I was on my way to the Vatican one day, when I decided that I needed a coffee, badly. Sounds like the start of a good comedy routine, right, except the joke was on me!
I had taken the 7am “fast” train from Florence, arriving in Rome 45 minutes later, versus the 4 hour “slow” train. I walked to the vast area of the Vatican, making my way toward the Museum. But feeling a little sluggish, on my first full day in Italy and with nothing for breakfast, I decided to pop into a gelateria for a café. The coffee bar was very small and narrow, and its entire counter space was occupied by two men in dark suits with elbows extended, and the server behind the counter was oblivious to my attempts at eye contact though there were no other customers in the shop. C’mon C’mon I felt myself saying, I have to get to the Vatican Museum by 10:30!
As if on cue, the men in suits slowly pushed back from the bar and turned toward each other, and silently glided around me on either side, as I suddenly realized that they were not “men in suits” but a pair of very serene priests. God’s way of telling me to slow down? Perhaps. If I spent much time around the grand colonnade by Bernini (1598-1680), I suppose I too would feel a sense of time and history and would reduce my pace…..
I found Italy to be refreshingly slow. Rome has a pulse to it, like any major city, but without an aggressive edge. My sis was worried about the day trip by car to Chianti; frankly I am more stressed driving in Southern California than anywhere in Europe. I would LOVE to sputter up the road the the Saturday market in an old Piaggio…. I am sure I could pile all my baskets in the back…..
The Italian’s idea of “fast food” is generally pizza or panini and gelato. I thankfully noticed just one McDonalds in Rome, near the Spanish Steps. I saw one Starbucks with the logo but some other words. And at the Rome farmers market, I noticed a lot of “prepared” fresh food. Peas were shelled on site and for sale~
The same man shucking peas was eating a potato roasted in the coals where he burned his pea hulls; the farmers were I think a little charmed by my basic Italian as I asked “patate carbonara?” Si. I was offered a taste, dang my wrap got in the way of the pic left side. It was a delicious potato. Good food is universal; like children on the playground, we get past our language boundaries and we know good food when it is handed to us~
As compared to France, I found many foods “prepared” such as this lettuce chopped and ready to eat. Chef Andrea explained later, as with the artichokes, “Romans don’t want to get their hands dirty” with prep work, though they like to eat fresh; so some food is sold ready to eat, like this amazing salad mix~
Puntarelle is similar to fennel, and it was also sold prepped; I have no idea what to do with it, but it was all over at the market~
Chef Andrea addressed the Italians’ attitude toward food and presentation during his cooking class in Rome. “Why should the cook prepare all these dishes and sauces, to have them mixed on the same plate?” Why pile it all on the same plate? Italians use separate plates for each course, savoring each bite, and of course the portions are much more modest; at the end of the meal you do not feel full. I could not help but think of the master of the place settings, Yvonne from Stone Gable; she knows how to set the table, and she would be right at home in Italy!
Chef Andrea knows the international movement of Slow Food, and he comments, “this (Italy) is the original slow food.” Italians take time to eat, they prepare their food with care, eating is a very ritualistic event. Versus others who might eat “like an animal” Chef Andrea says. I admit, on Sunday my family went out to dinner and we spent less than one hour for the whole affair; it was like speed eating; heck if I had been in Italy I would have barely been through the menu and my first course in an hour!
In Florence, I waited for my sister to sleep off her jetlag while I enjoyed a hot pot of tea for two hours; the waiters were perfectly accommodating for more hot water. The view of the square was fine and the restaurant itself dates to 1772. Slow to the point of boredom? No, it was raining and the café was a fine refuge~
In Florence, the pace is even slower than Rome.
The activity in Florence is at its peak right before 9am, when everyone is supposed to be at work. Here is my “rush hour” Florence style~
Everything closes in Florence between about 1 and 4. Go home for lunch...be with your family. Can you imagine if we were able to go home for lunch? Dream! Arm in arm, the old folks stroll. It is not a bad life~
At night, I joke that everyone walks around until 9am until they decide where to eat. While not as late as Spain, the Italians eat later than the French.
Central Florence, 8am. I love the solitude of this man and his paper and his dog~
There was work being done at he Ufizzi Museum. A large crane bought supplies, which a worker unloaded. In between loads, he sat down for a smoke. Truly slow….
I will bookend this post with another sort-of “joke.” I got stopped at the gate as I boarded my plane to leave Florence and was ushered into the bowels of the small terminal, amidst the rotating baggage carrousels. Two tall Italian police officers in their tall hats, two gate agents and an Air France agent stood around me as the police asked “Miss-eh, what do you have in your bag-eh, SAND-eh?” No I replied, it is flour to make the pasta, as I showed them the bags; we all shared a laugh and I came home with lots of Italian Flour but no touristy or high-end leather goods. Maybe I did learn a little about the Italian Slow Down…..I will post on the fresh pasta soon….