Saturday, November 14, 2009

Italy - A Few Parting Thoughts

The most common type of cheap and fast food in Europe, seems to the doner kebab. I had them in Turkey long before they spread around the world faster than MacDonalds or Wal-Mart. They were delicious in Turkey, but now have taken on some different elements. For instance, the owner (from Pakistan) asked me if I wanted fries with it. To my surprise he put the fries inside with the meat and vegies. I asked for them separately and he said "Not in Italy". They tasted awful so I removed and ditched them.

The awful fries were well hidden

Had an classic Italian situation. An Italian woman was absolutely fascinated by the fact that I as trying to get to Pieve or Buchignano from Lucca, by bus. She made it her mission to help me get there. She spoke not a word of English and myself not a word of Italian. First she talked non-stop to the bus driver about my situation (I could hear the words Pieve and Buchignano coming up again and again). I just sat back on the bus, knowing that with her on my side I was going to end up where I needed to go.

Then we got to the end of the line in Camaiore. Hmmm. I had understood that the bus I was on would not be going via Pieve (the closest I could get to Buchignano), but what now? Heck, no need to worry. Even though the previously well-informed bus driver had departed, my ally was still on the bus. I wasn't sure why, but she was definitely there.

Then a new driver got on board and she proceeded to present him with the same verbal diarhea she gave the previous driver, regarding my situation. I was able to figure out that the bus took a different route on the way back and I would be dropped off in Pieve de Camaiore. But would this lady ever stop talking?

Seems not. She got off at the same place as me, as did a younger woman. Between them they discussed my situation, non-stop. It was like a scene out of the movies. We were in a miniscule town and I only needed to go to the one and only church to meet the rental lady. Luckily I had about 20 minutes, however I was thinking that I would be late.

It seems that by having mentioned Buchignano (much earlier) I had thrown too much information into the equation. They couldn't understand what I was trying to describe when I did things like draw a cross and hold my hands to indicate prayer and then a roof. Wouldn't that mean "church" to everyone? Not to these two Italian ladies. I can only now assume that there is no church in Buchignano. However I wanted one in Pieve, and I was quite sure we were in Pieve.

On and on and on they went, particularly the older one. How much can one possibly say about my situation? Evidently a lot.

I mentioned the town was tiny and we were right beside the recycling station. Finally someone came along to feed the bins. Luckily the lady knew some English and I told her I just wanted to meet someone at the church. So a couple of minutes later I was finally released. Whew!!!! I was almost dizzy from listening. And it was only about 50 yards to the church (uphill, of course).

Food, great food. Gnocchi that are as delicate as clouds. Try putting chopped fresh sage in butter, then pour it over gnocchi. Superb!! Ravioli....sigh....

I haven't yet mentioned lardo di colonatto, a specialty of the Garfagnana. Take a close look at the picture below. The slices are cut from that white chunk of fat. It is considered to be a delicacy.

The pork lard is trimmed, rubbed with salt, and placed in marble tubs with alternating layers of sea salt, ground black pepper, fresh rosemary and roughly minced garlic. The tubs are then covered with marble lids and the lard is aged for at least 6 months.

A thousand years ago it was the traditional lunch of the quarry workers. They sliced it and had it with bread, raw onions and tomatoes.

We had it one day for dinner, a thin slice on toasted bread. It wasn't as bad as one might think, but one piece was enough for me. Gary loved it, though he is a big fan of pork fat anyway.

Our family loves grocery stores in foreign lands. I spend most of my time in the vegetable section. Some of the vegies were in bulk, but lots were waaaaaay over-packaged. I thought that North American stores were bad until I saw what was done in Italy. We were shocked and dismayed at the carbon footprint we left there. When I traveled in Europe 35 years ago I was so impressed by the fact that Europeans had to supply their own bags at stores, and was wishing that would be the case at home. Now we seem to have got the message here, but they are now into plastic bags and cartons in a big way.

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