Wednesday, March 14, 2012

A Cat in Florence

Chapter 10
[Go to beginning]
On the way out of the hotel we passed by a woman hurrying into the narrow alley leading to the courtyard in back of our hotel. She was wearing a low-cut peasant dress, with a shawl over her shoulders. She glanced our way and smiled at me, and then was gone. I stopped in my tracks. The woman was gorgeous.
“You’re not going to whistle, are you?” Jenny said.
“No,” I said. And started walking, a little chagrined to be caught gawking.
“You better not. Just because you have Italian ancestry doesn’t mean you have to start acting like these jerks down here.”
“Uh huh,” I said, wondering if the woman we passed lived in one of the places that bordered the courtyard behind our hotel.
We headed to the Uffizi Galleries, hoping to spend the afternoon there, and then return in the morning, but the line to get in was daunting, and I didn’t look forward to holding my gym bag with my heavy cat in it.
We crossed the Arno over the Ponte Vecchio, pausing once again to look at all the gold in the windows of the little shops that line the bridge.

We walked through the streets towards the hills and up to the Pitti Place, once occupied by the Medici family. I was starting to sweat in the afternoon sun as we walked further up into the Boboli Gardens. I found a bench in the shade and sat, placing the gym bag besides me on the ground.
“Hey! Put me on the bench,” Jenny said.
“Oh, sorry.”
We spent the afternoon in a desultory manner, wandering the gardens and then down into the city  and back across the Ponte Vecchio again. Jenny napped most of the time, while I sweated. I found myself on another narrow alley the Italians insist on calling a street, this one called Via delle Terme. There, right in front of me was the Trattoria Nella. Since my mother’s name had been Nella, I decided this was destiny. In any case, I was hungry, and dying of thirst.
The sign said this was a family run restaurant, and the owner, a man who clearly enjoyed his own cuisine, told me I was welcome to bring in my cat. I told him in my fractured Italian that my mother's name had been Nella --"mia mama, lei chiama Nella." 
He answered in much better English than my Italian, "Well my mama's name is Nella, too!”
He thought this was amusing, and went over to tell his wife, who was trying to finish food prep before things got busy.  She told him "basta, basta," and went back to stirring the ragout.
He went over and sopped up some of the rich red sauce with a piece of bread and told his wife, “Va bene!” and she slapped him on the butt.
As before, I read Jenny the menu as best I could; the restaurant had no English language version. The owner kept glancing over -- it was a small place -- and finally came over, told me his name was Sergio, and asked if he could help translate the menu for me, apparently thinking that my reading it out loud was a cry for help.
“What is Coniglio?” I asked.
“The rabbit,” Sergio said.
“That sounds good,” Jenny said. “Tell him not to cook it.”
“What!” I said.
“Rabbit,” Sergio said, thinking I was speaking to him. “You know?” And he did a little imitation of a rabbit hopping.
“Yes, yes, gotcha,” I said. Then I asked about the Tegamino di trippa alla Fiorentina.
“That’s a local favorite,” Sergio said, with a smile.
“Uh, and it’s what?” I said.
“Cow’s stomach,” Sergio said. “Fried nice, with rosemary. Very good.”
“That sounds good,” Jenny said. “Tell him I want it just a little warmed up.”
“That’s disgusting!” I said.
“Oh, no Signore, very good. I guarantee you like.”
“No, I’m sure it’s good. But I think I’ll have the Lasagne.”
“Si, Signore. And what would you like to begin... An antipasti?” Sergio said.
“The rabbit,” Jenny said. “Rare.”
I raised my eyebrows. “The Coniglio alla cacciatora,” I said. I was familiar with chicken cacciatora -- I made it myself sometimes -- so thought it was a safe choice.
“Rare,” Jenny repeated.
“Okay, rare,” I said.
This time Sergio raised his eyebrows. “You want the Coniglio as an appetizer?”
“No, a main dish,” I said.
“Rare,” Jenny said.
“I heard you,” I said.
Sergio looked puzzled. “You want the rabbit, or the Lasagne, he said, clearly running out of patience.
“Both,” I said. I held a hand high above the table. “And a big carafe of your house wine.”

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