Monday, May 13, 2013

Castelnuovo de Garfagnana and home, sweet home (Letter #9 from Italy: April 27, 2013)

It pours rain, so we don’t rush to get up and going. I am glad to have the chance to eat a leisurely breakfast (coffee, of course, and a sweetbread we bought in Riomaggiore) and catch up on my writing.
Last night, we put a load of laundry in the washer in our apartment. While the cleaning portion of the cycle appears to have gone swimmingly, the spin cycle receives a failing grade. The washer simply doesn’t spin, leaving our clothes drenched. Given the weather, putting them outside to dry isn’t an option, and placing them near the radiators (Plan C) has also failed, as our heating has stopped working (it was on the fritz when we first arrived, then was fixed, and now has thrown in the towel again). We call Francesca to let her know, and she says she’ll try to call Paola, who will call the heating man. We keep our fingers crossed. Plan D – for underwear at least – was to use the hairdryer in the apartment. That plan fell through when I found the hairdryer sitting in a small puddle made by a tiny leak in the hot water heater (of which Francesca is now aware). In the meantime, we hang our dripping clothes on a clothes rack in the kitchen with a towel underneath. Without sun or heat, they will take several days to dry (I may need to add underwear to my shopping list).

We put on the clean and dry clothes we do have, and head out with umbrellas in hand to take a train to nearby Castelnuovo de Garfagnana. There, we wander the streets and stop at the one shop that is open at 2:30 p.m. when we arrive: a shoe store called Roberta. The woman minding the store, while originally from Italy, grew up between Britain and Italy, and speaks English. We browse, and she happily encourages us in our shopping, not that I need much encouragement. I come away with a stylish pair of boots (that she chose) and a pair of leather lace-up casual shoes. “I am not allowed to buy any more shoes,” I tell Judith, even as I’m eyeing another pair (I resist, but barely).

The clerk asks why we chose this region of Italy to visit, and I answer “google” (which is essentially the truth. We searched for potential travel locations in many countries, and were both drawn to this area of Tuscany). Judith tells her we’re writers, and she asks what we’ve written (she plans to do a little googling herself). I tell her Judith has written a children’s book, and she grabs a pen to write down the title (Gracie the Public Gardens Duck). She says she’s had some “famous” people in her shoe store, including a British politician (who was unknown to us, but to this woman’s sister, was considered quite a star). We head out of the store to explore some more, our backpacks a little heavier, our wallets a little lighter.

We visit a local museum housing costumes and artifacts of the village’s past, including a list of political candidates for a regional election in 1945. There were 46 candidates – and 560 voters! The successful candidate won by a landslide with almost 400 votes.

We walk back to the train station – still in the rain – and head for home. We are hopeful that the heat will have been fixed, but no such luck. We call Francesca, who has called Paola, who has called the heating man. However, it is, after all, a holiday, Francesca reminds us. The Italians love their holidays. Thursday was the actual holiday, and it would appear the holiday really started on Wednesday and will no doubt stretch until Sunday. Given that Wednesday, May 1 is also a holiday, one wonders why a person would even bother to work in between.

We eat supper at Il Borgetto, a ristorante/pizzeria in our village (we ate pizza there the other day, and it is by far the best pizza I have ever eaten). 

Tonight I decide to try the pasta – I order tagliatelli ragu, and Judith orders scallops with mushrooms (it turns out, the scallops and mushrooms are served atop pork and Judith is a vegetarian; these are the dangers of ordering off an Italian menu, even though the waiter tried to interpret for us. However, she ate it and enjoyed it all the same). I order prosecco (the waitress confirms that I know what I’m ordering by saying, “white wine with gas”). We top it off with dessert – a moist chocolate cake for Judith and tiramisu for me, with decaf espresso (it does exist here, much to my surprise). Both are delectable.

During dinner, I am intrigued by a little boy at the table across from us. He is probably about six or seven, and full of spirit (we have notice that Italian children seem to possess a certain confidence – whether innate or taught. We admire it). His eyes gleam with mischief. I make eye contact with him a couple of times and smile. He is not sure what to think of me. He looks at his mother, looks in my direction, and asks her a question in Italian that I interpret as, “Who is that woman?” or “Why is that woman looking at me?” I laugh aloud, which only embarrasses him; he looks away. I will leave him alone from this point on. Throughout the meal, he grows restless. He climbs under the table and out the other side, then crawls across the floor of the restaurant. His parents largely ignore him and his grandfather gives a disapproving look that needs no translation. When it comes time to order dessert and the waitress lists the selections, she need go no further than “torta cioccolato.” He is sold. “Torta cioccolato! Torta cioccolato!” he chants. Chocolate torte it is!

We take our time finishing our meal, taking in the atmosphere – the locals, the British family at the table beside us enjoying pizza and red wine, the couple in the corner who were here the other night at their same table. In this place, in this moment, life is simple. Food, drink and connection in abundance. We are blessed. 

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