At our little party, Barb rhapsodized over the red, ripe, juicy, delicious tomatoes available in a bunch of varieties and sizes everywhere in Italy. It seems she hadn't been able to eat their bland, tasteless cousins here in the US. I sort of nodded and rather listlessly agreed with her, not giving a whole lot of thought to the question.
At Market in Italy
Now, being home ten days, I am in tomato withdrawal. Barbara is right--the difference between here and there is as if we speak of two different fruits. Strangely the best to be had here are from the big box store Costco--which, by the way, has fresh Mozzarella di Bufala from Compagnia, well-aged Parmigiano-Reggiano from Parma and a very good Tuscan Olive Oil--the one in a glass bottle, not the plastic.
As I wrote last year, coming back to the states after our extended stays in Italy, demands adjustment time. The first few trips to the grocery store, I reflexively look for the basket of cellophane gloves. Produce is not to be touched by bare hands--no multiple shoppers squeezing and handling that peach before I buy it--makes a lot of sense, doesn't it? I look for the scale which provides a price sticky to adhere to the bag after I weigh the produce--makes check out a lot faster and easier. Walking up to the store, I reach into my wallet to get the coin needed to unlock the cart and then realize that we don't do that here. Instead, we have traveling carts finding their way to homes, schools and roadsides. The Italian system works because the shopper reclaims the euro by reattaching the cart to the chain.
Of course, we have some transportable ideas, too. For example, people who bag our groceries. This is really appreciated the days I do a big shopping. In Italy it is a quite a challenge to pay and bag before the next customer's purchases begin co-mingling with mine. I'm glad to see more and more fellow shoppers here bring in their own reuseable bags--a common practice in Italy for many years.
Because we are a new country, things like electricity, power, telephone wiring--let alone highspeed--are a taken for granted part of our daily experience. We can have large appliances and even run them simultaneously. Europe is different. Retrofitting centuries old buildings built of thick stone walls is difficult. In many places, power sources are limited, again due to infrastructures that go back hundreds of years. My most favorite place in Italy, Sant' Antonio outside of Montepulciano, does not have ovens or microwaves in its apartments or on-site guest laundry facilities because their power allotment does not allow for these things.
Back to tomatoes--so, I miss the Italian ones, along with snapping fresh green beans, delicate zucchini flowers to quickly fry in 00 flour, fresh pecorino in all its varieties, prosciutto from Falornis macelleria, fish from the morning's catch and fresh pasta from the pasta shop. Even our celebrity stores such as Whole Foods and Trader Joe's don't fill the bill, let alone Ralphs, Von's or Wegmans.
These are things I can't bring home with me so, until next summer, I'll settle into San Diego and enjoy what we have--sandy beaches, corn-on-the-cob and no winter.