We were looking for fruit. Vendors, markets, anything fresh. The grocery stores we had found were dimly lit and mostly seemed like dollar/euro stores and I couldn’t find anything on markets in the area. The road skirted around the slopes of the volcano.
“…but have you seen or heard anything about a mercato centrale?” Rami asked, frustrated, as he made another turn through another rotary. If we took a left, we’d get to Pompei. Too far for fruit. We turn right back up towards our BnB. A little Fiat screamed by us on the two-lane road and passed us on a turn. There’s one thing true about the area in and around Naples – everyone drives like a maniac, and everyone makes up the rules as they go. Further on, we finally saw him – another man on the side of the road with his truck overflowing with watermelons, tomatoes, melons, and peaches.
We pulled over and crossed the road as the vendor wrapped up another sale with two other men on scooters. Or maybe they had just stopped by to say hello, I’ll never be sure. The vendor was a big man, like most of the older men I’d seen down in the Gulf of Naples. After eating in the area for almost two weeks, I can understand why. I’ve had more mozzarella in the past month than I’ve had in my entire life – and the pizza, yes there is an absolute difference – and I believe it all comes from the tomato (and ok, the mozzarella too…and the basil…ok it’s everything).
We were met with the same front most people from there seemed to start out with. A stone face and minimal words exchanged. Maybe it’s because they knew we didn’t speak Napoletano, a dialect that I can barely understand, nevermind many Italians, or just because we were foreign, but what most don’t know is it’s easy to break through the cracks in their hard exterior, and soon they’re just as welcoming as any Italians.
“We’ll take a few of these tomatoes, and some of those,” Rami started as he pointed to the crates set up on the side of the truck. The boxes were full of tomatoes of every size and shape, huge ones the size of my hands that were just turning red and still spotted green, tiny ones with pointed tips – the last of the year’s harvest of the famous Piennolo, cherry tomatoes, and then crates upon crates of peaches, and then watermelons the size of Luna, just piled high, heaved into the back of the truck and waiting to be bought for the dessert at some wedding nearby. We got one too, of course, because, why not.
“No,” the man cut him off. “I can only sell by the crate,” he answered as he motioned toward the entirety of his roadside fruit stand. Maybe the baseball hat Rami always wore threw him too, Or that he heard us speaking English, but he wasn’t breaking. The two other guys had noticed Luna in my arms, one grinned and asked if they could pet her. As they talked together, I hadn’t a clue what they were saying, but then I caught a word or two.
“This is the type of dog that farts a lot,” one said, excited and I burst out laughing. Yep, I confirmed. This is the one.
“Ah ok, allora,” Rami started up again, renewed with the fact that we now had to get crates of tomatoes or nothing – the perfect excuse to bring an entire grocery store back to Florence in our trunk (it was successfully accomplished – including a mini cantina). He ordered up a few crates and boxes of tomatoes, some peaches, and the watermelon, and that was enough words for the Tuscan to be detected. I saw him start to grin right before he asked the question. “You’re from Tuscany,” he asked, although it was never a question, it was a statement, as factual as any, a finger-pointing accusal of “fromness” and they were never wrong (at least with Rami – a little Nonna from the tomato factory thought I was German, but that’s another story).
The minute we pled guilty to being from Tuscany, there was a change in the atmosphere. He chuckled and reached out to put a big hand on Luna’s head, and started asking us what we were doing around Vesuvio as he gathered our bags and boxes. We explained a bit of background, a little about Luna.
“I have four at home, a bit bigger though,” he joked as he held his arms wide around Luna’s little head. I imagined four Cane Corso guarding his house. The man picked up a watermelon from the pile. “I’ll bring it to the car,” he assured us, as he kept chatting with Rami and stepped directly into traffic. He held the conversation as he held up one hand to the oncoming car and Rami and I scurried across the street behind him hoping he had the power he thought he had. He did, car stopped, I told you – you make up the rules here.