Kate Casper (aka, Casper, Underdog or Jasmine) is from Northern Virginia, currently residing in Rome. She strives to be the best waste of your time. You can contact her at kcasper@nd.edu.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.