24 December 2011

The Vigilia (and Why You Should Pray for This Heathen)

Christmas Eve, or Vigilia in Italian, is widely known for the copious amounts of fish consumed.  Our American friend, L., wanted to make the dinner at her house this year.  Her plan was to get oysters for V. to shuck and some vongole, cozze, and gamberi for paella.  She ordered ahead of time from one of the fish markets in San Benedetto, fearing the Italian mammas would buy it all up within a 50km radius and she'd be left fish-less.  She then realized she’d never be able to make the half hour drive with her two small boys before closing time, emphatically stated by the woman on the phone as 10am.  We offered to go for her.

“You’re sure you’ll get there before 10a?  She was adamant.  They are closing at 10. In the morning.”

“Non ti preoccupare!  Don’t worry!   No problem.   V. gets up early.   I’ll call you once we’ve got them and are heading to you.”

This was before we met up with F. and E.  An aperitivo here, a winning scratch-off there, a lengthy wine filled dinner with an impromptu in-kitchen lesson on how to prepare the gallina ripiena di natale and maccheroni alla chittara at the hotel and an after-dinner drink at the bar accompanied by a scantily clad dancing duo, dj, and game of tombola (it’s like Bingo without the letters).  Eh, all that and it was still only midnight.  Non ti preoccupare.

We got up at 7:30.  Well, V. got up at around 6a.  I joined him closer to 8a.  No problem.  Plenty of time.

 We left at ten after nine.  We got stuck behind an Ape, those cute little three wheeled mini-pick up truck vehicles.  They stop being cute on the superstrada at the exact moment you realize they can’t go faster than 30km per hour.  It was 9:25a and we hadn’t hit Ascoli yet.  This might be a problem.

 “Why’d she have to order this stuff?”
 “Why’d she have to get it from San Benedetto?”
 “Couldn’t she just get it at the Oasis?” 
“There’s a fish market right off the Piazza del Popolo!”  

We were a little nervous.  I wondered if the Oasis hypermarket would still have any shellfish left.

We got stuck at the longest light in the universe as we realized we didn’t know exactly which street was the best to take us to the port.  We turned in what we thought was the general direction, through the maze of one way streets that is San Benedetto centro, my watch reading one minute to ten.

As V. pulled in, I hopped out, still shaking with the fear of ruining L.’s Vigilia dinner, just in time to get the adrenaline jolt that comes with realizing I have to speak Italian to someone who doesn’t know that I can’t conjugate verbs in front of people I don’t know and I joined the other latecomers rushing toward the automatic sliding door.  They, too, believed the lie that this place was absolutely, positively closing at ten.

Inside were maybe 8 other customers.

“Two kilos of clams.  Two kilos of mussels,” said one of the two women conferring up front.

“Oysters.  Six kilos.  Also mussels.  Three kilos,” said the next guy, repeating what he was being told over his phone.

It was my turn.  In halting Italian I said something like, “Um, I have an order? Two or three days ago? Lxxxxx Pxxxxxxxx.”  My Italian tends to take the tone of, like,  a sixteen year old cheerleader? From, um, Long Island? all up-rising statements that sound like questions?

“Nome?” asked the girl behind the window.

“Lxxxxxx Pxxxxxxxx,”  I said again, trying this time for authoritative and convincing.

Her fingers barely brushed top of the short stack of orders before proclaiming there wasn’t one, shrugging like it was no big deal and asking what I needed.

“I don’t know exactly.  Oysters [shit. Which ones. They’ve got three kinds. Two are French. I know she said the French ones.  Which ones? And how many clams? How many mussels?  There was something else.  Shit]. Oh. One minute.  I call.  Sorry, eh?”

The girl smiled and asked me to move over so she could help one of the crowd who’d entered behind me.

“Buooon giorrrrno,” L. trilled, delighted with what she was sure was my call telling her all was well.

“Oh, L., they don’t have your order.”

“Are you freaking kidding me?  I know people ordered.  You told them Pxxxxxxxx?

“Si si. Non c’è.  But it’s ok.  Just tell me what you need.  They have.”

“A box of the French oysters, gamberi for paella. The girl told me they have them! Cozze…..”

“Wait, wait….tell her!” I said and passed the phone thru the window.

For some reason, once the girl was on the phone, she was able to locate the order slip on her table.  She passed over the oysters, clams and mussels in one bag, the gamberi in another and I passed them back to V. so I could fish out the money to pay her.

“You want an invoice?  A receipt?”

Si. OK.

The woman behind me shouted her request for god-knew-what over my shoulder as another man loudly read off the available offerings over his phone.

The girl placed the receipt on the counter as I readied my euros, intent on handing over the coins first to avoid receiving even more change to add to my all ready bulging wallet.  I handed over the coins first.  Win!  She put a bag on top of the receipt and took my bills.  Thankful the ordeal was over, I picked up the bag, took the receipt and walked out.  With someone else’s cozze e vongole.

accidentally purloined vongole on my kitchen counter

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