Tuscany - At the Mercato (Market Square) in Viareggio

By: Serenella Leoni

It is my first morning back in Tuscany. Here at the market place, vendors offer bountiful catches.? Viareggini love their seafood and can tell the seasons by what types are available; from the spaghetti-like Anguille Cieche’ (tiny blind baby eels) of the icy winter to the Arselle, (baby clams) gathered by combing the submerged sand in summer, these specimens come to full glory in a variety of delectable spicy dishes: Cacciucco (a fish stew), Antipasti di Mare, assorted Primi (soup, rice or pasta “first" courses) and endless, tempting entrees.

As I negotiate my way among pedestrians, cyclists, and people pushing strollers, I run into one of my many distant cousins roaming the Mercato to do her grocery shopping.? Her bicycle lock dangles from her belt.? She immediately tells me that today (Tuesday) is the day fresh Mozzarella di Bufala arrives from Naples. I labor to keep up with the?? conversation. Her speech is high pitched and delivered in rapid bursts like rounds from a machine gun.? This is one of the two speech patterns typical of Viareggio; the other, a deliberate cadence, is so slow that you could take a nap between words.

We head straight for the Neapolitan-owned store arm in arm, while catching up on each other’s lives (mostly hers).? As we enter the store, very bad Italian rap music is playing in the background and my cousin is delighting in racing from one colorful story to another.? I tune out everything at the sight of all that lies before me inside the immaculate display counter:? mouth-watering cheeses, both local and from other regions of Italy, shining varieties of brine-cured and marinated olives, capers, anchovies, sausages and pre-cooked foods.? But the treasure we are seeking is in the large barrel by the cashier.? Immersed in their milky water, are beautiful fresh balls of glistening white mozzarella just arrived from the Campania Region.

Eureka!

We both buy one, as well as various local products, with the intention of using the contents of our packages for lunch.? Mozzarella can be used in multiple preparations and pairs well with tomatoes, basil and extra-virgin olive oil.? But this delicate delight is most wonderful when, fresh from the cheese maker, it releases cream in your mouth with every bite. Given previous experiences, I know that my mozzarella may never make it home. I decide to buy a second ball.

My cousin, who is suddenly in a hurry to leave, kisses me on both cheeks, invites me to dinner, does not wait for my answer and waves good-bye as she scurries away.? I have yet to master the ability of artfully turning down a family invitation.

As I stand in front of the store watching her walk away, I hear shouting emanating from the cheese shop as three women and a man argue with each other and with the clerk over who should be served first.? Standing in line patiently awaiting one’s turn is a concept foreign to most Italians who would prefer to show how furbi (cunning) they are by triumphantly stealing a spot in the queue.

I head to another area of the market place, step into the bar/caffe that makes the best espresso in town and ask for a cappuccino and a budino di riso (a heavenly, rice-pudding pastry found only in Tuscany).? I have been anticipating this moment for weeks.? I observe with relish as the barista measures out the perfect amount of finest quality, freshly ground coffee and inserts the portafilter attachment into the machine.? With a familiar flourish, the push of a button and an affectionate pat, she coaxes a dense, dark extract out of her shining espresso maker. Swoosh, shwooo as she holds the frothing pitcher of whole milk under the steam valve. A proud smile:? “Ecco, Signora!" I am presented with a foamy, hot cappuccino that looks smells and tastes like nothing found outside of Italy.? Perhaps it is the water… but more likely it is the attention to each enjoyable detail, the perfect blending and the obvious care of the barista that gives me that “Ahhh" sensation.? This feeling of utmost satisfaction is a prelude to another journey of exploration and a great beginning to a new Tuscan adventure!? Visit http://www.ToscanaMia.biz? to learn more about travelling to TuscanyPsychology Articles, Italy.

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