October 23, 2008

La lavanderia a gettone

Filed under: food,language,travel — origamifreak @ 5:15 am
Tags: ,

10/22/2008 10:39 PM

I just had a Very Exciting Evening, in which I had a Laundromat Adventure, and then afterward had dinner all’ristorante. Last night I had pizza with Mickael and Lorenza and their daughter Sabrina, who is very bright and cute and about 2 or 3. We talked for a long time about jobs and families, and all kinds of things (well, Mickael and Lorenza and I did – Sabrina went to bed soon after dinner), and I’m afraid I imposed on their hospitality longer than I should have, because I was tired this morning, and I imagine they must have been, too! (Note to self: check the watch more often and scoot by 10:30 at the latest – especially when visiting people who are usually woken up early by a cheerful sprite jumping on them.)

While I was there, Lorenza kindly called the hotel for me and asked about laundry arrangements (I packed exactly enough clothes to get me through with one wash on Wednesday.) They confirmed that there is no laundry service, and Lorenza was pretty sure that the only laundry in S. Michele all’Adige is a dry cleaner. So, being the awesome person that she is, she raided their change jar and lent me a bag of 0.5, 1, and 2 euro coins (30 euros of them!) and explained where the laundromat is in their town, Mezzolombardo.

She also has been helping me to find contacts to see if my family can begin to locate cousins in northern Treviso. A friend of hers had supplied the phone number for the local parish priest, and she called and chatted with him about it. He gave her his email address, and said he’d ask around to see if anyone thought they were related to my grandparents. Although he offered to meet me on Sunday, he was unclear how it would work, since I don’t speak Italian, and that’s the only language he speaks (other than Latin, presumably). Too bad I didn’t switch to Latin when I started high school, huh? Anyway, the contacting has been started, and maybe by the time my siblings are ready for a trip back here, we’ll have real, live distant cousins to meet.

So this evening I left work around 17:45 and got stuck in a ?traffic jam? In which a usual 5-minute drive back to the hotel took 20 minutes. There were a lot of vehicles coming in to town, and a lot going out, and they were getting bogged down at the traffic circles. I wonder if something like a game was going on? I mean, this is a town, well, village, in which there are as far as I can tell exactly two grocery stores (one tiny, one small), and no laundromat, so how on earth can they manage a traffic jam?

Anyway, when I got back I was tempted to skip the laundry because I was tired and I *could* actually manage through tomorrow, but knowing that I was supposed to go out to dinner with the people from work, I wouldn’t have time to wash anything to wear on Friday. So I shoved all the dirty clothes in my suitcase and drove to Mezzolombardo and circled the little mall until I found the laundry. There were exactly two things in English about this experience: 1) The sign on the door that said “Coin-op Laundry,” and 2) the “Start Cycle” button on the washers. I’m starting to see that what my guide book blithely describes as an Italian love of borrowing words can really lull the traveler into a false sense of security.

When I got there a lady was finishing her laundry, saw me studying the instructional poster, and jumped up to help. Most everyone here is really friendly and helpful, especially the women, who are really kind and go out of their way to be friendly and helpful. So this lady, once I explained apologetically, “non capisco – non parlo Italiano,” actually pointed to each step on the chart, then ran over to the washers and acted out each step with exaggerated clarity. I asked if she spoke German? Nope. French? Nope. Spanish? Nope. ….. Japanese? Definitely not. J But she made herself really clear in Italian, and it helped me a lot. She was even able to convey that the machines include soap automatically, based on the type of cycle selected. (Wow, that’s pretty cool. I wonder if US front-loaders in laundromats can do that, now?)

She left and I sorted my clothes into a light and a dark load, and fed the euros into the slots. The instructions pretty clearly said to select the type of cycle, put in the money, and press “Start Cycle.” And yes, the little red button said “Start Cycle.” In English. But I couldn’t figure out why the machines wouldn’t start, and it didn’t seem like the door wanted to close, either. While I was puzzling over this, another nice lady showed up, and she didn’t speak anything but Italian, either. She showed me that I needed to slam the door to make it shut.

She stayed for a while and asked me how I came to be there in Mezzolombardo, and with the help of the pathetically thin dictionary in the back of my Berlitz book, I managed to explain that I was working in S. Michele all’Adige for the week, that I’d been here since Saturday, that I was leaving for Treviso on Friday, and flying home on Monday. Good thing I spent a couple of commutes last week going over and over the days of the week on the Berlitz CD…

She had a box of Friskies under her arm, and I couldn’t figure out how to tell her that I have cats too, and my cell phone that has photos of them was back at the hotel, so I couldn’t show her. I was sorry about that, because she was really nice, and I think she might have liked to see pictures of my American cats. Plus, I would have learned the word for “cat,” which is NOT in the Berlitz book. In a pinch if I had to, I would just say “due gatti” and hope that my Espanliano was close enough. It seems to work about 75% of the time, which is impressive, given that my Spanish is terrible.

While I had my nose in the book trying to figure out how to tell her I had cats too, she said “ciao” and left, and I was alone for a while studying the phrase book when a third lady came in. She brought some wet laundry from home to dry. Although by this time I didn’t need help, she stuck around and wanted to chat, too, and shared an espresso candy with me. When it was time to put my clothes in a dryer she insisted that I combine the lights and darks, so I did.

