What are the wonderful things about Autumn? The harvest; the last really warm rays of sunshine; the apples and pears; the anticipation of brussels sprouts and snow – and the tomatoes.
If you don’t live here in the heart of Southern Germany, you might not know that of all the things you can’t plan, the one thing you can is that you can’t plan the Samstagsmarkt. And especially you can’t plan mio bello Italiano who usually, but only usually and in no way always - and really without warning, towards the end of the season sells the last tomatoes for €1/kg.
“Si, si, Signora, maybe oooonly this week. Maybeeee next week too?” The answer to my hopeful question is accompanied by an expansive Italian shrug and he smiles confessionally, “I can not tell. I do not know. You know what is tomorrow?”
Saturday was the third week this year and the Roma tomatoes are lovely but they are small. Suspiciously small. Like they may be the last ones for real this time. So, even though I have a few jars put up already it was in a measured moment of panic that I heard the words “What do two flats weigh?” fall from my mouth.
And the sun came out for just a minute to warm my neck before a blast of Northern wind blew my hair over my face and dried leaves rustled winterly. I handed over my money feeling secretive and pleased. Taking my tomatoes I find myself actually beginning to look forward to winter, to chili, to porcupines and spicy tomato soup on a Sunday afternoon.
Bucking the System
In the past, I’ve tried buying my tomatoes the American way and reserving a given weight of them “for next week” so that I could organize helpers and jars. But then, when I arrive next week I find my usually laughing, sometimes singing Italiano, arms on his nearly empty table looking desolate – a little pile of lemons, an even smaller pile of red onions, and three green peppers arranged artfully to look like more - or to look like less, I’m never sure - in front of him.
I pull up looking innocent, and I thank him generously, innocently even, for keeping my reserved tomatoes somewhere under the table.
“Ohhhhhh, sorry!” (shaking head) “I’m so sorry, Signora.” He holds his hands helplessly in the air and looks first to the left and then to the right.
Clearly another customer had already been there, some few moments earlier than I, and spying my reserved tomatoes under the otherwise empty table, must have offered him an admirable sum of gold … surely I understand? Maybe I had been detained? Maybe my reserved tomatoes would rot, unloved and unsold under the otherwise empty table. One never knows…
I am the sheriff and he the well-intentioned, bumbling bad guy. Genre: Spaghetti Western. Where’s my poncho?
Consequences of Bucking the System
Following a performance like that, I must, of course, punish mio bello Italiano (and my dinner table!) by simply ignoring him for a while. It would not do to act as though I was less than desperately disappointed, as if I hadn’t trusted him - as if there wouldn’t be nights, in the dark, freezing winter when we would wrap our paltry shawls about our shivering wheelchairs and peer into our empty pantry wishing only for una piccola spaghetti…
Yes, I must play by the rules or risk my entire professional relationship with mio bello Italiano and playing by the rules means no “Good Morning”s, no gay waves on my way home, not even a coolish glance at his wares. At least not for awhile. Not until he has huge piles and crates full of sweet oranges and that won’t be until around Christmas. Then, protocol allows me to drive closer and look tempted. The next week I may deign to buy one or two delicacies from him and so on and so forth until we have patiently built our vendor/customer relationship back to normal by the end of January.
The Germans say: Die klügere gibt nach (the clever person walks away). It is their version of Discretion being the better part of Valor and let me tell you, after all that, and because I really like mio bello Italiano, it’s just feels more clever to throw my hands in the air, look left, look right and buy now! I’ll arrange help & jars later.