By Vivan Farmer
FLORENCE, Italy – My first meal in Italy was a hodge-podge of gas station like food. It wasn’t bad but it wasn’t Italy. I arrived in Florence around 5:30p.m. With my suitcase in tow, I traversed the city to my find my apartment. The sidewalks, so narrow that my suitcase blocked the entire span, and cobblestone that felt dangerously uneven, cars, bikes, buses, and mopeds weaved around pedestrians. On my way to the apartment I could smell bread, cigarette smoke, and a damp, cool, mustiness rolling off a stone building.
Exhausted and hungry, I left my luggage in my apartment and then hit the streets to find sustenance. My roommates arrived earlier and were already out at dinner. I looped around the unfamiliar terrain, looking for any convenience store. I am used to the luxury of driving to WalMart at any hour of the day or night and finding almost any comfort I want, but in Italy, things close early. That’s part of the charm—shops close early so that friends and family can gather and eat dinner together.
The charm was lost on my hungry stomach.
The sun was quickly setting and I knew I was an easy target for theft at night as I was alone and in an unfamiliar place. I was beginning to think I would spend the night hungry when I spotted a convenience store still open. The shelves were sparse and contained a smattering of dried goods. Italian cookies, jams and jellies, breads, and ramen noodles made up the majority of the food items. I chose a loaf of bread in purple wrapping and a jar of peach jam. I then stared at the corner of wine selections until the attendant asked if I needed help. I asked for a cheap wine and he pointed to a 5€ bottle of red, I didn’t register what kind. To top off my little dinner, I grabbed a packet of Swiss cheese labeled “Special Toast”. I spent 13€ total. Italians can eat better on less but the bread and jam filled me up and, along with my “Special Toast” cheese and cheap red wine, this was my first foray into Italian food. This was not the Italian dinner I was dreaming of but hunger made it taste plenty good.