She told me her son goes to school in S. Michele all’Adige, and when I explained the kind of work I do, she wrote her email on my notepad, and said she’d write for Christmas, and I gave her a card so she could have my email. I think she asked how we’d read each other’s email, and I wrote on a notepad, “Google translation,” which amused her greatly. Her laundry bag was from Ikea, and I told her “me gusto Ikea” (there’s that Spanish again), and she asked if there was Ikea in America, and I said, “Si, molto Ikea.” Which I’m pretty sure is not grammatically correct, but she got my point.

After more attempts to talk about things, some successful, some not (Note to self: next time I go somewhere that I’ll need to talk to the natives, bring a real dictionary), her laundry finished, and she gave me another candy, a hug, and told me “arrivederci” before leaving. I’ve noticed that people make a definite distinction between that and “arrivederla which I think means a more permanent “good bye.”

My clothes were dry about half an hour later, and I drove back to the hotel. By this time it was 20:00, and I was tired. And hungry. Mickael and Lorenza had mentioned they thought the restaurant across the street was nice, so I wandered over there to see. What at first looked like the entrance was closed and dark, but next-door there was a parking lot with some cars, and a couple kissing, and on closer inspection, it was also the restaurant, and looked like the main entrance. I think the first door was probably the original restaurant.

Anyway, I went in, and the guy by the cash register was mildly frustrated to be faced with someone who didn’t speak Italian. I can’t say I blame him. There weren’t very many people there, and I privately wondered if I was too late to get dinner, although it didn’t make sense, because I’d understood from my guide book that Italians eat late.

He said to wait, and eventually went and got the main waiter named Pepe, who spoke enough English to manage me quite well. He started to give me a menu, then studied me carefully, and asked what I like to eat. “Everything,” I answered. “Pasta?” he asked. Carne and vegetale?” I asked back. Later I figured out that the correct word is “l’ortaggo,” and I’d probably asked for “meat and plants,” but he understood and suggested a grilled fillet over vegetables, which turned out to be delicious. Did you kniw you can grill radiccio? I did not. Now I do, though! He suggested a glass of local red wine, which I accepted, and I asked for l’aqua naturale, which is mineral water, not fizzy. A colleague told me that you can also ask for l’aqua lischia, which means “smooth water.”

I spent a long time eating and reading my phrase book, looking up nouns as they occurred to me, and verifying them, their articles, how to construct plurals, and making a stab at conjugating “to go.” (There are only 5 verbs conjugated in this book: to talk, to sell, to sleep, to be, and to have.”) Then I moved on to the food section, reviewing the names for fruits and vegetables, until I discovered the compiled food section (which has words that aren’t even in the dictionary in the back), and amused myself for a long time, guessing the meanings of all the food nouns. The restaurant started filling up around 9pm. I’m not kidding. 9pm, on a Wednesday. So they apparently like to eat REALLY late, here.

Eventually Pepe showed back up and asked if I’d like dessert. “It depends,” I said. “What do you have?” He started to describe something in Italian, and when I offered him the tiny dictionary in the back of my phrase book he indicated that there was no way he was going to be able to make out such tiny writing. He said, “I can bring you something very nice-a.” And I said, “OK, you bring me something nice. I trust you.” (He’d been right about the entrée, after all.) I went back to playing my “guess the food” game, and after some time he showed up with an amazing creation that was simple, but very tasty. I think it was crème fraiche sweetened and flavored with vanilla, in a pool of a tart apricot conserve and thin pieces of dark chocolate with treble clefs printed on them, broken and scattered over the plate, and two thin cookies, one between two scoops of the crème fraiche and one stuck in the top. There was a very light dusting of dark chocolate powder over all.

I finished this while continuing my food vocabulary game, and was amused when I got to gli aromi and guessed “something smelly,” which turned out to be herbs, and therefore exactly right. I was perplexed to learn that a pork shoulder is a bowl, i.e. la coppa. I mean, I think of a bowl every time I see a pork shoulder, don’t you? Not.

After I finished dessert a lady offered me coffee, and I counter-asked, the? And she brought me some, and then I had to say, “scuzi, latte, per favore?” and she brought that, too. While drinking these, I learned that there are two words for lamb, l’abbacchio and l’agnello, and one word for mutton, il montone. There are two words for “suckling pig,” il maialino da latte (which I’d guessed was a little pig associated with milk, having seen il maiale just above it), and la porchetta. I wonder if one word is for *male* baby pigs, and the other for *female* ones? After all, they distinguish between a hen, la gallina, and il pollo (chicken)… ( I didn’t see a word for capon, but I bet they have one.)

One thing that really annoyed me among this vocabulary is that Prunus persica (i.e. the peach) is la pesca, while il persico is a fresh water perch, and of course a fish is il pesce. I don’t know what they’re thinking, using those words for those things, because I’ll never be able to keep them straight.

Eventually I finished my the and after waiting for a while longer for the check and revisiting in my book how to ask for it, I saw two other diners who had finished and were waiting by the door. Pepe told them to go to the cashier at the front, so I did the same. The lady even took my carta di credito, and the tab was 31 euros. So, do I think that this meal was 6 times better than my unfiltered beer, 4 hot dogs, and 2 overcooked pea pods? Um, yes. Actually it was more like 10x better, so I suppose it was a comparative bargain. By the way, guess what I discovered tonight that il wurstel is? Yup, you’re right. “Hot dog.”


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