Rialto Market encounter


As you see, I am now back on track, back on the horse, back in thought and word and deed.  Fixing things up on Planet Blog took somewhat longer than I anticipated, but this only confirmed Zwingle’s Fifth Law, which states: “Everything takes longer than you think it will.”

Life continued all the same, of course, and here is a bit of it.

I was at the Rialto Market yesterday morning, standing at the stall of our favorite fruit and vegetable vendor.  We always go to him because he’s from Sant’ Erasmo, and because he has the most luxuriant fronds of rosemary ever seen, among other things.

The produce is always first-rate here; the customers, not always quite so much. The departing woman is not the lady of the story. Taking her picture would probably have made her try to kill me.

In this case, I was interested in buying some cherries, which are now in season, as you know.

There were two women ahead of me; one was in the process of  buying whatever she needed and another was waiting her turn.  It is the second woman who I discovered had gotten up on the wrong side of the bed, approximately eight seconds after she was born.

Of course, if I hadn’t said anything to her, none of the following would have happened.  But I occasionally allow myself some small intervention which is intended to be helpful.  (“Helpful,” I realize, is in the eye of the helpee. I always keep in mind C.S. Lewis’s observation: “She’s the sort of woman who lives for others — you can tell the others by their hunted expression.” But sometimes I decide to risk it.)

Also, may I note,  the person I speak to has almost always thanked me. Sometimes sincerely, maybe sometimes not, but in any case, has attempted to reply with some degree of politeness.

The aforementioned second woman, while waiting her turn, was testing the smallish tomatoes she wanted to buy.  Which means touching and somewhat squeezing them.  This is absolutely not the thing to do here.

I realize that it doesn’t make a lot of sense to buy a fruit or vegetable that you haven’t examined yourself for ripeness (bananas and artichokes excluded), but in Venice the notion that Lord knows how many people  have touched an object which another person may eventually buy, take home, and eat is utterly horrifying.  At the supermarket, they even provide plastic gloves for anyone intending to touch a botanical object for any reason.

I’ve gotten used to this.  One thing that helped me was hearing Lino’s occasional heat-seeking-missile comment to a person using their bare hands in public.  (And considering the catastrophe underway in Europe involving a hitherto unknown and potentially fatal strain of E. coli, you can see why it might matter.)

This lady was touching the tomatoes. Even though I have seen Venetian battleaxes also doing this, I assumed that she was a tourist.  It’s not hard to see tourists at the market.  When they’re not getting in your way taking pictures while you’re trying to do your shopping, they’re often touching things, and the vendors who correct them aren’t always the most genteel.

I considered saying nothing as long as she was keeping the tomatoes she picked up.  It was when she put one back that I spoke up.

“Do you speak English?” I asked in my most polite way.

She turned and glared at me.  “Yes,” she said in a strong German accent. (Note: this is not anything against Germans.  She could have had any accent — even Venetian — and the point of the encounter would have been the same.)

“Well,” I said, “it’s not the custom here to touch the produce.”

She didn’t hesitate for an instant, nor did she turn down the voltage on the glare.

“Maybe in your country,” she snapped, “but here we are in Italy.”  “Your country” meant that she may have noticed my undoubtedly noticeable American accent, but even if she didn’t, I was wearing a T-shirt with a few words written in English. Still, whatever country I might come from did nothing to invalidate my remark about what goes on here in Italy.

This stopped me for a second.  While I always welcome new information, being told I was in Italy wasn’t something I’d been expecting to hear.  And in any case (my mind suddenly going into “Dive!  Dive!” mode), the fact that she also was a foreigner made me wonder what kind of sense her remark could possibly have made.  Even if touching the merchandise were the custom in her native land, here, as she said, we are in Italy.

Having interpreted her geographical observation as an invitation to get lost, I persevered.

“I’ve lived here for twenty years,” I replied, to correct her impression than I might be some random passerby just off the plane.

She didn’t pause.  “So have I,” she retorted.

“So,” I said, “that means that you know you’re not supposed to do it, but you’re doing it anyway.”

“That’s right.”



She paid for the tomatoes and departed, leaving me with several thoughts which were struggling to resist  being sucked down into the mental whirlpool she had created.

She’s a foreigner who resents being mistaken for a tourist, even though she was acting like one.  She also has a sublime sense of entitlement that living here (I’m taking her word for this) permits her to do whatever she wants.  Just like a tourist.

I believe the compulsion to do what you know is wrong could be termed “original sin.”  Too bad I didn’t know how to say that in German. Shifting from the tangible to the spiritual could really have livened up my morning.



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  1. Mary Ann DeVlieg
    Twitter: maietm.org

    Glad to have you back! Although the woman at the market was obviously not. Never mind, instant karma will get her…. little does she know that after all that touching, the tomatoes she bought will surely collapse in her bag and make a dreadful mess. Doubtless, she’ll blame you….

  2. Yvonne says:

    Yay, you’re back, and in full swing, it would seem. Isn’t there a song about … “where angels fear to tread”?

    How frustrating when you know darn well you’re doing/saying the right thing, and someone leaves you with your fuse sputtering!

    Yeah, I hope her produce was full of little crawly things.
    Yvonne recently posted..Kibbitzing

  3. Andrew says:

    ” I do hope you are going to buy those.”

  4. Brooks
    Twitter: brooks.dougcomcast.net

    The last time someone asked me if I spoke English I opted to say “no”.
    (then I stared at them)
    Next time I’m in Venice (which will be the first time) I won’t squeeze the tomatoes.

    Curiosity. How much are artichokes when they are in season and wonderful?

    • Erla Zwingle says:

      I think saying “no” is absolutely hysterical. I’m going to try that sometime. Please come to Venice and I will personally introduce you to the vegetables and explain the etiquette appropriate to each one. As for the cost of artichokes, this being Venice, the answer isn’t simple. It depends on where they come from (Sant’ Erasmo? A hothouse near Livorno?), how early in the season it may be (they ask big prices for the first ones, often erroneously termed “castraure” because that’s what everybody thinks they want — erroneous, because that many castraure could only be harvested from a field as big as the Gobi Desert). They might be Violet Artichokes from around here, or some other kind of artichoke from somewhere else. Let me say that I have seen a price of one euro ($1.50) per ‘choke, though there are many vendors who sell for somewhat less. I can’t give you an exact price because now that the season’s over, I have erased them from my brain, along with peas and carletti.