Tales of a wandering lesbian

Salerno, take one

On our first full day in Salerno, we woke full of enthusiasm.  Carmine had pointed out the little coffee kiosk where we could buy bus tickets, and told us that today was market day.  Market day.  How fantastic.

So we got up at a decent hour, walked the two blocks to the bus terminal and located the coffee stand.  After a only slightly labored conversation with the owner, we had learned the details of the bus pass system.  1 Eruo 10 would buy us a 90 minute pass.  9 Euro 90 would buy us a week-long pass (Monday through Sunday).  We were feeling ambitious about our bus usage, so sprung for the week pass.

From the coffee hut pantomime, we understood that we’d only have to validate the little passes once in order to use them for the week.  Good deal.  We inquired as to the time and number of the bus that would take us “al centro,” and walked across the parking lot to wait.

It’s amazing how easily we stick-out.  Even with our dark hair and skin, our clearly Mediterranean profiles, my aunt and I are obvious foreigners.  “Straniere.”  This isn’t a tourist town, and we’re staying in an apartment.  In a place where locals live.   One quick look at our shoes is all it takes.  No heels.  No metallic.  Straniere.  You can watch the mental checklist as it’s rolled out.  We smile back and mumble, “giorno,” our mouths struggling to remember how to embrace this simplest of greetings.

The bus arrived, and we climbed on board.  I confirmed with the driver, “vai al centro?”  He just looked back.  I smiled hopefully.  A nod.  Good.  That would work.  Surely the market was in the city center.  Surely we’d know the city center when we saw it…

The buss pulled out, circling around the apartments and out toward the waterfront.  We drove past palm-laden colonnades, and pay-to-play beaches, some brilliant, others hollowed out, graffitied shells.  The bus filled the further we drove.  Little (I mean little) old ladies with shopping bags, and young women with suitcases.  Men of all ages with different styles of aviator glasses.  All piled in.

The Ant and I looked at each other, unsure now if we’d know when to get off.  The bus headed inland, and we huddled together trying to divine our relative location to the market by the number of women walking with shopping bags.

Once or twice we leaped up, ready to try our luck, only to find that the stop wasn’t what we’d hoped.  It’s just a street vendor selling beach balls, or a crowd of surly-looking men.  We sat back down.  After about 30 minutes, we decided it was time.  The area had become more commercial, and several older-women were queuing at the door. “Ding.” Someone rang the call button and the bus slowed jerkily to allow us off.

We walked away from the bus stop before peering around to get our bearings.  Our shoes would be enough of a giveaway.  We don’t need to be gawking in the middle of the street.

There was no market in sight, but a promising row of shops stretched off to the right.


A fish monger had his daily catches on display, and shop after shop window was filled with cheap clothing – most of it purple.  It was clear we didn’t know where we were, other than Salerno, and neither of us really knew how to ask where the market was.  So we walked.  Salerno is a big city, and we knew there was a lot more down the road in front of us, so we continued on.  Eventually we found ourselves at the waterfront again and took in the view of the harbor and brooding sky.


“Maybe it’s time we find a map.  Waddaya think?”  The Ant was looking a little skeptical about our ability to find anything.

“Okay, shall we head back in a couple of streets?”

Along with the plethora of clothing shops and tabacchi, Salerno is home to a zillion newsstands.  Books, magazines, papers, and every kind of reading material imaginable hangs on the exteriors of the beefy shops.

I thought I remembered the word for map, so tried with the young girl inside the first stand we came to.  “Giorno.  Una carta?”  Puzzled, she furrowed her brow at me.  An older woman appeared, speaking rapidly in Italian to her apparent daughter.

“What are you looking for?”  It’s seriously, disappointing when I try to speak Italian, and after three words, the local can tell which is my native language.  I’m sure it didn’t help that I was using the Spanish word for “map.”

“A map of the City.”  The girl shook her head, and her mother shushed her, walking out and around the front of the shop.  She returned with a shrink-wrapped tourism guide to the area.

“Maps for all the area in here,” she said, nodding and gesturing grandly with her arms.

“Oh good, grazie!”

“Aspetta.”  The daughter wasn’t all convinced.  She took the book from her mother who was clearly displeased with the interruption.  “You are looking for a street map?”

