June 22, 2012 § 3 Comments
After a pretty stark experience in the countryside of the département du nord of France — dreary, wet weather and everywhere shuttered windows and closed storefronts, restaurants utterly abandoned, with only the lonely bar where one could down a petit café in the company of young boys and aging men playing fussball —, I have arrived in Italy. The greetings, the smiles, the helpful advice, all a breath of fresh air. The woman standing by the side of the road selling cartons of cherries and apricots who didn’t buy my “just smile and nod” approach to communication, but was happy to chatter away to me in Italian anyway. The girls who looked up how to say shoemaker on google translate in order to answer my questions about shoe sizes in their shop. The numerous cheesemakers who opened their doors and answered incessant questions about milk temperatures and their childhoods. The family of vinegar makers who took turns giving the full tour of their facilities, all the way up to the attic, where the young children’s “dowries” of vinegar kegs are kept. Everywhere smiles, even though my most commonly used phrase is “ho non capito,” I don’t understand. Everywhere, an earnest wine recommendation, a singing praise of the local ricotta, served in tortelli that night. Never a grumpy look, except perhaps from the strange guy who invited me for a pizza while I was out shopping one morning.
The last few days have been filled with pizza, shoe shopping, and tours and interviews at local cheese, prosciutto and balsamico producers. Each one is a slightly different facility, each with its quirks, but all with quality products, clearly cared for by the passion of the workers, sometimes only 2 or 3 in number. We’ve twirled and twisted on old country roads, never going through a day without asking for directions; wandered through an all-night festival outside our hotel that we somehow never knew was taking place until we were walking right through it; suffered through the scorching heat, without a gelateria in sight. But now, sitting in a roadside motel room in Spilamberto, with its incredible, natural and organic gelateria within walking distance, prepping to take-on la notte bianca, we are slowly reaching the end of Modena. Just a few days left to go.