By Elizabeth Johnson
FLORENCE, Italy – From the first day we arrived in Florence, we were told to look for the dark blue signs marked with a large white ‘T.’ Appearing on what seemed like every street corner, they weren’t hard to spot (even for a newcomer). The phrase “Sali e Tabbachi” appeared on the bottom of the skinny rectangles. I pulled out my phrasebook to confirm I was at the right place.
Translation – salt and tobacco
Definition – A small store selling salt and tobacco
If this definition seems too simple, that’s because it is.
Despite its misleading marking, the neighborhood tabacchi is useful to smokers and nonsmokers alike. Much like the items that fill Mary Poppins’ purse, the items sold at the tabacchi are varied and abundant. Public transportation tickets, postage stamps and delicious pastries are all at arm’s reach. Tobacco products also fill the shelves, but as more of an afterthought than the star of the show.
So what’s up with the signs? Like many other things in Florence, the tabacchi signs can be traced to tradition. Tobacco and salt were both regulated by the Florentine government years ago. Although the price controls are long gone, the tabacchi signs are here to stay.
And tabacchi signs are not the only part of Florentine daily life affected by the historic government price controls. The regional bread recipe still lacks one key ingredient – salt.
1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
2/3 cup lukewarm (110°F) water
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/3 cup warm water
1 cup room-temperature water
3 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
While taking in new surroundings, everything seems random and chaotic at first. What does salt have to do with tobacco? Who dares make bread with only water, flour and yeast? But with a little time and patience – and in this case a quick history lesson – one can discover a reason for almost anything.