October 9, 2009

Under the Florentine Big Top

Not a step out the door and the faces I see hold my attention as if to transfix. So diverse, so sad, so lost, as if the mind was capable of twisting and freezing muscles in the face. I pass people in the streets like one of those miniature books that thumb the pages quickly to create movement. It’s an everyday circus.

This morning I saw a man 4 feet tall, body bent forwards, pants up to his chest, with a dandy hat and cane. He walked in front of my bike on Via Pietrasanta right in front of the old fish market of Piazza dei Ciompi. I had to dodge him with a full basket of goods. He didn’t notice. He was lost under the big tent, used to trapeze flyers and tigers that jump through rings of fire. I was a mere fly. Where was he going?

Unlikely couples walk hand in hand, with stars in their eyes. No mouth, no ears, no taste, no tongue.. what are they in love with? A toothpick tall woman, in transparent white skin-tight pants that could find nothing to cling to, stands in a mediocre line, at a mediocre stand, with mediocre people all around. Her dogs were also too skinny; black and white hounds, bound to her through a leash. She wore too much makeup and was rude. She was only nice to her ‘children’ when they were well behaved. She punished them for talking back. What brought her to this fate?

Sauntering through the market, I want to buy a chicken to stuff with lemon and roast with pancetta, sale aromatico, and herbs di Pierre. Lapo, the food and wine critic, is coming to dinner and I want to offer something substantial. Sant’Ambrogio’s Pollaia calls me. Looking for something inspiring, I see only raw cuts of rabbit and fowl. I got an unexpected answer to my question. I asked the butcher, ‘what is the most Florentine recipe?’ He said ‘la bistecca’ naturally’. I probed a little deeper. You are talking about now, I said. I want to know what is considered the most Florentine over time. He said, ‘pollo arrosto sulla griglia’. Again, a simple dish. I wanted to know how, when and why they started stuffing and trussing for the Renaissance banquets. He went on to say, that the housewives,’ le casalinghe’ had created it. I loved this answer. It goes as a tribute to the unseen cooks at home who had to be imaginative with their leftovers and create good food for their families since the Renaissance. It wasn’t a chef. It was the cleverness of the home cook. I’ve seen these cooks through cracks in the door and they wield their knives as strongly as a man, and it’s safe to say, you do not want to get in their way. If what you do is cook and clean all day, then let it be a creative invitation to make the best of it. WE Florentines don’t guild the lily like the French, making more of things that we need to.. but we introduced the fork, and gave them a base to work from. They just changed the name. Anatra al arancia’ became ‘Duck a la’orange’ and the world thought that the French had hung the moon.

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