I don’t sleep very well.
When I drag myself into bed, exhausted at the end of the day, I feel like my body is so ready to let go and drift away into a deep sleep but my brain says ‘just kidding!’ I lie awake for hours thinking of all kinds of things…usually all the things I did wrong in the day and how I can be a better Mother, wife, sister….Sometimes I plan dinner parties. This can be fairly meditative. But last night my mind drifted back to Italy and more specifically, to shopping in Italy…it was like having a beautiful dream, only being awake at the same time.
Driving from the airport to our apartment in Rome was such an experience, in many ways! Coming into our neighbourhood and watching the day unfold was wonderful. Our street was lined with all different kinds of shops…gelati, pizza, cheese, fruit and of course…coffee. It was like arriving in Heaven. This is how people shop in Rome…in speciality stores. Supermarkets do exist, but are not easy to find. You may walk right past one, the only sign it’s there being an nondescript open doorway. Once inside, it is so exciting to discover that all of the items are Italian! The service is abrupt and not terribly friendly…especially if you do not weigh and label your pomodori before you bring it to the cashier!
And then there are the markets…my favourite way to shop. Filled with colour and life, you will find fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds and flowers of every kind. You will also probably witness a terrible argument between an elderly lady and the vendor who tried to cheat her by selling her a peach that was not perfectly ripe. Italians take that kind of thing very seriously!
Where we stayed in Ortigia, Sicily, there was a market almost every day. We would walk through the streets scented with the perfume of clean laundry hanging above our heads, collecting wary glances from locals wondering who on earth we were and what on earth we were doing. We tried so hard to converse in Italian, much to the amusement of the market stall holders…some of whom were friendly and some of whom were down right scary!
We loved it! The busy-ness, the chatter, the sense of purpose, feeling like we belonged if only for a moment. And despite a few mishaps (a ten dollar baby watermelon amongst other things) we were successful! We discovered the Cheese Man, our hero, who would offer his customers tastes of his fresh Buffalo Mozzarella and order his Mamma out the back to make the Cannoli fresh for us each day…did I already mention Heaven?
In Tuscany, it was a fight to see who would go each morning to buy the foccacia from Alessandra’s bakery (usually because that lucky person could scoff a bomboloni (jam doughnut) on the way home without anyone else knowing!) We had better access to the supermarkets in Pietrasanta and would risk our lives walking along the busy roads to get to them when our gorgeous friend Toni wasn’t available to take us. I could spend hours just looking at all the different products on the shelves and in the fresh bakery sections.
In Italy, you wait patiently, then when it is your turn, you take your time asking as many questions as possible, sampling different things and asking advice as how to best prepare and serve your chosen item. I remember waiting nervously once for my turn to buy bread, only to fumble my Italian and get all flustered and embarrassed. When I turned to the other customers to say mia dispiace , sono Australiana, mio italiano è male (I’m sorry! I’m Australian..my Italian is terrible!), the customers couldn’t be more supportive and encouraging, insisting that I take my time. I’m not sure I ended up with what I wanted but I didn’t care!
So it is true, the Italians live their life around food. Shopping for it, preparing it and eating it. They take it seriously, it is so important to their daily life. They search for the best produce, they prepare it lovingly and respectfully, they eat with family and friends. It’s collaboration and celebration…just the way it should be!
Want to read more about our adventures in Italy?
If anyone would like to sponsor me to return to Italy and bring you home more wonderful stories about life there, I’m totally open to it and available, no prior notice necessary!