There’s something amazing about language. This exchange of words and gestures somehow can get you what you want or need. I take it for granted so often, yet I use it every day to tell strangers and friends the way I feel and the things I want. When you are in a foreign country, language becomes a very present every day challenge. Words that usually flow so easily become tangled in your mind and on your tongue and you can’t even find the words to buy a sandwich. The amazing part comes when in spite of your poor mastery of Italian and your dorky tennis shoes that give you away as an American, the man or woman behind the counter knows what you want and gives it to you, smiling. Prego.
Food is it’s own language. It often speaks for itself. The visual and tactile nature of it makes it easy to know what something is and when the eater enjoys eating it. It’s a lot easier to order a sandwich, when you can point to the thing that you want, than it is to explain your belief in God. Food talks.
I arrived in Italy believing a little too strongly that my passion and knowledge of food would get me by despite my obvious lack of Italian. I speak French and some Spanish so I figured these Romance languages would allow me to slide by with few problems. My sister and I had once spent an afternoon listening to and repeating phrases in Italian from a CD she had (she has spent more time studying the language than I), enjoying the intonation of the CD’s native speaker. I figured I would remember these key phrases at just the right moments, yet I found it wasn’t my language skills that got me by in Italy as much as the kindness of Italian strangers (well most of them were kind anyway).
Our trip started in Venice where the main attractions are the winding streets, beautiful grand canals (think serenading gondoliers, although be prepared to pay a pretty euro for that experience), and glass-blown souvenirs.
Our first few meals were relatively un-memorable (and therefore un-photographed), though our first gelato tasted quite good. Gelaterias line literally every street in Venice, but we ate at from Suso, as recommended by Lonely Planet. I had their signature flavor, Suso, which I believe was a toffee and caramel, as well as their mixed berry. After that we ate gelato nearly every day, and when we didn’t we indulged in a good many other foods instead.
Day two in Venice brought us to the Rialto market where we saw fresh fish laid out on ice and numerous produce vendors selling fruits by the kilo. We enjoyed wandering the maze-like streets and crossing the many bridges over the canals despite the light drizzle of rain and chilly temperatures. We enjoyed a picnic lunch in Venice’s public garden, enjoying mini sandwiches from a café and a salad with fresh mozzarella (mmmm) we got at Coop, the Italian grocery. In general our lunches in Italy consisted of sandwiches, usually with prosciutto or some form of ham and cheese on simple white bread (I was overall unimpressed with most sandwich breads). I guess they don’t eat a lot of turkey in Italy, though I did find a turkey sandwich for this picnic lunch.
Our picnic lunch:
Though we mostly got by with ordering our food via pointing and stuttering Italian words, with our final treat in Venice we got more than we intended due to our lack of language skills. We bought a hefty torta di pistacchio and apple strudel for our train ride to Ferrara. When we went to pay the man told us in Italian, “ten euros.” I repeated to Sam what I thought I heard and Sam seemed skeptical. Two euros maybe? It couldn’t be ten. But no, the man held up ten fingers so we paid the ten euros for our two pastries and left, realizing then that the pastries were sold by weight and I had picked one of the heavier ones.
I enjoyed the light sweetness of the pistachio pastry and the hints of almond and orange flavoring throughout and because of its density it ended up lasting us longer than just the train ride. We also savored the apple strudel, which had raisins and a flaky pastry and was not too sweet.
Though we enjoyed the beautiful sights and food of Venice, the weekend that followed in Ferrara was where the true Italian feasting began. More to come…