Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Kindness of (Italian) Strangers

Gusta Pizza's Oven
The customary line out the door and around the corner was missing at Gusta Pizza late this afternoon, but there was not an empty table in sight. The place was packed, as usual. I told the clerk it looked as if I'd have to carry out my pizza, but he assured me a table would open up soon. Ten seconds later, a man approached and invited me to join him and his son at their table. 

This is the sort of kindness I've encountered again and again in Florence. Two women and a baby stopped their walk on a Sunday afternoon to consult maps and cell phones to help me find the British Institute my second day in town.

Clerks have left their shops to go out in the street with me to indicate a turn (Yes, I am directionally challenged). The man at the olive oil store insisted I try his chianti--two glasses! A Pitti Palace docent gave me a private tour of the kitchen although no tours were scheduled that day.

Grazie Mille!
And now this man and his son at Gusta Pizza insisted I share their calzone as we discussed his building projects--I hope he was talking about vacation rental apartments because I'm sure his flats would be lovely--and the sixteen-year-old son's many scholastic achievements. I told them I was a former teacher taking an art history course here in this great city. They said Florence is more beautiful than Rome.

When my pizza arrived, a margherita, I was told why it wasn't as tasty as theirs, a beauty topped with cherry tomatoes, fresh mozzarelli and pecorino (I think). They instructed me on the proper way to eat it--folded. The man said, "This is like pizza from Naples. If you have a bad stomach, eat pizza from Rome, but if your stomach is good, eat the best pizza--Neapolitan."

Suddenly it was 2:50 and I had only minutes to get to class. I thanked these people whose names I never knew and dashed over to pay my bill at the register.

The man behind the counter just shook his head. My bill had already been taken care of. He put my leftover pizza in a box, and I left the piazza smiling all the way to class.

Practicalities -
      If you read Liz Gilbert's book, Eat, Pray, Love, you'll remember her ecstatic praise for the Neapolitan pizza with the chewy crust she discovered while living in Italy. When I was in Naples a few years ago, I had that pizza at the restaurant she discovered, and I understood what she was talking about.
     The Gusta Pizza in the Santo Spirito piazza is just as good. The hours are a bit odd as they close for several hours in the late afternoon, and you will find long lines and crowded tables no matter when you go, but, trust me, the wait is worth it.