A pink taxi

A pink taxi

August 5, 2010

Bacci di San Remo

Every summer when I am in France,  tuesday and saturday  mornings , we are jolted awake very early and we dress in a frenzy. We then voyage in a caravan of cars and cross the border to San Remo in Italy for market day.

You may remember San Remo for its mention of it in The Talented Mr Ripely movie. I am not sure it was filmed in San Remo but it perfectly conveyed the atmosphere of a glorious San Remo in the 1950s, with its jazz festival and its American tourists. Today, perhaps the only tourists that visit San Remo are our family. San Remo is an Italian coastal city on the border of France, and its grand hotels and casino of the heyday are closed or seem sleepy.

We rendez vous at Cafe Sabrina, placing orders of cappuccinos, nutella croissants and panini di mozzarella pomodoro. Why are all tourists convinced that they can speak Italian? In my family, some claim to speak it better than others. Whether it was a year spent in Peruggia or a  month in Florence (with a full year of Italian 101 and managing to read Calvino), we all add our meager vocabulary, some words of Spanish and French that we Italianize and we are talking business.

After breakfast and caffeine indulgence at Cafe Sabrina, we split into groups: those who need their annual haircuts (my two sons only go to Giusepe, from august to august, their hair is long), those who want to buy an Italian handbag or belt, those who check on the Hogan store again and again, those who go to the toy store to build their plastic figurines collection, those who pass at the elegant pastry store to buy "petits fours" (biscotti) and fig tarts.

The patriarch has a mission and for that he requires his shopping cart on wheels and a gourmet, preferably a male who will carry excess weight. But he also welcomes his daughters with their strollers because he can off load fruits, or cheese on them. He takes us to the "mercato" which is a covered gastronomical labyrinth of fruit, vegetable stalls and butchers, cheese stalls and all the fine foods Italian grocers sell: bottled tunas, handmade pastas to drop in boiling water for 3 mins, sun dried tomatoes, olive oils, balsamic vinegars, dried meats, pastas in all shapes....

My father goes directly to the cheese stall to buy the buffalo and the burrata mozzarella, the parmesan cheese in large chunks, then the farm eggs, the summer fruit, the Italian tomatoes (they come in all shapes too). Can you imagine an Italian meal without tomatoes? On some occasions, he will purchase some cepe (Italian mushrooms) that are as costly as caviar: in fancy restaurants, waiters tend to drizzle some gratings of it and charge an arm and a leg. Here we savour them by the mouthful, thanking the patriarch and matriarch for the feast.

I am happy to accompany one group or another. I can steal a macchiato here, a biscotti there, a cappuccino here and sometimes a gelato before lunch as we head back to our beloved France. Moreover, on the high way, at the toll, the kids have learned to answer the infamous recording: arrivederci! One day perhaps  the third generation will also study Italian or find themselves, like us, pretending to speak Italia.


1 comment:

  1. The season for us starts early,so we visit San Remo early,sit at Sabrina's a couple on our own.The owner who has become our friend asks about the whereabouts of the children,and the latest arrival of the new grandchildren.
    Little by little,our seats at the cafe multiply to almost 16 at the height of the season.
    As a young boy of ten,I used to accompany our family driver into the crowded streets of old Beyrouth.My mother would send him to buy groceries from the various "souks" of the city,namely Souk Al Nourieh known for it's vegetables and fruits,Bab Idriss known for it's cheeses,oils and olives!Souk AlIfranj was known for its expensive delicacies.I would trail our driver,who used to put the purchases in the straw basket on the back of the strong porter,who used to do his job for few liras a ride.One of my favorite Paul Geragossian paintings is on of a porter surrounded by women in the middle of a Beiruiti souk.
    These trips to shop became a tradition and enjoyment for me until today,but most importantly my visits to the San Remo Mercato,where over the years,I made friends with Sengora Polla of the haberdashery shop at the entrance of the Mercato,to the couple where I buy my Parmeggiano Reggiano,the buffala,the Burrata and the delicious carpaccio.Not to forget the family where I buy the free range eggs,the wild ceppe,and the delicious figs.Last but not least is the couple that supply me with the fruits and vegetables and green;and exchange with me the few words of English and Italian.
    I used to do my main shopping in the Marche of Menton,placed in a beautiful old building of the turn of the century.My butcher Bernar supplies me with the best meats,poultry and eggs.Outside the Marche building,the peasants sell the products of their little potagiers,the best organic jams,fruits and salads.

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