Our first full day in Agropoli has been filled with logistics and lolligagging, both equally delightful. There are those practical matters which must be attended to, especially after a ten-day whirlwind of action, but in repose they take on a sort of pleasant, comfortable familiarity. Good medicine for tired souls and bodies. Groceries, laundry, personal grooming—all those mundane matters which can be huge hurdles when one is in a foreign country with limited language skills. But, I have to say, we’re becoming old pros.
There was one minor tragedy. Sunday evening I had run out to the grocery store for enough supplies to get us through breakfast Monday and had bought a small Bialetti Moki, one of those little biconical coffee pots that make remarkably good espresso. Plus some Illy espresso grind, my favorite. My favorite grocery store, Carrefour, was closed on Sunday so I was forced to resort to the Maxxi Futura Ipermercato, one of those huge superstores that carry items in bulk. I hate them in the states as well, they’re just so darned big that you waste way too much time just finding what you want. But I have to admit the quality of food we’ve found there is not bad. Not great either, of course. Our first year here a closed store would have been a minor catastrophe as I tried to wrack my brain how to find another store. This time little Franco whipped us around two roundabouts, out the diversorio and into the Maxxi parking lot in less than five minutes. In and out in another ten and home from there in five.
But when I took out the Illy can to put it in the cabinet I heard a strange rattling sound. What the—? Espresso grani, ‘espresso granules’ not espresso powder. And what, pray tell, are espresso granules, a patent contradiction in terms? Surely not INSTANT espresso? In Italy? An abomination before GOD! Fortunately I told Fernando about the situation and at the pizzeria where we ate he asked Mr. Borrelli’s beautiful daughter for a small loan and she smiled in bemusement and obliged. So the next morning, in my fog, imagine my shock when I discovered the gas had not been turned on. Sunday closings, remember? No cooking. But I’m pleased to report that Sandy and I have discovered we can function, barely, without that first blast of caffeine in the morning. For a while. By nine we were both as into our ‘jones’ as many of my students are when that dismissal bell rings and they immediately start frantically texting, I swear, mostly for the pure rush of moving those twitching thumbs for the first time in hours.
So we headed for a bar on the road up to the Centro in town. In Italy a ‘bar’ will not serve alcoholic drinks, or at least not primarily, but the many permutations of caffé, plus a small selection of pastries. We stopped at such a bar with typical sidewalk seating, got an espresso, a cappuccino and a cornetto pastry and complimentary bottled water (total cost 3 euros, about $4.00), sat on the sidewalk and just basked in the sights, sounds and air of Agropoli. I know this sounds like an exaggeration, but even the air here has a special, sensuous charm. Yesterday the temp reached all of 75°F and there was a constant, luscious breeze and in the air floated all the scents of a riot of flowering plants plus the subtle saline funk of the sea. Absolutely delicious. A quick detour to a farmacia for cough medicine for Dave, The Augmentin is doing its magic but at night I have such coughing jags that sleep is difficult, and sleep is the best medicine of all.
Back home I did some writing and Sandy some pictures, we tidied the apartment, the man from the gas company came, turned on the gas and lit the pilots for hot water so we could shower our grimy bodies (A sign of Sandy’s desperate need for caffeine: she actually went out in public without her usual toilette! If any of her friends are reading this, I swear it’s absolutely true!) and start some laundry. Rolando and Filomena stopped by and took us out into the orchard where they collected for us and other friends a stunning assortment of fresh, organic fruits. I had feared that the first crop of figs was now gone, but, no, the trees were positively laden. I should explain that figs fruit twice a season, one crop maturing in June, the other in late July and into August. The first crop, what the Italians call the ‘Fior de Fichi, “Flower of the fig” are huge monsters. And we both adore figs. Added to them were gorgeous, tiny little tawny pears blushed with pink, tawny and purple plums, cherries, the exquisite little kumquats that you pop in your mouth and eat whole, skin, pips and all. Tons of lemons, some as big as a softball. And one long, wrinkled monster that I took for a citron but which is in fact what I think Filomena called ‘Lemon Bread’ because you slice it and eat the whole thing here, too. Cooks will recall how bitter the pith of most citrus fruits is, so much so that you must be careful not to include it when you zest a lemon, for example. But here the skin and pith actually had a soft, subtle sweetness for which the tanginess of the juice acted as counterpoint. Filomena explained that there had only been a few of these gems and we were receiving the last one Grazie mille, Carissima!
After that excursion, lunch was a forgone conclusion. I zipped down to the local alimentari (mom and pop grocery) and bought an etto (eighth kilo) of prosciutto crudo, some boconcini, the tiny little ‘mouthful’ balls of mozzarella di bufala, and some good crusty bread. Halve a fig, drape it with prosciutto, put some boconcini on the plate with an assortment of fruit, and you have a lunch fit for royalty. And a struggling digestive system. Look, I don’t want to be graphic here, but after eight days of almost constant movement, climbing mountains and walking anywhere from 8-10 miles per day, try sitting still in a car or chair for one solid day and see what the inevitable result is. It’s a problem all travelers face and one for which the solution is obvious: fruit, fruit, fruit! What a delicious cure!
A brief nap after lunch and then more practical stuff, especially laundry. This shirt I’ve been wearing for two days is becoming a bit too fragrant for comfort. Up to the Centro for cash from an ATM. My bank had graciously offered to up my limit for a single withdrawal to $500, but I didn’t reckon on Italian conservatism in financial matters, so I’ll have to collect my sum (I have one rather large sum to turn over this week) in smaller increments over several days. Minor glitch. At about six the Astones brought down the tray of dolci we had brought plus a bottle of Gancia Grand Reale sparkling dessert wine from their beloved Piemonte. My words are strictly inadequate to describe how delicious are Italian pastries, especially paired with a sweet sparkler, so I’ll defer to Sandy’s picture. But I will say I think I love them most because, unlike so many American sweets, they are not too sweet. Balanced. And so imaginative! A thousand ways to combine sugar pastry cream, nuts and fruits.
Back to Maxxi Futura where a bemused assistant manager took pity on the gonzo Americano and allowed an exchange for real coffee and I collected a more substantial supply of groceries and then back home for a quiet evening, interrupted delightfully by visits from Fernando, returning from administering masters’ exams at the University of Salerno where he teaches, and Fabio, back from work as a police sergeant, a huge promotion for a most deserving young man. We’ve sponged off of Fabio’s Wi-fi upstairs for two years but for some reason the signal is now anemic and sporadic, so we’ll need to tackle that issue tomorrow. I couldn’t haul 300 pounds of reference materials to Italy, so without access to online sources my academic writing is dead in the water. That’s a bit concerning. But all in good time, I’m sure.
A late dinner, not a very good one, I’m afraid, since the pantry is so poorly stocked and at the grocery my feeble brain forgot all those little frivolous items like salt and pepper that make food palatable. Still, perhaps the bland food was also good medicine; we’ve been eating some pretty elaborate meals lately. And so to bed for the best medicine of all, eight hours of sleep in a room where the temperature gradually settled into the low 60s and I was ‘compelled’ to seek warmth from my lover and bedmate of 29 years.