As I stare out the window of the train, I notice a smile on my face….one that I cannot erase. There is no where to start or end the description of this day to do it justice…it was a perfect day…aside from the octopus in my pasta that is…it was a perfect day. I take no credit for what transpired….only that I prepared….yes, I, Peggy O’Kelly, prepared.
Why you ask…now approaching age 45 would I decide to begin preparing? Well… I have a new read…The Art of the Pilgrimage…(thank you Sandi!)…and I came across the quote from Louis Pasteur, “In the field of observation, chance favors the prepared mind”. I never knew I would have more chance for chance if I prepared!
I prepared myself operationally…ensuring all details were accounted for long before my departure….and emotionally….took time before I crossed the threshold into this journey to sit and meditate….and calm any anxieties about the operations of the day. I then proceeded to Santa Maria Novella with a clear mind and a warm soul to board my train to Certaldo…a small medieval town close to Siena….the home of a glass manufacturer.
I was to meet the sales person, Alisa. She told me she had long blond hair…..and she would be waiting for me at the train station. As I sat on the train, I noticed a map…I decided to look to see exactly where the Certaldo stop was….ah two stops beyond Empoli…got it. Empoli came and the next stop did as well..but there was no sign of what it was….anxiety began to creep in…what if Certaldo was not marked…what if I overshot it….I looked for the map but it was no longer there…was it two stops or three stops….I quickly brought my thoughts down to a whisper and walked over to the door….as we approached the next stop and people disembarked, I looked out the door and couldn’t miss….Certaldo. With a sigh of relief, I stepped off the train. Instantly I was caught in the charm of the small town…the train station is one of the oldest in Italy that is still in operation….you could feel the history.
What is the likelihood of two blond women waiting for a train in a small Italian town? I stared at my first pick and she turned away and then I looked toward the second….and she stared back at me….”Alisa?” I said with hesitation….”Peggy?” she replied… and with two sighs of relief…we shook hands and began to walk to the car. She was young and spoke very good English….we began instant conversation and then jumped in her Alfa Romeo and sped away. As we began to converse, I felt as if I had just reunited with an old friend….easy and fun conversation. It was five minutes to their facility…I went for a tour and then to the showroom. I went through the bottles with both she and another man, a director of some sort….they were very accommodating, professional and had some interesting glass for us. As we accumulated bottles on the conference table, I had to continue to remind myself to forget about the romance of the setting…this was business….and I needed to stay focused and on task.
As Alisa and I were beginning to get into detailed conversation about pricing, etc.., a very strong energy came into the room…Mr. Cervantes, the President of the company. He was a slight bit older then me…in designer jeans et al….a huge rolex on one wrist and two thin ropes ( like a surfer might wear) around the other….his shoes were alligator perhaps…off white with brown splotches…and pointed toes….I had to smile…..he was groovy and he knew it….he proceeded to go off in Italian…said he was too tired to try to speak English…he told me that the best way would be to get a container and ship 20 pallets…..I smiled….and politely responded that only if he would invest in my company could I afford to purchase 20 pallets…he smiled….pretenses were dropped and the real negotiations began.
Now when I refer to Mr Cervantes you must understand…he would look me in the eye and speak to me in Italian…as if I understood. I would then look at Alissa and she would tell me what he said in english. This was the course of the conversation of the day….I then noticed how I spoke to him….and yes I too spoke english to him and then we would look at Alissa and she would translate. When Alissa spoke to me directly she would speak english…and I would answer in english..and then she would fill him in in Italian. At some point I felt as if I was on a game show….if a word was in question, we would throw our other words until we understood eachother….and if we were at the end of sign language and throwing words…Alissa would bring out the ipod touch….google translate. The process was bonding….as anything is when you have to work together….yes there was much more then a business deal on the conference table….there was friendship….my guess…lifelong.
Before we finishedwith all the details, Alisa looked at her watch and noted that it was time for lunch…I was invited. By this time we were all enjoying ourselves…and our inability to communicate….they were interested in America and I was interested in Italy…so we hopped in a dirty SUV and drove about 2 blocks to the restaurant. It was an old building…not historical…old….with the typical look of a traditional Italian restaurant…not pretty…but practical….and as Mr. Cervantes said, “it is not what a restaurant looks like but what it serves that matters, capito?” I was impressed with the lack of pretense. It seemed the more the day wore on, the more the “thin rope” side of Mr. Cervantes came through…and the less of the alligator shoes….it was a welcomed transition.
