Sunday, May 5, 2013

Letters from Italy, Intro and Letter #1: Meeting Betta

There is a time before a new adventure or journey begins where everything is a question. Who will we meet? What will we see? What stories will we gather and then sow? What will we  learn – about ourselves, about the world, or part of it? What words, phrases or images will continue to make us laugh or move us in years to come? There is something magnificent about the questions, a space where all is possible and the universe holds the answers, waiting for us to discover them. My trip to Italy (April 19 to May 5, 2013) – a voyage made with my good friend Judith - is one such adventure to me. What follows - in a series of letters - are some of the answers. Since we had little access to the Internet while we were away, I will post them now - one each day - as if they are actual letters arriving in the mail after I have arrived home.
April 21, 2013, Letter #1: Meeting Betta
It is our first morning in Pieve San Lorenzo, the small medieval Tuscan village (population approximately 600) that will be home for the next two weeks. Having undertaken a hefty voyage to get here (24+ hours) and having arrived at about 10:30 p.m.  Judith and I don’t rush to get up and ready in the morning. I am up first (I wake to roosters crowing, although no doubt I’ve slept through their early alarm), so decide to explore the village and forage some bread and cheese for our breakfast. I bring my Italian phrase book with me (this has quickly become my don’t-leave-home-without item).
“Panetteria” is “bakery” in Italian, so I wander the village looking for one. I find a “bar” (I first strike this off the list but then see, according to my Italian phrase book, that “bar” is Italian for “cafe.” A good start.) I go in and ask the woman behind the bar if there is a panetteria “vicino” (nearby). She directs me to Alberto’s, which is a ristorante (not useful for me right now, but noted for supper later). I return home empty-handed and run into Paola, the woman who owns the apartment where we’re staying.
“Panetteria?” I ask her. She speaks very little English (we made accommodation arrangements through Francesca, who manages the property and speaks good English). Paola motions with her hand, and I think she’s saying, “You stay here. I’ll be right back.” When she starts out and I don’t follow, she comes back to collect me (proving even hand signals are not universal). She points to the “Centro Storico,” the general store, and says it’ll be open soon.  She then proceeds to go get the storeowner. She introduces me to “Betta” (I think that's what I heard) and I follow her into the store. Sure enough, she has pane and formaggio. She tells me the cost – five euros. I give her the money. I am about to say farewell, but want to be sure I personalize it. I’m pretty sure Paola introduced her as “Betta,” but I don’t want to get it wrong. “Betta?” I ask, meaning to confirm her name. She then launches into a long explanation (in Italian, naturally) that I suspect is not confirmation or correction of her name. I hear her use a word that sounds as if it has the root “negotia*” in it, and I wonder if she thinks I’m trying to haggle on price. “No, no!” I exclaim, and give her a thumbs up, which does seem to be universal, or at least understood here (we’ve used it a few times already).

I return to the apartment, where we enjoy sumptuous bread, cheese and coffee (two more cups. I’m usually a decaf girl but I seems that’s sacrilege here; I'm not even sure it exists. I fully expect to return home addicted). I warn Judith that “Betta,” or whatever her name is, may now think we’re greedy Americans who don’t want to pay a fair price for bread and cheese. “I’ll just pretend I don’t know you,” says Judith, unfazed. It seems as good a solution as any.
*I later find out that “negotio” is another word for “store.” I still have no idea what Betta was saying, but feel slightly more confident I have not offended her.

1 comment:

  1. Love this. I remember this feeling of complete love and bewilderment of being in Italy. And I remember the bread and cheese! YUMM!!!