Saturday, April 27, 2013

A Day as Recorded by a Happenstance Traveler in Florence

Star Anise; Neapolitan Pastry & Lucia's Puppet Stage:

Today, like most days since my arrival in this wonderful country of Italy, has been a mixture of wonder, surprise, anticipation and the occasional smidgen of discomfort. I spent my day at the aptly-named “Mostra Internazionale dell'Artigianato. Simply put, it was a massive market; booths upon booths upon booths of artisan's wares, food, clothing, inventions, you name it and it was there. I managed to show restraint while passing by the tables of linens and tablecloths and wool scarves and summer cotton dresses and leather purses priced to sell. But when I found myself on the third floor where the food was, all my restraint evaporated in one quick pasty puff. The truth is, no human person alive could have resisted the smells and sights of cheeses, breads, chocolates, spices and cured meats. I wish I could have filled a steamer trunk and sent it home to all my friends and family. But alas, I had to settle for chocolates and star anise. Yes, I came across a spice and tea table that took my breath away. Even though I have a healthy supply of star anise at home (as I often add it to tea or to a pot of cooking rice), I ordered a small bag of it and slid it into my purse. The aroma coming from that little bag I purchased actually floated around me. My next stop was to a pasty table where I purchased 'strogliatella Neapolitan.” The pastry is made with many delicately thinned layers and filled with a sweet soft cheese and orange peel fillings. I normally shy away from eating anything made with wheat as wheat doesn't agree with me but when I saw that pastry, it was as if I fell into a trance. The trance also led me over to a cafe where I completed the perfection with a cup of cappuccino.

After all the excitement of the pastry, my energy was waning but I heard an announcement (in Italian) that caught my attention. It was something about a theatrical performance for children. Being that I write theatre for children, this was of interest to me but I couldn't understand the particulars. And the location of the event is so vast with so many buildings nearby, I knew I could easily miss it (whatever 'it' was). In my pathetic Italian, I approached a young woman and asked her what the announcement was saying. She abruptly answered in English “I don't know what you're saying. I can't help you.” I suddenly felt embarrassment,  not only for that moment but for all the other moments in my week where I clearly botched my attempts to communicate in Italian, confusing “indirizzo” (address) with “adesso” (now) and “insieme” (together) with “sempre” (always). Most Italians I've met have been so lovely and kind even though I'm probably making no sense to them at all, they smile and are ever so helpful.  After my sting of embarrassment, I thought “well, time to call it a day”. When I stepped outside and saw that it was raining, I changed my mind and sat under an awning to watch the rain.

And then “it” happened; the special thing in the day that cannot be planned; the happenstance moment. A woman about my age proceeded to adjust a wooden cart so that it would stay dry, near an entrance to the main building. Her wooden cart was a delightful combination of little doors and drawers and knobs as well as red velvet curtains. It was, in fact, a puppet theatre complete with an accordion and an old man puppet who sat on a miniature stool looking kindly out into the crowd. The performer/puppeteer was dressed in a black bowler hat, black baggy pants and a button up jacket with multi-coloured buttons down the front of it. The portable theatre hearkened back to hundreds of years ago when entertainers traveled from town to town. I was instantly charmed.

When the play ended, I offered my congratulations (again, in my broken Italian). She had a friend with her who translated and we chatted for a bit about life in the theatre. Before long, she was inviting me to a one-day theatre gathering/festival that I may want to take part in. 

And now, I am back at the apartment where I am staying, enjoying my cup of star anise tea and musing on the many gifts of the day.

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