What started out as a chance, slow nodding of heads exchange about the superior quality of Italian prosciutto with the lady standing next to me at the deli counter this morning, turned first into reminiscences of the same woman’s breakfasts of jambon and walnuts during her travels through rural France. Then, once she had hit her stride on the subject, conversation veered towards her belief that it is the French who truly get what good food and living is all about. That was until she found out I was Italian and proceeded to regale me with the time she and husband were guests at their friends’ house in – yep, you guessed it – Umbria. Todi to be exact.
She confided how they had been well and truly spoilt by their well-heeled hosts, an Australian couple who have a base here and one in Italy and live between the two. The Todi house is in the centre of town she said, downhill from Piazza del Popolo (if we had our bearings right) in a narrow, winding little street, with the most marvellous views over of the valley beyond. And to top it all off, their friends had even arranged for them to do a four-day cooking school where they met local tartufai, truffle hunters, and explored Umbria’s answer to Pompeii, the buried Roman town of Carsulae. We spoke of Todi. The peace and quiet. We had both observed how the signore of the town still gather in the afternoon sun to chat, each bringing with them a wooden chair to sit on. In fours and fives, they form rows on the dark stone streets or look out at the view from ancient terraces, little more than outcrops.
The sparkle in her eyes, the intensity and accuracy of all her descriptions reminded me of my own. She too had fallen under the spell. Become a missionary in the world, ready to spread the word and share the love at a moment’s notice. The chance to relive the memories almost impossible to resist. It was funny the way our conversation ended. She first bid me adieu while i was still mid-shop, and we met up again at the cassa where, having paid once already, she had doubled back to pick up a couple of super thin pizza bases, for her lunch perhaps. As I waited my turn to pay, she reappeared at my side to show me her spoils, pulling the pizze out of her bag and recommending them wholeheartedly for their thinness and goodness. I looked up from her shopping to speak, but before I could say anything our eyes met and we both just smiled. I think she got the same joke I did. Two Umbria tragics in a Calabrian deli in suburban Camberwell, like ships in the night. And with that she was out the door and into the rain. No second farewell required.
I’ll be keeping an eye out for her though. Patriots really ought to stick together, so far from home.