The specialty of this restaurant was seafood. It took a while using our mode of communication to let them know I was allergic to shellfish. They became very protective…as well as the waitress….they all spoke over the table for quite a while about what to feed me….I told them I wanted a traditional Italian meal….they could choose for me.
They were into the experience…so Alisa began…. normally they would have an appetizer….but not today unless I wanted….I declined. I was excited…I couldn’t really believe that Italians ate all these courses…I wanted to know first hand how this really works….and so we go….
Second course…normally a pasta. I told them that in America, we would have pasta for a main dish. They were perplexed….”and what do you eat for first course? “….”salad” I said…”usually”….”and antipasta?”…..”we don’t…..maybe hors d’hoeuvres.” “And nothing after pasta?” “Not usually.” They shook their heads.
My first course arrived…a huge plate of pasta…with red sauce and polpo…I didn’t need to use the ipod touch for this translation…it was what looked like little octopus….squidish….they both had pasta with mussels.
We had a glass of a white wine that gave the sensation that it was sweet but the taste was clean and crisp….not sure what it was but it paired beautifully….and of course, the staple, acqua con gas.
As we ate, we spoke about their life….the business….my life….my journey….and then we stumbled into the history of the Chianti Flask. Mr Cervantes began the story of his family….his father’s first business was manufacturing the flasks…with the straw casing…for Tuscany Chianti wines. Originally woman put the straw on by hand….his father had a large portion of the market….700 women worked for him. Originally, the flask was only for the highest quality Tuscan Chianti wines….it was a law and it was protected…or so they thought. I can’t remember when exactly but at some point, the flask began to be used for cheaper wines….and the image was soiled. The original intent of the flask was that it could be recognized anywhere in the World on a shelf as the best Chianti from Tuscany…..but that history is now gone….the flask symbolizes just the opposite for many…..something that Mr Cervantes said his father and many others tried to fight….they tried to protect it….but could not. Their flask business is still thriving but much smaller….the process has been mechanized so no need for so many employees. Apparently, the manufacturers employed a large population of Tuscan women…so when the concept was forgotten, so too was a large part of the Tuscan economy. There is a book written by the University of Florence on the entire history of the flask…probably something on line as well. They both spoke about it with sadness and with passion…they are very proud of their Tuscany.
I continued to eat my pasta never feeling as if I was making a dent so I conceded and rested my fork. Mr Cervantes looked over at my plate, “What, you don’t like? We will get you something else….what do you like?” I looked at him perplexed at first… “I speak a little English”…he smurked. I laughed and told him the pasta was great but I could not possibly eat it all….they both looked at me puzzled. The waitress, who was very attentive and spoke a bit of english, came to clear our plates…. “what, you don’t like?”…..before I could respond, Mr Cervantes answered for me…in Italian….they all laughed….I joined in…that I could understand.
The next course was fish..for me swordfish, bass and calamari….they ate the same plus shrimp. At this course, I could order vegetables or side dishes with the main course…maybe fagioli or fagiolini or insalate…patata…whatever..it would be ordered at this time. I choose a insalate mista. It was very simple…lettuga e pomodoi e olio d’oliva…..delicious!
The fish was great and I was happy to be able to eat every bite. As I picked at the salad, the bread basket was put in my place… “Do you like the bread of Tuscany?” Alisa asked. “The pane senza sale”. “Yes I do now…not at first…and it is great for soup.” I replied. Mr Cervantes then launched into a pane zuppa recipe with Minestrone….I understood everything that he said….wow…. I know how to speak recipes in Italian…they were impressed and asked why I could understand.
I told them about Elisabetta…. ….and that she has taught me traditional Italian recipes…and how I am totally into my cooking here…. and most of my speaking in Italian is about food. I told them her recipe for fagioli and they laughed….yes they knew…very traditional. Mr Cervantes said something in Italian, not a recipe…so I looked at Alisa….and she said, “Next week, we will pick you up in Firenze and we will take you to a restaurant to eat the BEST Bistecca Fiorentina in Tuscany. You are in Firenze where they only serve the tourists….next week you will see how we eat.” I was thrilled and vowed not to eat the day before so I could finish everything.
