Marmite, the food of the gods

(image by hodgers on Flickr)

After the disastrous meal on Saturday, there was a rather more cheerful outing on Monday, when I met up with Claire, who runs one of the boards that keeps me sane here.  She’s resident in Rome, and we had a few hours of window shopping along the Via Corso.  I completely failed in my family Christmas shopping mission, but we had a lovely afternoon, and I managed to get some Estee Lauder Idealist, which my skin will thank me for.  My pocket won’t – it was €56.18, and that was with a 15% discount.  Yikes.  (It’s about 30 quid in the UK.)

Late on in the afternoon we ended up in Castroni’s, which is the most fabulous little treasure trove.  Upstairs is a floor full of delicious Italian stuff, including clear perspex boxes of sweets set into the floor (display purposes only, but lots of fun and very pretty).  However, if you head downstairs, there is a cave full of imported goods from every corner of the globe.  This is very unusual in Italy, which is a country that is pretty set in its ways, food-wise.  If it’s not produced here, you’re unlikely to get hold of it.  There were actual shrieks as I discovered Marmite and Sharwoods Biryani sauce on the shelves.  Claire was in similar raptures over Heinz tomato soup.  It felt like the end of rationing after the war (I imagine – I’m not that old), and, in a giddy daze, I happily handed over €5.60 for a small (small!) jar of Marmite, which just shows how much I’ve missed it.  Ah, expat life, when these are such things as dreams are made of.

On my return to Salento, there was a note under the windscreen of my car, which I had left in the car park at the bus station.  Apparently the parking is not, as I had thought, free, and I owed money for 3 days’ parking.  Bah.  I therefore went into the office to pay.  This turned into a hilarious farce of epic proportions.  Not only did the 3 guys in the office not speak English, they spoke dialect, so communication was, to say the least, painful.  Also, they couldn’t agree how much I should pay.  They started off being quite bombastic and telling me off for not paying in advance.  However, once they realised that I don’t speak Italian, they softened.  There was rapid conversation between them and they seemed to come to an agreement on what the price should be.  There was then a phone conversation in which there appeared to be a debate with (I assume) the boss man as to whether I should pay at that rate, given that I am a poor, weak-minded, non-Italian speaking female.   Eventually, it was announced to me that I should pay ‘sessante‘.  This nearly gave me a heart attack, as I thought they were saying €700.  However, I got them to write it down, and it turned out to be a much more reasonable €60.  Phew.  I waved my bancomat card at them, as I only had €45 in my purse, but they shook their heads gravely and mimed that I should go to the bank and get the cash instead.  Considering doing a runner at this point, I thought better of it, given that they had my car numberplate, and me on camera.  This is far too small a town to get away with such things.

When I returned, there was a fourth man behind the desk, who took over from the guy who had been dealing with me before.  He looked at the time I had arrived, did some calculations, and came to the total of €43.  Hooray!  But hold on a minute – old guy who had come up with the €60 total wasn’t happy at all.  How can it possibly be only €43?  She has been here since Friday night at 8pm and it is now 10am on Tuesday.  That makes it 4 days!  New guy stuck to his guns, however: it’s not 4 days, it’s 86 hours!  Friday and Tuesday are not complete days!  There then ensued a stand up argument, which involved them storming out of the office and bellowing at each other outside for 5 minutes.  Eventually, they returned, and I held my breath to see who had won in the battle of honour.  Happily for me, it was new guy.  “Quaranta-tre,” he informed me, slightly smugly.  Old guy smouldered in the corner.  I smiled sweetly, paid and made a run for it.

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About Kate Bailward

Kate Bailward is a cat-loving, trifle-hating, maniac driver. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+
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7 Responses to Marmite, the food of the gods

  1. Ggnitaly84 says:

    thats seems crazy expensive ! yikes! even 43 for parking but what am i saying its italy lol.. you never know what your going to get! come visit in florence sometime! :)

  2. Katja says:

    Actually, I was thinking that I might head up your way for the Easter weekend, when I have 5 days off, so hold onto your hats! :D

  3. Cherrye at My Bella Vita says:

    I'm just finding your site via the Blogging from the Boot contest. Love your writing style (and your luck!)

  4. Katja says:

    Thank you very much, Cherrye! I had a lot of fun going back through my blog for entries to the contest, so I'm glad that you're enjoying reading them as well.

  5. Ggnitaly84 says:

    woohoo! you should! i have a great group of expat friends from all over europe.. we love wine, aperativo and florence :P. let me know if u need any help planning your trip!

  6. Hi Katja!

    I happened upon your blog through Annika’s blog. First, I would like to say that I love your blog. You are such a great story teller. Secondly, I’d like to comment on this post. Their arguing about the price would have worried me. Here in the US, I don’t believe such a thing would happen. At least not from the area I’m from which is the Tri-state area (Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey). My boyfriend always warns me about things such as pricing, particularly due to the fact that I’m a foreigner. Even in the market, I’ve learned you have to bargain, and not easily give in to those who try to make a profit on foreigners.

    I’m glad the younger guy won. Obviously the older guy didn’t understand the amount of hours did not equal to 4 days. That or he was trying to rip you off.

  7. Katja says:

    Hello and welcome! Lovely to see you here – and thank you for your kind comments.

    I’m sure he was trying it on – I think it’s telling that, when I was talking to a group of my 12 and 13-year old students in a break between classes, they asked how I managed to go shopping. When I said that I got by on my rudimentary Italian and a bit of sign language, they all gasped in horror and told me that I must be careful, because Italians are *cunning*. (This was accompanied by the forefinger pulling down the skin under the eye – I’m sure you know the gesture I mean!) Unfortunately it’s something I can’t do much about at the moment, while my Italian is so basic, but I’ll get there. :)

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