Oct 7, 2015

Mal d'Africa

I cried the first time I flew out of Africa. I sat numbly gazing down as the plane pulled away from the thick gum tree foliage and the red dirt roads I'd gotten to know intimately. That moment taught me mal d'Afrique, the inexplicable sense of loss and heartache rooted above all in a place. When it bites hard, the Africa bug leaves you bittersweet and charged with mysterious longing and nostalgia.

A similar kind of irrational, romantic attachment enters American journalistic essays on the Italian experience. The angle? Very often it's food. Long-form articles promoting Italy speak less of Stendhal Syndrome and the Bel Paese's world-famous artistic attractions, natural wonders and historic treasures than of the eating experience. These enraptured pieces, a mainstay in newspapers and magazine, prompt a mal d'Afrique-style question: What it is about the Italian mood (and the food) that sweeps Americans off their feet and leads them to write unbridled love stories and food-forward reportages?

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