Octopi and Brains

Today, we went to an open-air market to buy food for today. Yesterday, we ate every meal (except breakfast) at restaurants, and now it’s time we started buying food and cooking at home.

We were more than a little intimidated walking into the market. We had no idea how a transaction was even supposed to go. We tried stalking a few people to see what they would do. There was a lot of critical evaluation of fruit, vegetables, and other goods, but not too much buying. Any time we saw someone actually paying for something, we only saw the money exchange, and not the transaction, start to finish. We decided to wander around and decide what we might want to buy before we dove into the process of an actual purchase.

We took several laps around, mostly because almost everything looks like something we’d want to eat. There were a lot of things that I had never seen at a market before, probably because I’ve never gone down to Eastern Market in D.C. to poke around, and my trips to New York have never included a trip to a market. There were piles of fish, both salted and non-salted, just laying everywhere. Actually, the fish area was the most interesting because they had stuff like whole octopii, squid, and something that I didn’t exactly recognize, but was vaguely like an octopus, because it had large tenticles with suckers, but not much else. Perhaps the rest of the body had been hacked-off because it took up too much room on the display table. They had some kind of fish that looked like a shark about 1 meter long, with smooth, grey skin. I couldn’t see the head, which probably didn’t make much of a difference because I couldn’t identify the thing unless it had a sign on it, anyway. And then, it would probably be in Italian, and I wouldn’t know what it would be called in English.

Suprisingly, it was the non-fish-related tables that had things that seemed a little less appetising to me than the fish tables. Some people don’t like liver, so I suppose they don’t like looking at it. Then, there’s trippe (tripe), which doesn’t really look bad, but you’d have a hard time getting me to eat it. In Italy, tripe is, I guess, a delicacy. As we were leaving the market, we passed a tripperia cart, selling boiled-tripe sandwhiches and small cups of wine. Maybe some other time.

You could also buy the heads of various animals, such as pigs and chickens — including the neck. It was suprising to me to see such items, but only because I am not accustomed to seeing them. I guess Americans don’t like using all of the animals that they slaughter, or at least they don’t want to see the recognizable parts. The closest thing I’ve ever seen in a supermarket was pig feet, but those aren’t particularly vivid in terms of images of life. The head is much more compelling.

The only thing that I had to turn away from was brains. I’m not sure what kind of brains they were, but they were certainly brains. And not just one or two brains. There were at least 5 brains on a plate inside a glass display case, and they were covered in blood. It looked like the scene in Hannibal where Ray Liota’s skull has been sawed open to reveal his brain, and he and Anthony Hopkins were eating it together.

We had to force outselves to think about a single meal so that we wouldn’t be overwhealmed with the variety. We certainly didn’t need to buy an entire rack of lamb, dozens of sausages, thick cuts of beef, etc. all at once. I decided that, since we are pretty bad at numbers, we should pick things that have very well-defined quanta, like sausages. You typically don’t purchase fractional sausages, so we can simply ask for one sausage, and see how much it costs.

Fortunately, we stick out like sore thumbs linguistically, especially because I’m sure we speak slowly and methodically, indicating that we’re trying way to hard to pronounce things correctly. It’s kind of liberating, because that indicates to them that they should speak very slowly, but continue in Italian. I would prefer that they don’t switch to English, because then that will make me lazy. I really do want to be able to conduct this kind of discourse in Italian.

The first purchase was, in fact, the sausages. The vendor was nice, and produced a receipt with a printed price when I asked him how much it cost. I would have preferred him to repeat the cost over and over while I tried to emulate what he was saying, but it didn’t happen. Perhaps as time goes on, they’ll make an exception for us. On the other hand, I should probably spend some quality time with a language book instead of making the market vendors teach me Italian.

The vegetable dude was much more forgiving. He repeated the price while holding up his fingers. Of course, I have forgotton what he said and how many fingers he was holding up, but I’ll get better over time.

For loose fruits and vegetables, it turns out that transaction protocol was very easy. You simply say hello and they hand you a bag. It’s pretty much all downhill after that.

We’re back at home, now, eating lunch. Tomorrow, we’ll go back, a little bit wiser and hopefully more effective.

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