October 3, 2009

letter to my friend Robiert

We went for a walk today....

we started from my apartmento on via del Parlascio. We propped the shutters just so to let light in, but not heat.

I felt a little like dressing, knowing how you liked going to the market with Jacqueline, who never left the house without looking glam. The French have so much to teach us. I too, put on some heels, soft, and grabbed my basket and with lipstick fresh, we headed out.

We crossed the Piazza Signoria, glancing at the 'Rape of the Sabines', by Giambologna, as I cannot enter the square without paying my respects and awe with a knowing glance. After all, it's there as it has always been since the 15th century. The rape victim, up in the strong arms of a man that seems totally taken by her, rather than her by him, but nevertheless, she has a look
of ecstasy on her face. (Something to do with transforming suffering, as St. Lorenzo has the same look on his face sitting in flames.) The day is cool and blue and even though a Saturday in October, the crowds are calm.

Piazza della Rupubblica looms with tents of food and wine rather than her usual spaciousness. I was told truffles were here today, fresh from Umbria. I did have a look and found them uninspiring. Their ruddy complexion is attractive to me and their 'profumo' even more so, but today was not the day. You agreed. We went around the square checking out this and that. You were intrigued with the 'cinta cinese', the black and white pork, roasted and ready for a sandwich. Very unusual to see. I preferred the 'Biccio'. A chestnut crepe cooked between two ancient iron rounds over fire. The rosy cheeked woman was dressed in a ruffled and puffed sleeve shirt with a bandana in her hair. She spoke candidly of the chestnuts from the forests near Pistoia. She looked like a woman out of Douglas Gayeton's new book, 'Slow Food in a Tuscan Town.' There was no other flour, egg, sugar, etc in the batter. Just the flour from these small chestnuts and water. You could have the crepe plain or with fresh ricotta. Of course, I chose
to have the fresh ricotta, which they spread generously over the crepe. It was warm and smelled sweet as it should. Chestnut flour is naturally sweet and was quite nourishing in the old days when wheat was scarce. The Pistoiese had brought the ricotta down from a neighboring farm from the mountains. It was so different than what we can usually find. Taking a bite, I was transfixed by the aroma and the taste. It was slightly sweet with the sensation of tasting a bit caramelized, with a note of honey. Yet, it was just what it was. Chestnut flour and water, cooked, with a spread of ricotta. You were jealous as I pretended not to give you a bite.

Piazza Annuzziata was also having their annual ceramic and artisan fair. I go every year, hoping to find the man who prepares the most delicious 'carciofini'; tiny, wild, artichokes that he pares and cleans and puts 'sottolio'. The flavor is a punch of deliciousness and wildness, so packed with iron, that the liver stands up and salutes. I found him but saw no jars of the coveted morsels. I asked about them and wordless, he gave the keys to his wife and she went to the car to pull them out. 'Saved for our best customers', he said. I felt honored. At that point, you looked at Thomas and said, 'I guess we are not the only ones'.

I searched for Pierre Couseau. I knew you would want to meet him. In fact, you lit up to speak French. Pierre is a 'pastore dei aromi.' Shepherd of aromatic herbs. He grows them biologically where they like to grow, dries them in a rustic wooden shelf under a loggia and mixes them
according to his whim. He is Alsatian-French all the way. He brings his sense of smell to the job as if her were a perfumer. He takes his time to create a relationship with the plants, gets to know them, then is inspired to make blends for fish, soups, meat, vegetables, etc, etc. His aromatic salts are addictive. Spiced with 5 types of pepperoncino, his 'le grande sale' is never far from my fingertips in the kitchen. He uses the forgotten Renaissance herbs, such as lavender, hyssop, myrtle, lemon rind, as well as sage, sage flowers, rosemary and thyme. Poetic in his approach, he could talk for hours about them. He did. And we listened.

Meanwhile, a sitarist puts out his blanket and sets off to play. It enlivens the piazza. People gather round. Then, a dancer appears. She proceeds to get very familiar with the ground, the bare street, as if it were a stage, her bed with crisp lenins or a yoga mat. Her dances are mezmerizing, including some traditional Indian dance, as well as yoga, as well as modern interpretive. Graceful and lithe, she became one with the music, the street, the sky, my eyes, in one fluid movement that never stopped form hand stand, to head stand, from rolling, folding, to unfolding with complete control. One was worried about her hands and feet being so dirty. So was every other Italian that watched and cringed. Yet, they clapped and were amazed.

I knew that she was in a world of her own, with the music, the sky, the ground, the other people. The idea of equanimity was her dance. Accept it all. There is no separation between you and I, the dirt, the cleanliness, your language or mine. Just the suchness of the day. We dropped a few coins in the hat and walked away. Thomas was reluctant. She had black curly hair like his and deep soulful eyes. And for a while, a stunning creature like himself, was on all fours in contact with the ground.

With everlasting love,


Peggy Markel
Peggy Markel's Culinary Adventures
Tuscany Sicily Amalfi Morocco
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