There was a time in my life when food and my body became the enemy, when every meal was an accounting—I would break up my day’s rations into a mental list, stacking items one on top of the other. If the tower grew too high, I panicked. When writing my novel, Florence in Ecstasy, I gave this affliction to my protagonist, Hannah, who is in Florence in the aftermath of an eating disorder. On a horrific, multi-course dinner date at a Tuscan restaurant, Hannah strips down naked in the bathroom to try to see herself in the fogged mirror. She inventories what she’s eaten, then inventories her body. I never ended up stripped down in a restaurant bathroom, but the scene came from an impulse that was genuine. Like much of fiction, it wasn’t me but it could have been.
And, like Hannah, for my 22-year-old starved self, Florence was a place where I learned to love food again. I had always had a relatively healthy relationship with eating and my body, but my first year out of college was rocky. It was 2001 and at the same time as I was discovering my vocation in teaching and finding a home in the classroom, I watched the Twin Towers crumble, and the city that had always been my home became a stranger. After the smoke cleared, I found safety in not eating. By the time I arrived in Florence the following summer, I’d spent many months at war with my body.
Ph. Marco Badiani