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.