By Vivian Farmer
FLORENCE, Italy– The produce under the outdoor stalls at the Mercato di Sant’Ambrogio is not in even shapes. Lemons are bumpy and still have the stem and leaves attached. The zucchini still dons its flower tops and there are small woodland strawberries the size of your thumbnail. I wandered through the stalls listening to the Italian around me and trying to decipher the price signs and wanted to ask so many questions. But I was nervous to try the few Italian phrases I know.
Question 1: What is that meat?
Inside the building portion of the market, vendors sell meat cheese and seafood, some that I recognize, many that I don’t. There is also a little café in the middle where patrons stand and sip espresso while reading the paper. I peered through glass cases at rabbit covered in spices and whole fish of all sizes with their eyeballs and scales. I still hadn’t interacted with any of the vendors. While walking past the pungent seafood and tasting salami sample slices, I searched for a little courage to speak to a vendor. The shop vendors at the Mercato di Sant’Ambrogio have limited English and I didn’t know how to open the conversation at the cured meats and cheese stand. The Italian man behind the counter spoke first. He smiled and used the English he knew to ask what I was looking for. I used the few Italian words I know and lots of hand gestures.
Question 2: Is the meat man flirting?
I laughed as the Italian man behind the display fed me samples of cheese, salami, and prosciutto on pieces of bread he had ready. I tried a soft cheese that when spread on bread, looked like fluffy icing. It was light and refreshing and the perfect pair to salty salami. My fear ebbed away as we tried to understand one another. “Vorrei prosciutto e….” I pointed at the cheese. The vendor smiled and scooped a ladle-full into a plastic container. “Grazie!” I thanked him.
Question 3: Why did I fear the language?
We left to see another market in Florence as I thought of other things I wanted to talk to the vendors about. How do you cook rabbit? Do the small strawberries taste different from the larger ones? And what do Italians use the flowers on top of the Zucchini’s for? It’s intimidating to encounter a new language. The sounds are difficult to catch and more difficult to pronounce. But attempting a word or two opens up opportunities (especially opportunities to try samples of new foods). I plan to be less worried about my lack of Italian and just try.