“Si.  Of Salerno.”

“That is not in here.”  The mother now seemed in agreement.  This was not what we were looking for.  They didn’t have anything like that.

Really?  No map of the city?  Not good.  We’d have to keep looking, but I wasn’t about to waste this exchange.

“Dove una pizza piu buona?”  Locals are the best food guides.  There are lots of pizza shops, but they’re not all equal.

“Mama!  Una pizza bunoa?”  The mother came back from returning the guidebook to its out-of-sight location.  They had a quick exchange, in which much pointing and nodding occurred.  I only caught “pizza” and “forno.”

“Come.”  The mother was leading us into the street.  “Alla sinistra, there at the bikinis.”  A great big shop sign showing people’s hips in bikinis was at the second corner down.  “There e alla destra.”  I love speaking half and half.  Usually we can make it work, and this was working beautifully.

“Ho capito.  Grazzie mille!”

We smilled and exchanged “ciao”s.  In two minutes, we were walking into a hole-in-the-wall ristorante and pizzeria.  The front of the shop was dominated by the counter, standing sentinel over the seating area and oven.  It took a few minutes to get anyone’s attention.  It was clearly still early.  It wasn’t even one o’clock yet.  Another dead giveaway that we aren’t Italian.

On the way to our little table, I found myself staring.  The beautiful, wood-fired oven was a really, really good sign.  We’d be eating well.

As we were sitting down, there was a little commotion at the door.  Our friend from the newsstand had tracked us down.  “We have, una mappa.  Dopo, dopo.”  She was gesturing wildly.

“Si, dopo!  Grazie!”  They’d found us a map.  We’d return after the meal to retrieve it.  It’s not like we needed anyone to announce to the rest of the place that we were tourists, but at least now it was all out on the table.  And now we had a little bit of cred with the owners.  We were under the guidance of the newsstand lady.

Our cute-as-a-button waiter came over with his little pad of paper and the fun began.  We picked a pizza off the menu and ordered water.  Then I looked over his shoulder as he ran down the list of pasta specials.  I’m pretty good with food words.  I love food, so I’ve made these vocab words a priority.  Still, there are regional variations that can leave me totally puzzled.  I recognized a couple of the pasta dishes,  confirmed they contained no meat, “senza carne?” and thanked our patient waiter.

We waited, and watched.  The oven was right behind the Ant, giving me a fantastic view as they made the pizza.


The dough was rolled out, then coated with tomatoes, olive oil, salt and pepper, cheese and “rucola,” or “rocket.”  I wasn’t familiar with this green, but evidently it’s fairly common here.  And it’s tasty on pizza.  I was even able to get some video of the process.

The pizza stayed in the oven for maybe 8 minutes, probably less, and came out bubbly and chewy and delicious.

We shared this one and waited for our pasta.

Mine was a rigatoni with eggplant and pomodoro.  The Ant had gnocchi that was almost a soup.  They were both lovely.

Against the odds, we scarfed down every last drop, and considered dessert.

“Qualcosa dolce?”  We needed something sweet to finish the meal.

“Torta?”  Cake, perfect.

“Si!  E due caffe.”  I mean if we’re going to do this thing, we’re going to do this thing right.

We never really figured out was was in the torta, but it was tasty, and we were happy.  As we nursed our coffees, we watched the wait staff welcome an older gentleman and lovingly bring him plate after plate of food.  We watched as our waiter sat down with his daughter and the rest of the family as they fed her lunch.

We finished up, paid the bill and headed out to return to the newsstand.  Horror slowly dawned on us as we walked the two blocks.  It was after 1:30.  The stand was closed.  And we didn’t really know where we were.  It wasn’t that we were concerned about our whereabouts, we just felt terrible that our friends had gone to the trouble of finding a map, and tracking us down.  And now we couldn’t even say thank you!  Slightly dejected, we walked back toward the water, taking note of where we were.  Hoping that we’d be able to find the stand among all the others.  These people were like our family.

I think, if we were judging Italianness based on love of food and family, the Ant and I would be indistinguishable.  It’s just our damn shoes.

Bookmark and Share

1 comment

1 Big Mama { 06.13.10 at 2:28 pm }

Not to worry about the shoes if your love is visible!!

Leave a Comment