The tips of the fingers on my left hand are tingling with a burning sensation that is both tolerable and highly uncomfortable. It started with my thumb, and has spread to other fingertips like poison ivy. When I took my contacts out, my eyes started burning…Oops. Why, you wonder?
Because I am a little closer to being a grown up now. I see grownups as people who live on their own and provide for themselves. Okay, I might still get some financial support. But, really, beyond having a real profession in a few years, what is the quintessential definition of being a grown up? Food, of course. I’m talking cooking here – si cucina, to cook for oneself. Not going out to eat like my dad did (…or, does?) until he was thirty-five, but planning meals, buying groceries, chopping verdure, and eating delicious, healthy homemade dinners. With a nineteen pass meal plan at school, I hadn’t had the need or opportunity to do that for myself yet.
After our second day of intensive Italian class, my roommates and I faced the challenge together. And now my thumb is searing unforgiveably.
We sat around the kitchen tavolo and collaborated on a grocery list of shared items. Then we bought biglietto for Perugia’s mini metro at exactly 16.14. One pass is good for 70 minutes, so we were on a mission to get to COOP – the larger supermercato – buy all of our necessary goods, and push our ticket back through the validation machine qui vicino our apartment by 17.24.
More Italians are shopping at supermarkets comparable to your neighborhood grocer, but there are still a lot of differences. First, nothing in Italy is gratis. Actually, that’s not true. I saw a big bin of pasta near check out that is free for Very Important Customers ogni giorno! Otherwise, though, not only do you pay for water at restaurants, but you also loan the grocery cart a Euro to unlock it and pay five cents for each plastic produce bag you use. I may have forgotten that small hidden charge and discreetly returned some bags to the roll stand halfway through my produce shopping. Sorry, Italy. I’m a frugal cheapster. Keep your bag, even if I was about to use it. Also, only produce that is in-season is sold here. Though I appreciate eating locally, when you want to buy asparagus, it’s kind of frustrating. God forbid you select your fresh frutte or verdure with a naked hand; there are also disposable plastic gloves provided under the five cent bags. After that whole mess, don’t try to take your bag-less assortment of fresh produce up the cash register. You must first put it on the scale in the produce section and print a barcode sticker.
Other notes of interest: Eggs are not refrigerated, quinoa and black beans are nonexistent here (though an assortment of squid is), and Perugia doesn’t put salt in their bread. Since salt is a preservative, you can only buy your bread if you plan on eating it that day. Lines hardly exist here, so when you have a big cart, people with one item will expectantly ask to cut you. Shopping is a learning experience in itself.
We planned on meeting back at the front of the store at 17.05, but we didn’t consider the long lines and the cutting. So by the time we made it through check out, we entered serious crunch time on our 70 minute metro pass. We made it, though – at 17.23, with one minute to spare. I kid you not.
Tonight I served up some Zucchini and Parmesan Pasta Toss. Among the seasonings, the recipe called for ¼ tsp. of crushed red pepper. We had whole pepporocini in our seasoning cabinet, so, along with the garlic, tomatoes, and zucchini, I went away at chopping up the dried peppers.
There are not too many experiences quite as authentic or satisfying as being in Italiadrinking vino and eating a meal of Italian pasta with friends, both of which (the pasta and the friends) you recently made. As I silently blessed the meal, I thanked God not only for the food, but also for this opportunity – for my new friends, grocery shopping excursions, and the surprises offered each day. Sometimes growing causes some pains. Though my Indian roommate Kirti disagrees, the pasta toss had too much of a kick for me. It burned my mouth, which I enjoyed cooling off with gelato. Now that I’ve spent some time writing, the red pepper heat in my fingers is dissipating, too. What a tiny price to pay – yes, much less than the price of the plastic bags at the grocery store – for a step on the path to adulthood and independence. Today, as I settle into to the stone allies, panoramic views, grocery shopping, and home cooked meals that are part of life in Italy, I grew up a little bit more.