A letter to il venerdì, the Friday supplement in the daily La Repubblica, spoke of the loss of a respectful way of life that valued manners. In a state of distraction, people forget the ‘easy stuff’ (‘roba facile’), the simple gestures of ‘buongiorno’ ‘grazie’, and a smile with whomever you meet. The author used a number of different words for manners and courtesy, but the one I liked best, (for its etymological resonances?) was ‘la creanza’. In an office, in a shop, in the street, these small things make a difference. Without ‘good manners’, a community doesn’t live well, he said.
Fortunately, in Anghiari, manners are still very much part of everyday life. When people pass each other in the street or meet in a shop or bar, they say ‘buongiorno’, they look you in the eye, they smile, they open doors, ‘after you’. This is another of those things that I rediscover with joy, each time I come here. On Saturday, I headed down for my shopping routine, feeling a bit below par with a lingering virus. By the time I had completed my round, I felt very much revived. I was amazed, again, by the energy that comes of simple, gracious encounters.
Here is something of that experience. Outside the Tutto shop, I speak with Matteo and Simone about the flowers and kitchen garden seedlings they have displayed in the street.
Then, to Angela, in the newspaper shop, who is always so careful with every customer – a child buying a toy, someone choosing a pen or a magazine or a present. She is quietly patient and polite, paying attention to everyone who comes in, never in a rush. There is a sense of calm and goodwill in this shop. And, she always makes time for a conversation with me, this time about a book I notice on San Francesco. (I also notice a collection of works by Alda Merini, one of Italy’s most important 20th century poets – too heavy to carry home to Australia!) As I leave the shop, she says ‘goodbye…we’ll see each other again soon’. The shared farewells, subtly different in each situation, are an essential part of these experiences. You don’t just leave after a purchase, for that would be to leave the ritual somehow incomplete. In the same way that ‘grazie’ and ‘prego’ go together.
When I enter the butcher’s, he is having a serious conversation with a customer about different cuts of lamb for their easter meal. He has a distinct energy about him, both animated (‘allegra’) and, at the same time, focussed. He whistles while he works. When it comes to my turn, I say I want a chicken, but after a bit of toing and froing about choices, he persuades me to try a guinea fowl that he has prepared, which he does specially for festivals. (I see these birds around houses in the country.) We talk about cooking times, I buy some ricotta, and we cheerily say goodbye.
When I interviewed Milva, who runs the alimentari, last year, she said that what she loves about her shop is the smile, and that is exactly what I experience on entering: a shared smile that lifts your spirits. I have a conversation with Milva, and Lorenzo, who is excited about going to NY for a holiday the next day, easter Sunday, with his girlfriend and her parents. I’m helpfully served by Monica, Milva’s daughter, and then, as I’m leaving, from the other end of the counter, Lorenzo calls out: ‘Ciao Ann’. There is a sense in encounters like this, that you are being addressed – this is not some blasé ‘ciao’. In this particular case it is familiar, we are friends, but it is possible to experience the ‘youness’ of that sort of address with people to whom it would be disrespectful to say ‘ciao’ or to use the familiar ‘you’.
As I arrive at the sole remaining vegetable shop in town, lovely looking fresh peas are being put out (which turn out to be, unsurprisingly, very sweet and tender). There they are now with the other spring vegetables, on display outside the shop. As the woman in the shop is carefully selecting vegetables for me, I tell her that it is very difficult in Australia to find vegetables of the same quality and freshness, and impossible to find artichokes of this quality. She quietly looks me in the eye and says ‘thank you – it makes me happy to hear that from visitors…. These vegetables all come from around here.’ This is one of those small, modest shops of which I have spoken, full of simple, fresh local food, and these people have been working here ever since I have been coming to Anghiari. I have only been in here infrequently in the past, and we don’t really know each other yet, but that doesn’t matter. We have both been saying ‘grazie’, and we say ‘buona giornata’ to each other as I leave. This is what makes a difference.
PS the butcher insisted on having his photo taken with me, and so he asked another customer to take it.
And, in case you are wondering about the green bag, there is a total ban on plastic bags here. It’s some biodegradable stuff, and, while mostly she uses paper bags, she decided that one of these wouldn’t be big enough for the peas!