Many years ago, when vacationing at a Caribbean Island resort, my husband and I met a vivacious Italian couple at dinner. They were older than us by decades, but just as active, full of curiosity and fun to be with. They were explorers and divers and had come to enjoy the beautiful waters of the Caribbean. We talked, and because we had lived in France and traveled in Europe, we shared our experiences with them; they asked us about our life in the United States. We found we had much in common, despite the differences in age and geography.
One night, at dinner, we tasted what that Italian gentleman called his “secret of long life.”
Pressed from olives grown on his trees on his land, and carried from his home in travel flasks, he passed it around the table for us all to sample, and to savor, with our bread. I still recall the color, the scent and the flavor of that olive oil. The couple was justifiably proud of the golden elixir.
As “twenty-somethings,” we were enthralled. We were captivated by the setting; by the sun and the sea, by the activities and the bountiful food. We were charmed by the company, these free-spirited, fit and fun grandparents who enjoyed life as we did and were only too happy to meet new friends and share good times.
This Club Med experience occurred before the current popularity of all things Mediterranean, including the diet. On vacation, we put aside the moderation: We overdid the activity as well as the food, the sun and the drink; and we paid the price upon returning home.
Not so our Italian friends. They maintained their routine. A simple breakfast of bread, with the requisite olive oil, and cheese, perhaps a soft-boiled egg, and coffee. For lunch, a simple salad, perhaps with fish, or fresh vegetables; fruit and bread, with olive oil. Whole olives, if they were available, as well.
They walked, they dove; They relaxed.
And then dinner – long, multi-course dinners. Soup, appetizers, entrée, roasted vegetables, salad, and the bread. And the olive oil. Good conversation, much laughter. Much wine. And then dessert.
No, we never saw them again. But we never forgot that olive oil.
When I heard on ABC News that new findings confirm that the benefits offered by the “Mediterranean Diet,” in particular its emphasis on daily consumption of olive oil, include an astounding 30 percent reduction in heart attack risk, I thought of those Italian friends from long ago. I doubt that they are traveling this earth still, some 30-plus years later. But I would wager that they did so for many years following our meeting, always with enthusiasm, with smiles and laughter, and with olive oil.