Last night and into the wee hours I felt so sick, so uncomfortable. It was the combination of too much (very cheap) wine and eating an evening meal much too late for my now-lazy digestion. I could not face the day until 10am and even then I had to force myself from that wonderful bed.
My stomach was begging for clean food – veges, anything green. My mind (or maybe just my chemical brain) wanted coffee. I wanted to live my pretend-Italian life.
Shopping seemed the perfect answer.
I showered and dressed and left without delay for the short uphill walk to the local shops in Via dei Mulini (Millers Road). These consist of a bar (Il Mulino run by Andrea), a butcher’s shop (run by old Vezzio), two grocers, two pizzerias, a wine shop and a hairdresser/beauty salon.
Coffee took first priority so I had my first cappuccino for the day. Andrea is about 50, tall and goodlooking, but not overly friendly. His coffee (Crastan brand) is not excellent but bearable, the cappuccino being thin in consistency. He followed the standard Italian barista rule and on this, my third day, he was slightly welcoming in a gruff sort of way. I’m sure after two weeks we’ll be best mates.
Then on to the butcher’s – the macellaio. I walked in and there was the sweetest looking little man, about 70, talking to the previous customer. He gleamed with clean but was somehow batlike, in a Draculine sense, but with a sweet smile. After the initial banter (buongiorno, sorry I don’t speak good Italian, where are you from, Australia, oh! Australia!), I asked for a piece of steak. Well! No plastic-wrapped styrofoam trays here, not even a tray of pre-sliced steaks. Vezzio rummaged around and held aloft a gobbet of flesh straight from The Middle Ages. It must have been a good 10 kg. I told him I didn’t want all of it, just a small piece. Then began a lovely ritualistic process.
First he hand-sliced it, then took a cleaver to remove a piece of bone from the tail of my slice. He laid it reverently onto a piece of wrapping paper and (I’ve never seen this before) covered the top surface with a film of hygenic plastic wrap and, with what looked like an oversize coffee tamper, proceeded to surgically tap and smooth it out, presumably to remove any air bubbles! All carried out with such loving care and precision – beautiful.
He had some great-looking sausages there – two varieties. When I asked the difference, he explained and was visibly delighted when I decided to take one of each, and even more so when I asked his advice on how to grill them best. The piece of steak was $15, but I’ll get two meals out of it. Then he accompanied me through to the adjoining grocery where I bought some bread. The window advertised pane pontremolese – bread from Pontremoli, about 30km up the road. “Must be special” I reasoned, and bought one.
Then on to the second grocery (which also does fruit & veg) run by Simona, who is delightful and vivacious. I bought veges, water, and beer. There was another young woman there today, and when I remarked how delightful I had found Vezzio the butcher to be, this one raised her eyes to the heavens and they both had a giggle. “No?” I asked. They replied “We’re not saying a word”. More giggles and raised eyebrows. Interestingly, when I returned to base and was chatting with Alfredo and Grazia about it, Grazia said “Oh, he’s a bit of a strange one, that one.” She also had raised eyebrows. I thought of the bat eyes and ears, of the cleaver chopping through bone and sinew, and left it at that.