Mio marito (my husband) and I decided to sit at a table located on the terrazzo outside Bar Centrale, hoping the beige awnings would provide some protection from the impending rain.
I chose the tavolo (table) in the far corner thinking we would read the Siena giornale (newspaper); the cool metal of the silver chairs feeling good on the back of my legs as I sat down on this warm humid day.
We wanted to enjoy a leisurely Cafe Americano, espresso luongo (long) and my husband had been tasked with retrieving the dolce; a rather large freshly made crescente (croissant) stuffed with crema al cioccolato (chocolate cream) and a smaller version with crema and a light dusting of icing sugar presented themselves a few minutes later.
I settled on the smaller version, given my skirts were once again feeling that familiar stretch of having too much Tuscan food and wine…albeit with no regrets, experiencing nothing less than sheer bliss as I bit into this fluffy decadent piece of heaven.
Nothing will provide more of an authentic study of the Italian culture than to sit and watch the Italians go about their morning routines; some wearing the latest fashions while struggling to stay a foot on the cobblestones and those working in the local vineyards and olive groves wearing less stylish, yet sensible clothing.
I often think if Pisano, Signorelli, Michelangelo etc…had lifted up their oil masterpieces and shook the frames of their paintings, the people in them may have fallen to the ground and landed here in Castelnuovo Berardegna.
Glimpses of the past, lie in the local faces; round faces, sparkling dark brown eyes, others with narrow thinner faces, angular noses and piercing eyes, dark brown hair, and then those with blue eyes and golden or brown hair.
I am surrounded by “living human art” I thought as I finished my dolce.
With the Cafe Americano and espresso luongo having hit the spot, I suggested we pick up some dolci (sweets) for tomorrow. “ I’d hate to have our zucchero (sugar) levels dip,” I said.
We also had friends arriving the next afternoon and I knew they would appreciate consuming some of the finest locally made dolce in Tuscany from Gli Antichi Sapori (ancient flavors).
In our “sensible shoes,” we set out with the cool grey stones of Via Roma clicking beneath us and headed off in the direction of the Pasticceria.
We had discovered Gli Antichi Sapori, a tiny pastry shop in Castelnuovo Berardenga last fall.
It still seems a mystery why we had never noticed it before as it sits in close proximity to the Tabacchi, a shop where we buy notions from time to time.
I remember walking into Gli Antichi Sapori and having to suppress my inner-child which was urging me to press my nose and hands against the gleaming display case.
With a quick visual survey of the fresh Panforte sitting on the second shelf, the large selection of dolce displayed neatly on trays, the freshly baked pani (breads) in wicker baskets and the jars filled with dolce; I knew I had fallen into “dolce splendore” (sweet splendor).
Patrizia the young woman working in the shop was paying close attention to two rather elegantly dressed gentleman, listening earnestly to their requests; their aging hands tightly grasping their white paper bags as they left. The bags hung heavily from the weight of their purchases and they had matching grins …sweet contentment.
“We do not remember days, we remember moments.” – Cesare Pavese
Once they had left Patrizia turned and acknowledged us with a kind nod; her round face with no makeup was beautiful, she smiled pleasantly and her soft brown eyes seemed…so familiar.
An angel from Giovanni Pisano facades in the Museum of Opera del Duomo shaken to earth?
Patrizia spoke clearly in Italian, slowly and patiently as she described and pointed to the fresh loaves of bread, the type of grains used, “traditonale” “non-sale“(unsalted) and there were many.
“Pane Morbido” (soft bread), “mezzo” (half) I said, as you can purchase half a loaf of bread in Tuscany.
Holding a pane in each hand Patrizia squeezed them slightly so I could see the texture of the bread I wanted.
With the smell of fresh baking filling the air I noticed the noci (walnut) cookies my husband likes in one of the large jars.“Sei”(six) I said pointing to the noci cookies.
Finally, the dolce…we had ordered enough traditional dolci to warrant a gold paper tray. Patrizia placed the dolci so carefully on the paper tray, ensuring that not one crumb is not lost.
“Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work.”- Aristotle
As we left the shop I met one of the gentlemen who had been in Gli Antichi Sapori buying his dolce. Raising one eyebrow and giving me a quick nod, he gave me the impression he was impressed by the number of my purchases.
And then we both smiled knowingly – sweet contentment.