Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Italian Vino--the Best Deal in Italy

June 20, 2005, 11:47 AM, Somewhere Between Siena and Empoli, Italy

Well, it had to happen. I knew I wouldn’t get through an Italy trip without over-indulging with the vino. It was as inevitable as the little spat with Kathy, and just as unpleasant. Here is how it happened.

After Kathy appeared in the garden, we left for the walled city, and stopped in this bar just above Piazza del Campo for a pre-dinner beer. (In hindsight, maybe that wasn’t such a good idea because I’d already decided it was a pasta night which meant it was a vino night.) But I only had a small beer, and then we went walking through the winding cobble stoned streets, looking for some cathedral named after St. Catherine. (I don’t even know who St. Catherine is, so I really didn’t particularly care about finding her church, but I was trying to keep in mind Kathy’s admonition about us always doing what I want to do.) Anyway, we had trouble finding it, and we were getting hungry so we decided to look for a restaurant that we’d found earlier in the afternoon that had Spaghetti Carbonara on it—a dish Kathy pleasantly remembered from a previous trip to Tuscany. And believe it or not, we found it again, even though it was off the main route. And what a setting! It didn’t look like much from the street—almost like a hole in the wall. But when we walked through the restaurant to the terrazzo, oh, my God!!! It was like a Tuscany movie set. The terrazzo was built on a hill, and it looked out all over the Tuscany countryside. Honeysuckle vines and other greenery grew along both open sides of the terrazzo, and the perfume of the flowers wafted in with every breeze. The sun was going down and the sky was the most gorgeous colors of blue and pink and orange. It had started to sprinkle a bit as we’d entered the restaurant, but the sun was still shining. Still, the storm came upon us almost as soon as we sat down at one of the tables at the end of the terrazzo, so we moved back to the next row of tables. At first the rain was just breathtaking as it slanted across the panorama in front of us while the sun was still shining. But then the wind came up, blowing the rain onto the terrazzo. The waiters came out of nowhere and began to close up the terrazzo with a clear plastic curtain, obscuring the view, but keeping us dry. Fortunately, the rain didn’t last long, and they opened up the curtain, and we had our view back. By this time, we’d ordered wine and pasta. Kathy got her carbonara, and I ordered penne del casapomodoro sauce with pesto. Yum!!!! It was awesome. Ate every bite of it. (They know just how to serve the perfect amount of pasta in Italy; back home, I can never finish it because they give you too much.) And here is where I made my fatal…well, not exactly fatal, but you know what I mean…mistake. I ordered a half-liter of white wine. It was only 3 Euros—the best deal in all of Italy!!! And I paced myself, drinking it all, but very slowly. (Dinners in Italy take hours because everything is so unhurried, and they expect you to take your time and enjoy it.)

There were no worries last night about separate checks because to make up for the two times I put everything on my charge card, it was Kathy’s turn to pay. And we’d already made sure they took credit cards, so dinner was very relaxing—and inexpensive, by Italy standards. We knew exactly how much our bill should come to, even figuring in the requisite “service charge” they all tack on. And it should’ve been around 27 Euros. Well, damned if the check didn’t arrive, and the total amount was 40.50!!! We knew there was no way our dinner could’ve cost that much, and Kathy refused to sign the charge slip. We asked for an itemized total, and the waiter disappeared. When he came back, he said, “Is not possible.”

So Kathy said, “Well, it’s not possible for us to sign this credit card slip then.” We asked for a menu, then wrote down everything we’d ordered and how much it was. With the 10% service charge, our total came to 26 and change. We showed it to the waiter, and he disappeared again. The time was about 9:40. I told Kathy that if he hadn’t returned to our table with a correct bill, we were leaving at ten. I was just getting sick and tired of having restaurants try to pull stuff over on us—like the electricity going out so they couldn’t take a charge card, or the place in Pietrasanta when Kathy’s card “wouldn’t work.”

(At a shop in Siena that afternoon, when I bought those Murano earrings, the shop girl told me her charge machine wouldn’t work and asked if I could pay cash. I told her no, that if her charge machine didn’t work, I wouldn’t be buying the earrings. Funny enough, she got it to work.) Well, about five minutes later, the waiter appeared, handed Kathy 15 Euros and apologized, saying they’d gotten the tables mixed up. Hmmmm…very interesting. Of course, it could’ve been an honest mistake, but in the light of all these little incidents involving our charge cards, it certainly makes me wonder. But I’m glad we stood our ground. I don’t know if they think we’re stupid American women to be taken advantage of or what (especially in light of our wine intake), but we showed them! Hey, we come from Foley stock, no doubt some of the biggest tightwads that ever lived. No way are they going to cheat us out of our hard-earned money.

Okay, so we’re walking home, and I don’t know if it was the fresh air or the fact that we’d won a victory against the Evil Euro Empire, but suddenly, the vino took control. Kathy said I was fine in the restaurant, but as we walked through the streets of Siena, I was laughing—who knows about what, because I sure can’t remember—and Kathy had to hold onto me to keep me from tripping over my own feet. (Hey, I’m not proud of this, but I’m telling you like it is.) But let’s just say I was in an extremely cheerful mood all the way back to the hotel.

Once inside our room, my memories are a little murky. I vaguely remember taking my jewelry off and undressing. I must’ve taken my hair down from its French braid, but I don’t remember it. I just know it was down from what happened later. I laid down on the bed, and suddenly I got really hot. And yes, the room was spinning a bit. I remember asking Kathy for a wet washcloth, and she said, “There aren’t any washcloths. Europeans apparently don’t use washcloths.” So, I said, “Well, get me a wet dishtowel then.” Next thing I know, Kathy has covered my face with one of those soft linen towels that hang over the bidet. It felt good on my flushed skin, but the room was still dipping and spinning. And that’s when I knew it was time to make an acquaintance with the toilet bowl. And so I did. That being said, though, I’m glad to tell you that I did not have an “up close and personal” relationship with the cold tiled floor, as those of you who know me well may remember from a couple (just a couple!) past experiences. So, I count myself lucky.

I went back to bed and slept straight through until eight o’clock, getting up only once to get a blanket out of the wardrobe because I’d grown cold in the air-conditioned room.
This morning, except for a slight headache, I felt fine, but I didn’t feel much like eating breakfast. I forced myself to eat a small croissant and some yogurt because I knew I’d be starving later if I didn’t. And I am. I’m ready to eat again. But one thing is for sure. I don’t think I’ll be drinking any more vino on this trip. No beer either. It’s been over two weeks since I’ve had a Coke. Maybe I’ll have one with my pizza tonight. It is a pizza night, after all.


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