There are places that soothe, and then there are those that heal.
What do you do when a door closes and even as you know that it is only a matter of time before another one opens, the whole situation sits heavily in the heart, like weary footsteps along wooden floors in beautiful but very old houses?
Well, for a start, you can wander aimlessly in the company of a happy child whose only care in the world at the moment is accumulating more mechanical pencils to add to the pile she already has. How simple life can be! A few years back it was erasers, now it is pencils. I almost cannot wait for her to get into stationery the whole collect-select-and-barter bit included. That would be my childhood happening again right before my eyes.
She shows me fancy pencils I never even dreamed possible when I was her age. Back then they only came in one shape and form, at least where I was from. Weary as I was with my own gentle sadness, I say yes to her every whim, allowing her to lead me where her little desired. More pencils are bought, a blank notepad for scribbles, a pack of fruit and nuts we both had no intention of eating. Soon enough she gets hungry and we end up in one of those places that instantly make you feel all is right in the world there is good music and even better food, nice lighting, tempered slices of life happening here and there. I settle into a cushy chair and watch what is left of the night go by. Glasses are clinking, business (or is it social?) meetings are ongoing, people say hello and goodbye as they throw each other kisses in the air, a couple obviously in the first stages of romance are within peripheral view, holding hands tentatively from across each other on a table.
The world goes on even as I wallow under the weight of my thoughts. And that is the way it is. That is the way it always will be. When I snap out of this, this is still the same scene I will see.
I order dessert, choosing the happiest looking one from among the many that smiled up at me from the menu. With every spoonful I will the heaviness to go away, wishing the cold food on the cold spoon to numb the sting somehow.
Ten-year-old wisdom speaks from the chair beside me, “You can scream into a pillow when we get home, Mom.” And the even cuter “It’s okay, Mom, you’ll get over it.”
“I will, sweetheart, I know I will,” I tell her. I just hate that slow drag getting there.
In the days that follow I go with the flow of life as it finds me. My days are packed and blessed in many other ways and there are multiple opportunities to connect with people. In the midst of all that there are intermittent quiet moments to take stock of what truly matters, and with those my sighs fall off like crumbs around me. I am thankful for the very busy days that allow me, at night, to melt into our bed, exhausted, in my favorite spot on earth, squished between husband and daughter.
I know this feeling, I’m familiar with it. It feels very much like birthday blues except that it is not because as far as I am concerned that can only happen in December and now it is February. The license to feel that way has already expired.
A few days later I find myself up in the clouds, literally, on a plane, solitude the only companion I have, and care to keep. I fly so often now because of my job and I have lost all fear of it. In that space I have to deal with the honesty of my feelings, which is not always a welcome thing, but at least I have a respite from phone calls, deadlines, and the resident urgency that seems to accompany most everything nowadays. I head off to work, in a happy place I simply call A Very Happy Place, but something upsets me along the way no biggie, just an irritating footnote in an otherwise happy page.
I alternate between needing to bury my face into a white pillow (again) or wanting to pull my hair out but I cannot be bothered to do either of the two. A small pint of ice cream eaten guiltlessly with a spoon in front of the TV set presents itself like a really delicious idea, something I think I deserve very much given the events of the week, but pasta strangely seems even better.
For that, only Bellini’s comes to mind. It’s been over a year since our last visit. Why did it take this long? Not that I never thought of the place. I just simply did not have the time to go.
I’ve missed it so. Roberto, he of the fatherly warmth and wise, quiet smile welcomes us like no time was lost. I am happy to see that he looks healthy and well, his gait as springy as I remembered it to be. We sit by a table very near the spot where dessert is showcased temptingly. Before long a huge plate bearing cold cuts, a baboy damo variant among them, is set before us. Richard and I get a glass of red wine each, Juliana has her orange juice, and we wait for our main fare contadina for him, mushroom ravioli with truffle oil for the little girl, gnocchi with arugula for me. While waiting we munch on thin crust pizza, soggy on the surface with cheese but crisp all the way through, and cold vegetables grilled zucchini, roasted red chili peppers, baked pearl onions drizzled with some delicious dressing. It could be balsamic vinegar mixed with something else although I do not know that for sure.
That is another reason why I love Bellini’s. In there, you eat with the seasons. The menu is largely dictated by what is freshly and readily available in the market. The vegetables always look gorgeous, brightly-hued and luscious, looking every inch like those I always see beautifully photographed in food pyramids presented by nutritionists. I will eat any kind of vegetable Roberto will prepare for me.
I like how rustic it all seems there, how dishes are always so good and uncomplicated. Who likes complicated, anyway? Life can be too much of that already. It was nice to just sit there and be, allowing busyness and worries and anxiety to slack off a bit. I like the familiarity of the place, I am grateful for the comfort it brings the framed photos on the wall, the artwork climbing up walls, ceiling, and doors, our suki waiter who has been there for nine years and who, after all these time, can already speak Italian with the right accent. There’s also the same blind man on a guitar singing beautifully with all his heart by a corner, and the thick, succulent orange cake that is a star in its own right.
I think to myself that every birthday I celebrate hereon should never be without Roberto’s orange cake. I send back my driver the next morning to buy three boxes of it to bring home to Ormoc. Daddy and my brother-in-law Vince love it as much as Juliana and I do.
Bellini’s is definitely a place you write home about. It is where you go when you feel bad and nurse whatever brand of sadness you have, that is, until after the wonderful meal when things seem better and life feels normal again.
There are places that soothe, and there are those that heal. Bellini’s, I feel, is a little bit of both.