I didn’t want to bike to our supermarket on the way home. The street is busy, there’s barely anywhere to park my bike, and the aisles would be so crowded with everyone shopping after work hours I knew I’d barely be able to maneuver through them.
I was on the edge of Piazza Azeglio. The sun had already dropped behind the buildings and the rays were beginning to soften around the edges and the sky was glowing pink and gold. I stood on the sidewalk and mapped out Florence in my head. I needed to get chicken, iced tea, and bread.
Bread was easy – Pugi was in San Marco, right down the street. No other bakery can compete. I walked in and said hello to the girls behind the counter, asked for a half of the still-warm schiacciata (and used the word for “middle” instead of “half” – which I had been using interchangeably for forever. She corrected me with a giggle and there was my Italian lesson for today.) and a loaf of Toscana, which is baked without salt. Why? Maybe because Tuscan food is so salty and flavorful the bread doesn’t need salt. Maybe because salt was highly taxed in the Middle Ages and most couldn’t afford it, or maybe it was because Florence used to fight with Pisa and once Pisa blocked Florence’s salt shipments down the Arno river and instead of giving up, Florence just said, “Fine, no salt then,” and continued right on baking without it. I’ve heard all of these theories told as truth.
After the bakery, I had to find chicken. I stood in Piazza San Marco and thought again. The nearest butcher I knew was too far into the center. I turned the corner across from the Accademia to the grocery store tucked under the palazzo. Obviously dedicated to tourists, their meat “selection” barely had cold cuts. I grabbed laundry detergent that I needed and watched a man who was obviously a tourist count out his Euros on the counter – examining each one as I remember doing when I first got here – trying to figure out what all of them were worth.
Still no chicken. Also still need iced tea. Pam is a newer grocery store on the main road and technically I wouldn’t even have to double back to go home after. Also, there are fewer cobblestones on the way and more paved roads. (If you’ve never biked on cobblestones, it’s like being on the oldest wooden rollercoaster you’ve ever been on. For those at home – if that white wooden monster-of-a-ride is still standing at Six Flags – it’s like that. It’s terrible. When I have Luna in her basket, she stares back at me with disdain every time we hit them wrong.) I parked my bike across the street and ran inside. They didn’t even have whole chicken breasts. They did have chicken. I grabbed the package out of the shelf and immediately put it back. It was not even close to looking ok. I didn’t even check the date. Out I went.
Standing outside again, looking down toward the Medici Palace, the next closest place to go was into the thick of it all (and over a hell of a lot more cobblestones. I pedaled around the palace and into San Lorenzo. The crowds started to thicken.
I parked in front of the church that Michelangelo didn’t get around to finishing and zig-zagged through groups of tourists and street vendors. A hostess stood outside a restaurant offering the menu to people passing. I started to go into the market, but then looked toward the corner of Piazza Duomo. The door of Caffè Scudieri was open and I could see my favorite barista behind the counter. Getting coffee there used to be an almost daily occurrence, but since we’ve moved out of the center, the visits are few and far between. I still say its the best coffee in the center – even without considering the view.
Scudieri is one of the most famous bars in Florence, and it has an ideal view of all of the Duomo – as it sits in the square just behind the Bapistery. I walked in under the glittering chandeliers and called out a “ciao” over the marble counter, then walked to the cashier to pay first.
She was in the middle of changing over the register with rolls of coins in front of her and didn’t even look up at first as she whispered her calculations and wrote them down. In the US, this is rude. Utterly disrespectful customer service because it isn’t immediate. Here, it’s logical to wait. No one is a machine in their job. We are all just humans. In the next moment, she asked my apology and said she’d be right with me. I told her not to worry and she smiled up and rang up the 1.20 for a coffee.
I walked my receipt over to the bar and asked for a macchiato and slumped on the counter.
“You worn out?” The barista asked in Italian and grinned as he poured milk into the frother. I recapped my day.
“…but I was right here so I thought I’d come grab a coffee.”
“Dai – prende una pausa,” he smiled and patted the counter like a bed. Una pausa is a pause. “Take a little break” he urged. This popular phrase is what Italian espresso bars are for. It’s taking a little pause in between the chaos of tourist towns and running errands. It’s stopping to chat with friends without interruption. It’s that silent few moments staring into the swirling warm brown coffee in a tiny cup and letting the world swirl around you. It’s the way Italian life is.
He slid over a fancy cup a bit bigger than the normal espresso, and a little glass of sparkling water. I thanked him repeatedly as I grabbed a sugar packet from the flourish they display on the counter. A Russian couple took their cappuccinos of the counter and started to sit at the little tables behind us. The cashier had to intervene to explain there’s a difference in pricing. First she tried in Italian. The man and woman stared at her. Then she tried English, which got them more confused.
“Different. prices.” she annunciated, pointing at the chair, and then to me standing at the bar for comparison. My tour guide instincts almost took over and I started to interject myself into the mess to help, but I knew eventually, she could handle it. They ended up standing at the bar.
“So, hows the belva“? The barista joked, using the word meaning “ferocious beast.”
“She’s good – home with my husband today,” I laughed and finished the rest of my coffee. Normally it’s the three of us together. If Luna’s lucky, she gets cookies from the bakery counter on the other side of the room.
“No,” he chided “I meant your husband,” and burst into laughter at his joke and I agreed with him, They’re both ferocious beasts. 😉
He told me to tell them both he said “ciao” and I thanked him again and headed back into the fray, smiling.
The crowds weren’t that terrible anymore.