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N. J. Schrock

Most years at about this time, I’m chomping at the bit for the calendar to finish so I can move on and start all over again. But instead, as the last of my major obligations has just been completed, I’m wishing the remaining days could stretch out further. I long for lazy days punctuated by the occasional nap. Why is it that our perception of time is so relativistic and kooky?

Which is not the best of segues to this week’s EATING AUTHORS guest, because N. J. Schrock is neither relativistic nor kooky. She was a Ph.D.-carrying chemist with a quarter century experience in the private sector before deciding she wanted more, went back to school and picked up a Master’s in English. The combination shows in her writing, and is on fine display in her debut novel Incense Rising, though, I confess, she had me from the very beginning by naming a scientist Incense Rising.

LMS: Welcome, Nancy. Tell me about your most memorable meal.

NJS: In the late 1980s, I was working as a research chemist on a product development project, and I was invited to go to Italy to meet the customer and witness how a plastic product was manufactured. I met up with two colleagues in technical service, one from the U.S. (Nick, a Midwesterner), and one from Belgium (Paul). In the hotel lobby earlier in the day, Paul proposed that we meet at 9:00 p.m. to go to dinner. Nick was adamant that 9:00 was way too late for dinner, but Paul knew the Italians, and we agreed to a compromise of 8:30. The late hour was only the first of many things about this dinner that made it unique.

The Italian salesman, who I think was named Giorgio, drove us to the venue on winding, narrow roads. I sat in the passenger side back seat and kept expecting the passenger-side mirror to be taken off by the sheer rock walls. The road had no shoulder, and the driver’s speed seemed excessive for the road, but he knew what he was doing. Nick sat in the driver’s side of the back seat and was visibly edgy and probably glad he didn’t have my side. But the proximity of the cliff and the speed that it was passing us was not what made it so memorable. At places along the wall, people had made memorials to dead loved ones. When we pulled off the road into a small parking lot, we had a chance to examine one. Pictures, votive candles, and statues filled a recess in the wall, connecting us with the people who had spent their lives in this place. Their presence was almost palpable.

Incense Rising

Looking around, I wondered where the restaurant was. We were high above the lake. The sun had set, and the lights across the lake reflected in the water, making for a beautiful scene. What I soon learned is that we had to walk to the restaurant, which was down the slope and through a Medieval-looking village. The houses were stone and set into the slope, and people were going about their evening lives. I would like to have seen it in the daylight.

When we arrived at the restaurant, it was a cozy family-run business. I don’t recall what the dishes were, but we had several, brought out in small portions and not in the order that we might typically expect in the U.S. If I recall correctly, the salad might have been last. The weather was perfect, the food and wine were excellent, and the lights on the other side of the lake came across the water and mingled with the congenial company.

After dinner, we toured a Medieval chapel on the property. I was struck by how little the structure of a chapel has changed in hundreds of years. I felt the connections through the years from the chapel, to the village, and to the memorial all the way up the cliff as we climbed back through the dark village at about midnight to the place where the car sat waiting for us and our lives spent in other times and places.

I’ll never forget that meal even though I don’t remember what I ate. Someday I’d like to try to find that restaurant again if it’s still there. Through a quick google search, I did find a website that warned Americans not to try to drive that road. And rightly so, it’s probably a road I’ll never see again because the most memorable meals are not repeatable. They’re caught in a time and place like the memorials in the cliff walls.

Thanks, Nancy. It’s probably a bit morbid or me, but I wonder how many of those roadside shrines were to people who met their end either coming or going to that restaurant.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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