This weekend marks that last weekend last year we were somewhat free to move around. The Italian government had begun to cajole, urging people to make good decisions, but without a clearly drawn bright line between a Good and Bad Decision, the “this sounds like a good decision” of many people quickly proved to be a Very Bad decision indeed. The freedom and caprice of early spring got the better of many who did not possess a clear understanding of where the pandemic was headed – would the virus spread everywhere? were Italy and China somehow cursed by the ghost of Marco Polo? Jason and I were starting to hunker down. The writing was on the wall. His Gonzaga students had flown home, all 200 of them. We had a strong hunch were all this was going, and the slide into national decrees, restrictions, and emergencies bore our our fears the following week.
We were still not fully aware, though. Obviously. Reality had some surprises in store for us. We had no idea how long these changes would last. We were on a train headed into a very dark, long tunnel. We thought it would be over by Easter, certainly by summer. Surely the students would be back for summer programs, and by fall for the academic year. We had seen all the other new maladies come and go, and their spread was always managed and limited. Surely this shadow would not cross the whole globe. It would be done soon. We just had to be careful for now.
We had no idea how much our life and lifestyle and timeline would be changing in the coming weeks. How much we’d be hunkered down at home like it was the London Blitz, chewing our cheeks every night in our sleep. Surely it couldn’t last.
But in the meantime I started keeping Farm Wife and Miss Anxiety busy. Making sourdough starter like everyone else on the planet, befriending the good microbes. Jason managed the increasingly stressful grocery runs. He finally found us a restaurant wholesale who delivered boxes of delicious Italian food to our palazzo for no extra charge. With almost every business closed, the restaurants weren’t going to use it. We were on a trip to the moon, to remain in orbit for almost eight weeks, and we didn’t even know it. We’d be in our apartment for 56 days, every meal together at the same table with the same plates and napkins as Jason and I turned hot dishes out from our modest kitchen.
We quickly grew weary of both our plates and staying inside. The Roman troll lived in the palazzo then, in the ground floor apartment, so we didn’t really feel free to frequent our one available patch of green space. He tended to pop out and shout at us an inopportune times, ruining the hour a day we had of outdoor sunshine. So by May 4, when we could go outside, I started my new habit of amateur Florentine flâneuse, strolling from our piazza to the further points of the city. I have kept this habit to today. I try to walk 100 miles a month in the city. I have found that this habit is particularly well-suited to earnest window shopping as I am usually out and about before businesses open at 9 or 10 in the morning.
My regular route takes me down Via dei Servi, the straight shot from Santissima Annunziata to the Duomo. It’s the parade route for every religious festival, robed penitents or holy orders or just fervent worshippers following statues of saints balanced on palanques shouldered by eight or more men. Weekday mornings, though, the street is clammy and cool, the shop windows unlit. I walk by this mesticcheria (hardware shop) every day and pause to review the items for sale there. (Eleanor has always admired its espresso cups.) I had begun to look with interest at the serving sets in the window. I am tired of ours, plus we broke one. Plus they belong to the apartment, not to us. I snapped a picture to share with Jason and the kids, to poll for color preference: red or blue? The kids and I voted red, of course. It’s our favorite color. Jason threw up his hands. This always happens when color factions vote in our family republic.
Mesticcheria Tucci is a full-service shop, staffed by the lone owner-proprietor, an Italian man about seventy. I assume he is Signore Tucci. I stopped in on Thursday morning, having window-shopped his wares now at least eighty times. I told him I’d like the red set, and a new set of 35 cL wineglasses. Sig. Tucci nodded, appreciating a housewife who’s mind was well made up. He came back with the boxes. He took every single plate, bowl, and wineglass out to inspect for damage. His massive hands carefully tucked each piece back in its proper place. Having confirmed that each piece was immaculate, I handed him my Italian debit card.
I like the red so much, I said. My kids do too. I showed them the picture, and they all voted red.
Smart! Sig. Tucci said. Red is for home. Blue is more formal. Blue for restaurants, or a cardinal or the queen of England. He tapped the box. Proper English china, imported. See? He showed me the stamp.
Red is more familial, I nodded, pleased I’d made the right choice.
Sì! Brava. Red is for families. You did well to get the red. People love these sets. Go home, eat a hot dinner off these plates with your family, make you so happy. Nothing better than that.
I couldn’t agree more. I looked at the plates through the cutout on the side of the dish box and imagined a plate of pasta al pomodoro garnished with fresh mozzarella and basil. My stomach started growling. It was almost the lunch hour.
Careful with these! Sig. Tucci urged. No rush now! Get them home safely.
I think I can do it, I assured him, and picked my way out of the shop. But halfway up Via dei Servi my shoulders and hands were already sore, so I just brought them all to Jason’s office. We’re taking them out and putting them to use today.
Red for family. Blue for formal.
I hope we get to welcome visitors again to our red family table in Florence.