“Dolce? Would you like dolce?” I graciously declined so immediately the waitress asked if I would like café…. “Si.” “Limoncello, Mr. Cervantes?” “Si…limoncello.” She then departed and so did Alisa….to the restroom. Mr Cervantes looked at me…and I looked at him…as if we were in a standoff as to who would attempt the other’s language first…he broke the silence. “Limoncello? You like?” “I have never had it but I have always wanted to try.” I said realizing that I spoke too many words to have a shot at his comprehension.
Ok so this time I will keep it simple…. “is it dolce?” I asked… “sweet” …..”sweeta?” he said… “what is sweeta”…. “dolce” I said…and he said “sale?”…and I said no “dolce” and he said “sale” and this went on for a few minutes until we both cracked up and then to our great relief…Alisa returned. As soon as my café was done, the limoncello arrived. As I sipped the liquore, I could not help but wonder if it tasted so good because of what it was or because of who I shared it with…two people who I was not prepared to enjoy and connect with…perhaps this was my “chance”.
The waitress was very sweet and welcoming. For some reason, I love to ask people where they learned their english….the taxi driver watched movies and subtitles….others studied in school and spoke English whenever possible….the waitress learned by translating songs….I have yet to meet anyone who has gone to a language institute….their method is true love…..dedication….desire….and determination. I was inspired…
We left with the usual ciao grazies and drove back two blocks to the office to finish up with business. As Alisa showed Mr. Cervantes our website, we all digressed….into one of my favorite topics…. “salvage”. We spoke about the passion for reclaimed items in our country and especially those that come from and therefore, symbolize Europe…and represent the lifestyle that we all dream is commonplace. They laughed and spoke of the realities of their country… I tried not to hear…and we continued to share cultures….mindsets….and were so caught up in the fascination of the tales of our two countries that we forgot about my train. Oh well…they are every hour….
To ensure I would catch the 6pm train, we packed up the glass samples, I called the kids and off we went to the train station. It was a wild ride as Certaldo has a bit of traffic for its size….and Mr Cervantes is not patient driver….as most Italians. As he ranted at drivers, Alisa and I continued our conversation….trying to get in every last thought before our time was up. They both came into the station with me to ensure I would get the right ticket…I put my money in the machine and out came two tickets…no change….they hit the machine…pressed the help button a hundred times and spoke to each other passionately in Italian….they hit the machine again…looked around…and pressed the help button ten more times…more Italian. They were serious yet I could not help but see the charm in it all. This went on for a bit until we realized my second ticket was a credit to redeem in Firenze….oops.
We said our ciao grazies and piacere(nice to meet you) and as they were walking away, Mr Cervantes turned around and said something to me…and then Alisa turned around and said…he said we will see you next week. I smiled at the two of them….and for a second wondered if this was their routine with naïve American producers….to get their business….and he speaks perfect English….ha…..how funny would that be…..but no, because I was not naïve….I was prepared… and this was “chance”.
As the sun beat in the window, I was lulled by the sound of the tracks… I was on my way home. I processed the beauty of the day. I pondered how close I was to having my own mold for a bottle…we still had things to work out and I’m not sure we can afford it quite yet…but we are so close…to a dream I have had for fifteen years…so close that I know it will happen….at some point…and there is so much peace in knowing. Looking back at all the wasted yearning, I now know that I am exactly where I am suppose to be….at the exact time that I am suppose to be here….for everything has its time and this is now…as it rightly should be….and it could not have been then…..so the yearning was for not…or is it naught? Capito?
I need to continue to refine how to just be….and to know….and accept the moment for what it is….for it is what it should be…and I vow to welcome whatever is to follow in whatever form it comes…positive or negative…it won’t be easy and I won’t always get it right…but I vow to try.
Oh and the moments still came as I proceeded on my journey home….with a quick stop at Elisabettas to find an amazing selection of produce from Florence…spring is here!…and more fresh pasta from Christian…and…turning the corner to our flat….I found my kids…..my kids? Standing outside of the door….yelling, “mom!”. Loaded down with groceries and a mind full of the meal to come, I was not prepared to hear that they had locked us all out of the flat…we had no keys….at 8pm…..in Italy. As we sat on the steps of our building pondering what to do next……..I remembered my vow….and smiled sweetly as Emily noted…… “well at least we have good vegetables to eat”.
To be continued………