Sunday, February 6, 2011

Getting settled in

Tuesday, February 1
Our first 24 hours here are exciting and encouraging, though a tiny bit frustrating in some ways. We accomplish more than I expect. The frustration comes when I am constantly reminded of my poor understanding of Italian, despite previous language lessons and trips here.

Steve and Patti take us shopping and we stock up on the staples. Patti again is a big help to Lucy in figuring out what is what in the grocery store, although the EsseLunga in Pescia that we have discovered has a wider selection of food than we found in any of our previous visits to Italia. Even Patti is surprised to find traditional oatmeal, even if the box is tiny compared to our American Quaker oats container. We also find peanut butter, a rarity here.

Pescia is about four miles from San Salvatore, and as San Salvatore has only two tiny corner grocery stores, we figure that we will probably make regular trips to EsseLunga for our major shopping trips. It is only about five blocks from the Pescia train stop, and it shouldn’t be too difficult to hop a train, shop, stuff our backpacks full and hop back on the train. Today, of course, we have the Gray’s van, so we pack the cart to the brink of overflowing.

While Lucy and Patti shop, Steve and I slip over to the train station, where we are told that the kilometric passes we used ten years ago no longer exist, but we can buy monthly passes from Pescia to Lucca and places between, which includes San Salvatore, so I settle for that. It would cost more to add Firenze to the pass, and since we don’t expect to travel there as often, we’ll just buy individual tickets as the need arises.
The grocery store also has a small electronics department, and within 10 minutes, Steve has arranged for us to purchase two cheap cell phones, which we will have to charge before we can use. The conversation is too fast for me to follow, but Steve explains the details when we finish.

“I could have done that myself,” I tell him, “except it would have taken about an hour of me telling her to slow down and repeat, and lots of hand gestures.”

It would have been a good education for me, but we have too many details to arrange and we only have our friends here for today. Better to let them make the most of the time. There will be plenty of opportunities for us to do things the hard way after they leave.

Near EsseLunga, we find a bicycle shop and inquire about used bikes. Steve, as usual, handles the conversation and translation. We find a heavy but durable and well-used woman’s bike, but the price is high—90 euros, or about $120. Ten years ago in Padova, we had paid from $15-25 for used bikes, so we pass for now and decide to look at another shop, this one owned by Francesca Seghieri, whom we met last spring. But now lunch break is about to begin, so we decide to head home.

Since part of our purpose is to get to know the local people, we decide to try buying our ground beef for today’s lunch from a macelleria in San Salvatore, so we head back home. The macellaio, Signor Bianchi, a man in his fifties, is waiting on customers, all women who appear to range in age from forty to seventy, and all of whom he refers to by first name. As we wait, we look at the cuts of meat in the display.

“The chickens still have their feet,” Lucy points out. We look closer. “Oh, and their heads, too.”
One is a rooster, and his comb has been cut off and included in the display, perhaps to show he was a rooster, but more likely because traditionally, all parts of animal produce were eaten, and the comb very well could be considered a delicacy.

We don’t find any ground beef, but Patti explains that we just tell the macellaio how much we want and he macerates it on the spot. Now we have to work on our metric conversions, because we have to order in kilograms instead of pounds. Patti suggests a mezzo kilo, and we try that. It looks about right, so Lucy decides to order more meat to make chili later in the week.

Without help from Patti, Lucy and I manage to stumble through the order. We want tre quarti kilogrammi, misto manza e maiale, machinato, three quarters of ground beef and ground pork, mixed, although we didn’t say it that smoothly. Nevertheless, we think we will be able to do this on our own next time. We have met the butcher, Luigi Bianchi, and he seems friendly and patient, and Steve has introduced us as Americans who will be living here for three months, so we will feel comfortable returning.

He also sells bread, and we ask for pane integrale, which is a denser and darker bread with grains in it. Sold out, Luigi says, but he has some bread with five cereals in it for today, and he can save some integrale for us tomorrow if we want. This we don’t understand, but Patti explains, and somehow we feel more at home to know that our own macellaio is already thinking of us as regular customers.

Va bene,” I say. “Pane ceriali oggi, ed il integrale non domani ma giovedi.” We’ll take the cereal bread today and the integrale not tomorrow but Thursday. Simple sentences, I can handle.

Back home, I fry up the ground beef for hamburgers and am amazed at how little fat there is. Ordinarily I would pour out a quarter cup of fat after frying four one-third pound burgers. Now there is nothing to pour. This, of course, is meat from the macellaio, not the EsseLunga, which has prepackaged ground beef such as we are used to, and it is much more expensive. We probably paid $8 for these four burgers, so we can’t afford to see Sr. Bianchi for meat every day.

Now it’s back to Pescia to find Francesca’s bike shop. We meander around a bit, trying to remember from last spring where it is. Eccolo. And it is just re-opening from lunch. We are greeted by a woman who must be in her late seventies or early eighties.

Avete biciclete usate,” I am able to say.

Per uomo o donna?” she asks.

Tutti i due,” Steve says, taking over as usual, which I accept as a necessity.

Now Francesca comes out, and we re-introduce ourselves. Here the conversation speeds up, but in the end we are able to buy two bicycles, with locking chains, and a basket for Lucy’s bike. The older woman is Francesca’s mom, and she takes a liking to us, complimenting Steve on his Italian and inviting Lucy and me to return on our bikes to visit her. She is Dosolina, and her late husband was a Seghieri. She says we should talk to Francesca’s uncle, Marco, about the family history, and I say we would very much like to do that. When we met Francesa last spring, she had given us Mario’s name and number, but we didn’t have time to contact him at the time.

Lucy’s bike will cost 70 euros, basket included. Francesca will have to talk to her husband to determine the price of mine, but she thinks it will be about 60 euros. She will have the bikes delivered to our agriturismo tomorrow and we can pay then. Her husband will install the basket and make sure the bikes are in proper order, and they will deliver them tomorrow afternoon. We order two locking chains as well. Once again, much of the conversation is too fast for Lucy and me. Frustrating, but this is only our first day; we have three months to make progress, so I try to counsel myself to be patient.

Steve and Patti's work here is done; they must return to Padova, and now we are on our own.

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