An Artichokian Metaphor

I am currently in a love-hate relationship.

Right now it is mostly based in hate since artichokes and I are not in good favor with one another.

For most of my life, I avoided the member of the thistle family whenever possible. Despite my Italian roots, I just could not give into trying the commonplace ingredient on antipasto platters. I cannot specify exactly what it is about them, but something kept me away.On the occasions when my family visited my aunt and uncle at their house about twenty minutes away, my father would always wonder aloud if my aunt had prepared a batch of artichokes to satisfy guests’ appetites. I do not know how they were prepared or with what ingredients, but I do remember those occasions when my father’s face lit up to the sight of the chokes in a platter. After casual exchanges and quick catch-ups, my dad would graciously take up my aunt’s offer for a choke.

The thistles were prepared whole, so my dad would sit at a table, napkins piled around him, ready to eat the ingredient signature to Italian springtime. One by one he would rip off the leaves surrounding the core and scrape off the fleshy meat with his inside before tossing the then flavorless leaf onto his plate. One-and-done and then onto the next one — sort of like the college hook-up scene.

Yet, while I witnessed my dad eat the leaves numerous times, I never accepted his invitations to try one. It did not appeal to me. Even the hearts of the artichokes, often mixed into salads or defaced of any nutritional value when baked with spinach and cheese, did nothing for me. I simply had no hearts for artichokes.

Then, something changed. I let my heart open to artichokes. My re-introduction to the thistle came last spring while studying abroad in Florence. Living with a host mother, I had a very difficult time refusing anything served at the dinner table. When one evening she served the hearts roasted with oil and cloves of garlic, I knew it was an opportunity for me to give the vegetables a chance. And so I did, and in fact I enjoyed them. It was not a head over heels in love feeling, but more like a we-could-be-friends kind of affection.

As the semester grew on, I began to eat artichokes more and more. Consuming the hearts began to consume me as I longed for the evenings when Flavia would scoop a spoonful of chokes onto my dinner plate. Washed down with a glass of wine, the vegetables became a comfort, a reminder that some things are worth giving a chance.

However, after my time abroad ceased, my relationship with artichokes became uneasy. Any time I approached them, I had expectations in my head of the aromatic, heavenly and satisfying bites of hearts served to me evenings before. Yet, with each new bite, something did not quite feel right.

What began as friendship that blossomed into full-blown affection suddenly turned sour. My expectations could not be fulfilled, and so every forkful of the chokes left me dissatisfied and empty and back again to ignoring and avoiding artichokes.

I recognize that the easy thing would be for me to lower my expectations and just give into those that are less than perfect, but why should I? What I had before seemed like perfection, and now anything I try fails to live up to the excitement of flavors of my past. Yet it is the experiences of before that still haunt me and keep me from going for another chance in the future. My heart just did feel not ready for thistles of disappointment as it still felt attached to a heart of the past.

However, what I am slowly realizing (as well as so many other things) is that a first experience does not make it the absolute best. Yes, there will be thistles less than satisfactory in the future, but I should not be shying myself from new tastes. By setting the bar so high, I am only setting myself up for later failure and displeasure. Rather, what I need to do is reflect on what I loved from the past and seek out similar ingredients and flavors in the future. I will not find an exact replication of the past, but I do have the possibility of falling in love with a new combination and character I never would have found had I not taken the leap.

As Thomas Aloysius Dorgan once said, “Life is like eating artichokes, you have got to go through so much to get so little.” Life is filled with thistles, challenges, disappointment, frustration and rejection, but it is also filled with blossoming flowers with leaves of hope, promise and affection. With all things, no matter what is it,  you must work hard to get to the heart.

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