I was looking forward to all things spring at the Umbertide market: fresh fave beans, artichokes, good oranges, getting a big hunk of parmigiano, abundant flowers, radishes, peas, asparagus....and I was not disappointed.
I was, however, disappointed in my marketing skills. It's an acquired skill to muscle your way up to a crowded vegetable stand, choose your produce and then get to pay for it. The old ladies will either stab you with an elbow, or simply lob their bag over your bag and you go to the back of the crowd, in disgrace. It is also a critical part of the payment exchange that there be some additional discussion. This could be about demanding some free carrots, checking if that lemon is appropriate for a recipe, discussing the merits of all possible available lemons or, of course, discussing the freshness of a ______fill in the blank.
"Is it fresh?" "Of course! My pears are the freshest and sweetest!" Every time they ask is it fresh, and every time the vendor assures her its always the freshest. This is some sort of vital rite of passage prior to concluding any payment transaction.
Here is a classic exchange at Claudio, the cheese guy:
Old Lady: "What kind of ricotta is this?"
Claudio, with a big smile: "Its a mix of sheep and cow milk."
Old Lady, snorts and tosses her head: "Give me a taste...this I have to see.", muttered with obvious skepticism at the heresy of mixing sheep and cow milk but clearly ready to get a good taste of the cheese.
These ladies ask for anything; what would be incredibly rude in NY is considered Marketing 101 here. Demand an extra orange, a few more mushrooms, bigger parsley leaves, there should always be some little freebie, even if its a 5 cent 'sconti' or discount.
So there you stand, with your arm outstretched, vainly trying to make eye contact with the guy at the cash register, who prefers to talk to his friend and is ignoring everyone, when finally he takes the oldest lady and she now painstakingly starts to count out her change. In the rare event that the cash register person feels like speeding things up, they take the hand of the lady with her pile of change and they just pick out what they need. With any luck, you then get to muscle your way in and pay.
Then there is the receipt drama. It is Italian law that every transaction requires a receipt. That is why if you go to the coffee bar and you neglect to take a receipt, waving your hand and indicating it isn't necessary, you get the receipt shoved back at you. Just take the it, there is usually a waste can right next to the cash register so you can instantly throw out the receipt.
The same law applies at the market, except the fruttovendolos try to get away with not giving receipts so they can just deposit the cash into their pockets. Be forewarned: ask for that receipt. Take it from our friend Pamella who didn't get a receipt and had a large cop stop her and the vendor with ensuing chaos and shouting. Not Pamella, the cop and the vendor were doing the shouting, Pamella was just trying to vanish.
I'm hoping I'll have my mojo back and my rusty technique all cleaned up for next week's market. I figure it's like riding a bike,so next week I'll be jabbing a pointy elbow along with the best of them. In the meantime, its lovely to be back in Montone even if it has been raining every, single day!