by Melinda Gallo

Pasta vendor at the mercato

I went to my favorite Pasta vendor at the mercato and picked a number. There are always crowds of people there because the pasta is so delicious. The first time I went there by myself a signora told me to make sure I try the panzerottini. Since then, I get them about once a week!

There are four people who work there: an older man and woman and a younger man and woman. Each time I go there, I always hope the older woman or the older man will help me because they are the nicest to me and smile a lot. They both have even talked to me about the weather and about what types of sauces to use on the different pastas when I ask. They treat me like any other customer and therefore make me feel less foreign...as if I do belong here.

When my number got called it was the younger man. I know that he's not from Florence. The more I'm here, the more I can tell different accents as well. It's interesting, but I'm so used to the Florentine accent that when I hear one that's different, I'm able to estimate where he's from. I know he's from south of Rome, but exactly, I have no idea. He's darker skinned with black hair...so another indication that he's probably from the South.

The first time I came to this vendor, he helped Dave and I as we stood in front of the glass counter looking at olives. He was very helpful and asked us what we wanted. He helped us get some Sicilian peppers and olives that were filled with semolina. A woman who was standing behind me got upset because he helped us without calling a number. (That's when I realized we needed numbers.) I felt bad, but I didn't ask for his help, I guess he just felt impelled to help us.

I asked him for a "pezzo grosso di parmigiano" (a big piece of Parmesan cheese). He picked out one of the smaller pieces, so I had to tell him, "No, un pezzo grosso." He then picked up an even smaller piece. I stood up on the step under the counter and said, "GROSSO!!" Since his hand kept going over all the small pieces and saying, "Questo?" I pointed at the window and directed him better. Finally, he picked the large one I pointed to.

The first time I came alone to buy pasta, I thought maybe he didn't understand my Italian (I mean being a foreigner that seems to be the logical answer each time), but in time, after going there so often, I realized that he might be hard of hearing. I asked him for "tortelli di patate" and he said, "OK, gnocchi di patate." I had to tell him again and point and he got it right.

On another day, there were two English men who came to buy pasta for themselves. They asked for "Tortelli con spinaci e ricotta per due" and pointed at the dish of them in the window. The man picked up a tray from the back, filled up a plastic container and showed them. "No, no, questi." the English man told him, pointing and sticking his face lower to look through the glass case and make eye contact with the man. The older man corrected them and said, "OK, i tortelloni!" (the big tortelli) The two looked at each other and asked what they could've said that would make him think they said those "tortelli". The problem was that on the sign, it said tortelli and not tortelloni, so it certainly wasn't their mistake. I should've told him that I think the vendor can't hear that well, but at that point, it was only a theory I had.

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