S OS with S Sorrensen

This shop has everything I love – freshly baked pane, local cheese, tomatoes that squish rather than crunch, caffe ristretto, beer and wine. The owner speaks no English but is beaming with pleasure and anticipation as I taste some soft cheese he has sliced from a large round.

‘Bellissimo,’ I say. (I do that special hand gesture. Impossible to say ‘bellissimo’ and not.)

Everything is here. I have no need to go to anywhere else. Except perhaps to an ATM occasionally. Okay – a lot. It’s not that I’m using a lot of money (food and booze are cheap in Tuscany) but you’re lucky to find an Italian ATM that works.

A lot of things don’t work in Italy. Like Alitalia, the national airline. My travelling companion and I caught a plane from Rome to Florence (as you do) one wet morning a few days ago. We’d been travelling for days. (It’s a long way from Nimbin to Rome.) But we’d arrived in Roma with our spirits and luggage intact. Just one little 35 minute flight to go and we’d be close to our destination – a villa on a hill overlooking the village of Martignana, 25 kilometres west of Florence. (I know, I know. I have bruises from pinching myself.) We were flying with Alitalia.

Sitting at gate 18 with 10 minutes till boarding, a crackling voice came over the airport speakers announcing that the boarding gate had been changed to number 39 at the opposite end of the airport. We scramble with the crowd to gate 39 and get on board. Then we wait.

And wait.

Departure is delayed 20 minutes waiting for the baggage to be loaded. (Siesta time I guess.) When the aircraft wheels finally hit the tarmac in Florence, the Italian passengers clapped and cheered. (Knowng their own airline, they obviously appreciated the flight actually getting there.)

But wait, there’s more...

At the baggage carousel we discovered our bags were saturated. Books wrecked, clothes wet and stained.

Italians don’t do good airline. (They do good cheese.)

The soft cheese is delicious. I may buy some. The old bloke behind the counter is cutting into another big block of cheese and I hear the words ‘formaggio’ and ‘duro’. I figure – hard cheese.

He hands me a slice. It’s tasty, scrumptious in fact, but I prefer the softer cheese.

Not only do the planes run late, so does nightfall.

Last night, I was sipping a local organic wine while watching the sun set from the porch of the villa on the hill. The smog that covers Europe made the sunset especially glorious. The liquid gold light played over the Tuscan hills, the villas sparkling like gems set in a patchwork of olive groves and vineyards. (Tuscany really is beautiful.)

The time? 8.30pm. The sun, understandably, is loath to leave these lush hills.

I point to the soft cheese and ask, “Quant’e?” (That means ‘how much?’ I hope. My awkward but sincere attempts at Italian language get a lot of laughs.)

But the old man ignores my question and is talking up a Italian storm while slicing a salami. I can’t understand what he’s saying but I’m loving the vibe.

He places the sliced salami and a slice of the soft cheese I like between two slices of his home-baked bread. He hands me the tasty package with a smile as warm as the Tuscan sun.

It’s delicious. There’s no charge for the sandwich of course, but I decide I’ll buy some of the soft cheese.

Ah, beautiful Tuscany. In this little shop, with the old man and the sandwich, I’m in heaven.

“Grazie mate,” I say.

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