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May 22, 2008

Renaissance Man: Time to Clean the System

Vegetables from Cilento, Italy


Conde Nast Traveler stuntman Mark Schatzker is on a mad quest to make himself into a modern-day Da Vinci during a month's stay in Europe. So far Mark has "mastered" golf in Scotland, "excelled" at gardening in England, "ruled" the kitchens of Paris, and tinkled the ivories in Vienna. His next task: visit an old friend in Cilento, Italy.

If I learned one thing in Vienna, it was this: Piano does not qualify as cardio. At least, not if you're barely competent. Similarly, if you didn't know how to ride a bike, then going for a bike ride wouldn't be very good exercise at all. Add to that my daily habit of demolishing the complementary sweets tray at the Hotel Sacher, and a dietary regimen that included sausages, Wiener Schnitzel, and boiled beef (don't knock it till you try it), and it doesn't take a genius to see that I my heart could use a bit of a break. Especially when you consider that my next stop is Florence.

With that in mind, I decided to pay a visit to an old friend. I met Tilde Vecchio last year as I made my way around the world. I spent two days at her Agriturismo about an hour and a half south of Naples, where I learned to make pasta. You could call it a life-changing visit. I haven't made store-bought pasta once in the year since. My wife complains every time I haul out my Imperia pasta-rolling machine, but then, an hour or so later, she inserts a forkful of pasta in her mouth and proclaims, "I take it back. It's worth it. It's totally worth it."  My wife doesn't know how good she has it. Or if she does, she's not letting anything on.

Tilde lives in Cilento, a green, hilly and sparsely populated patch of Italy that is known for two things. 1. It is beautiful. 2. The people here live a long time. The Cilentese, as they're known, live longer than anyone else on the planet, excluding a population of Japanese fishermen that last to similarly ripe old ages.

Tilde pours olive oil over some marinated anchovies

The secret, it would seem, is lots of olive oil, fresh fish and vegetables, an alimentary course of attack that cleanses the arteries. The secret, it would seem, is constant, non-stop cleansing because since arriving my mouth has been full more often than it has been empty. The theme of today was anchovies. Tilde bought a whole whack of them from a local fisherman. We ripped the heads off, pulled the guts  out, then tore out their spines. Some were marinated raw an served with grilled zucchini and egg plant. Others were baked in a dish with zucchini, potatoes and wild fennel sprouts.

It seems to be working. My omega 3 levels are spiking, and good cholesterol is slowly winning the eternal battle against bad  cholesterol. When I arrived, my heart was the size of a medicine ball--a half-deflated, lard-filled medicine ball. Now it's the size of a basketball. Before bed, I plan on shotgunning a pint of olive oil--Tilde has an olive grove out front, so there's plenty to go around. By tomorrow, I ought to be good as new.


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Gunners. Nice.

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