I felt my heart race in frustration as I slumped onto the green park bench. On one of the last days of our vacation, we had very little time to get down to Orvieto for lunch. While American restaurateurs feed their customers throughout the day, our favorite restaurants, those in Italy that cater to Italians, observe traditional mealtimes. The trattoria we wanted to go to would close after lunch and stay closed until 8:00, so we were hustling.
Juggling keys, glasses, and phones, we had hurried down our steps, dashed past the side of the church and under the archway, around the corner and strode across the tiny piazza. We raced through the stone gate and stopped in our tracks. We saw what was going on in the parking lot and groaned.
It was shopping day in Benano. As he does each Friday, Paulo had parked his white panel truck just outside the walls of the village. He was there to sell general merchandise to the ladies who don’t drive to town to get their provisions. Our car was behind the truck, blocked by the suddenly-not-so charming mobile mini-mart. We weren’t going anywhere anytime soon.
Instead of dashing off to the city, I retreated to the metal bench. A misaligned slat on the seat poked me in the rump and provoked even more annoyance.
Squirming for a comfortable position, I watched a man drive up to an empty parking spot. He went to the back of his car while his wife emerged from the side of the village and directed him as he wrestled a roll of chicken wire from the trunk.
I settled on the bench, which sat under one of the handful of trees that line the parking area. The gentle breeze rustled the leaves overhead.
My limited Italian made it easy for me not to eavesdrop or get wrapped up in our neighbors’ conversations, and for once, I was grateful. Their melodious voices, the clatter of dishes from a nearby open window, and the distant chug of a tractor harmonized into soothing background music.
Sempre via (“you’re always going away”), Giovanna tsk-tsked as she joined me on the bench. From her kitchen window, she had noticed how busy we had been all week. Or was she encouraging me to be content where I was?
Paulo bustled through the small crowd asking if anyone could break a big bill for him. When he wasn’t seeking change from bystanders, Paolo stood inside his truck and fetched whatever his customers wanted—laundry detergent, coffee, paper goods, bags of pasta—from the shelves that lined his market’s tiny aisle.
Un attimo (“just a second”), Paulo called out to us. Change procured and his last transaction completed, he slid the side panel door closed and slowly walked his elderly customer home, carrying her purchases in several tightly packed white plastic bags. In a bit more than un attimo, he bounded back down the hill to the truck. With a “grazie” to us for our patience, he closed his back doors with a loud creak and roared away to the next village.
We didn’t go to Orvieto that day. Instead, we picked through what we had in the kitchen: foccacia on the verge of being stale, the last of the sharp Pecorino cheese, and wilting salad. Of the tens of thousands of meals I’ve had in my lifetime, that one, flavored as it was with the contentment of staying put and the friendship and love we had seen in the parking lot, was one of my favorites.
For each new morning with its light,
For rest and shelter of the night,
For health and food, for love and friends,
For everything Thy goodness sends,
We offer thanks. Amen.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson