I’m walking home from the market with bags full of fruit and vegetables when the man appears at my shoulder. “Sei in vacanza?” I don’t look at him. I’m not sure if he’s a pickpocket trying to distract me from my bag or just a desperate man trying to pick up an easy foreign tourist, but I’m not letting him get away with either. Acknowledging that I understand him but without breaking my stride or looking at him, I snap, “No.” He doesn’t get the message. “Sei Italiana? Di Russia? Parli inglese?” To every question, I give the same terse reply: ‘no. No. NO.’
I think I’ve shaken him off when I leave the market, but he reappears as I cross Piazza Duomo. “Can I introduce myself? Can we be friends?” I keep walking. “No. No.” I’m too close to home to risk him following me any longer, so when he asks if I’m married I spit out the classic lie: ‘fidanzata’.
There aren’t many occasions when Italian wins out over English in terms of brevity, but this is one of them. One four-syllable word covers the entire English phrase, ‘I’ve got a boyfriend who’s insanely jealous and you need to disappear before he finds out that you’ve been pestering me and beats you to a bloody pulp.’ It may be a cop-out, but it works: as if by magic the man melts into thin air.
I’d been to the market looking for fresh produce generally, but specifically cedri. The places that sell them are few and far between – many people here don’t want these giant yellow citrus fruits, claiming that they’re bitter and useless for anything but making candied peel or cedrata. Me, I’m a bit hooked on them sliced thinly and served with fennel, as the pith is, if anything, sweeter and more tender than that of a lemon. The biggest thing for this Somerset girl who’s still not quite used to local fresh fruit that isn’t apples, however, is that the novelty value of them is beyond price. Every time I see them, in my head I’m yelling, ‘They’re lemons! That weigh nearly a kilo each! Oh my god!’
I found a guy selling them last week but he didn’t look too impressed when I bought just one, so I’m hoping to be able to find them at another stall.
No such luck.
I decide to brazen it out. I’m pretty sure that he’ll remember the tall redhead with the heavy fringe and pale skin who stands out like a sore thumb around here, so I smile at him and ask permission before picking up any fruit. He gives me a solemn nod. I’m encouraged: it’s a much better response than from the guy over the way selling veg. The one who I should have realised was no good when I saw that he didn’t have any customers. More fool me. I’ll remember for next time.
Back on the citrus stall, I choose two cedri and hand them over to be weighed, then can’t resist checking out the pile of enormous, red-fleshed, sweet tarocchi oranges as well. I pick up a few and discard them, looking for ones with unblemished skins, before choosing three. They’re heavy with juice and still have leaves attached. They’ll be delicious and I’m already planning meals around them as I hand them over. In my distraction I let go of the oranges before he’s quite got hold of them, but between us we manage to save them from falling. He puts them into a bag for me, telling me how much I owe. Pulling my purse out of my bag I rifle through the small change. As I do so, I hear a quiet, ‘signora?’ from the fruit seller and look up. He’s holding up a mandarin for me to see. He drops it into the bag with the tarocchi and the cedri then makes the universal symbol for ‘tasty’, pointing his forefinger into his cheek and twisting it with a shy, upward look. I can’t help but grin back at him. “Grazie!” He shrugs, embarrassed by my enthusiasm, tucking his rounded chin into his chest and ducking his eyes away. He can’t hide his smile, though.