The morning sun paints colors on the pavement, the tune of “It’s a beautiful morning” runs in my mind. Today was just what I needed. It started off with a trip to my favorite outdoor market, only a few streets from my house. It is filled with locals and older people bargaining and screaming at one another in dialect, once I asked a sweet little old lady how to cook the pasta she was selling which was hand made and portioned in small bags, she responded and I think I stared back at her cross eyed, frazzled and confused only to thank her and literally run away, until I realized she was speaking in dialect. I understand nothing; I can not help but smile every time I walk through. It is hustling and bustling with the famers screaming prices and funny phrases to get people to buy fruit, the stalls are full or fresh vegetables and fruit, only the seasons finest. Fish and meat are being cut and strung up from string, the eggs still have feathers from the morning and if you ask they are still warm. There is your foreigner selling earrings and jewelry, and a man with flowers always attempting a sale. I walk through and everyone from the homeless gypsy lady to the potato man says “good morning”, some of the locals look at me curiously perhaps wondering how I know everyone including the bright green eyed gypsy.
I stop and talk to my favorite fruit man, famous for his crazy hats and funny demeanor; one day he was wearing a straw hat with a huge brim like an American on vacation in Mexico, but he glued bananas, kiwis, apples and grapes to the top, he put Mrs. Chiquita banana to shame, or my all time favorite is the American flag beanie, when he saw me he pointed to his head “look it’s for you, Ammeerriccaaaa, number one.” Today he had a traditional round black fur cap from Russia without the ear flaps called a ushanka, how he got a ushanka in Bari is beyond me but it suits him. He screams “hello professor” and we have a little chat about the weather and I buy some apples, like promised always fresh and organic. He tells me that the pears are not as good as the oranges, so I take his advice and get a kilo. He tells me two euro and 50 cents, I still have trouble with numbers and give him 5 cents instead, and he looks at me and says “okay it is the same, for my favorite client.” When I leave to go to the next stand I hear “Hello professor” from hat man. I can’t help but laugh at the common mistake between hello and goodbye. If I get this point through to my young students it has been a good day, I love when they leave and say “goodbye teacher” instead of the common mistake such as hat man made, “hello teacher”.
I had fresh eggs for my boyfriend’s cookies, bananas, oranges, apples and tomatoes for less than five euro, what beautiful morning and I wave to my favorite grandpa walking on the other side of the street. “Good morning beautiful” he shouts. I ask him if he needs any help with the heavy bag of fruit, stubbornly he says “no no I am strong, look at my muscles.” “Have you been going to the gym?” I asked and laugh. At least today he is not asking me “How old are you?” as he asks me this almost everyday. Each morning he has me guess his age, and day after day I say “You look 21” and he kisses me on the forehead in delight at my answer. We have the same conversation; it is like a record is on repeat that I welcome. And my favorite thing is that on a daily basis he tells me he is a different age, last month 80, three days ago it was 77 and yesterday it was 76. Is he getting younger by the day or is it just me?
I go up to my apartment and put down my bags only to leave again for my latest mission for “bella figura”. As I walk down the street I get a feeling and turn the opposite direction from the center, I remember the beautiful shop near my home. I hope there is something in there, it is less crowded, I can speak to the woman and it is discrete compared to the commercial street with every person living in a 50 mile radius of Bari is trying to shop or park.
I walk into the shop near my home, it is gorgeous. The walls are made of stone and there are three large rooms with different types of candles and hundreds of displays. Candles with glass, candles that look like you can eat them, cake candles, cupcake candles, candles with glitter ,oh my, candles in animal shapes, candles arrangements for your table and candles fit for a king. “Okay”, I think to myself, “where to start, where to start?” I start browsing the tables and different Christmas tree decorations, the glass displays and porcelain figures that you, of course, can put a candle in. Yankee Candle Company you have nothing on this store, I would name it “Candle Castle” the inside is similar to a castle, the large stone walls and dome shaped high ceilings. Candles hold a special place in my heart, as my mom and I spend hours decorating wine bottles with various colored candles and now a wine bottle used as a candle holder sits on my nightstand. As suspected not many people were in the store, leaving me a lot of time to speak to the hopefully patient shop owner. As I walk around a shop assistant came and asked me if I needed help, I declined politely telling her I may need help in a few minutes. I contained looking at the countless displays and wonder to myself about what is right.
Feeling slightly lost and the overwhelming feeling of yesterday came flooding back most likely filling my face with a look of confusion. As in that second another woman with a soft warm face and petite figure came over to me and asked me if I needed anything. I explained my story of desperation for about the six time to a shop assistant, as she nodded and agreed that it was difficult but she was going to help me. “Do not worry, dear” she says. All of a sudden she starts speaking English to me, it was like she forgot that she could speak it and then a light bulb of an idea came over her, “you speak English, yes?” She asked me “Where I was from”; as I replied that her English was very good I answered I was American, from around the Washington D.C area. I found that it is easier to say Washington D.C instead of Baltimore or Maryland because most people have no idea where that is. One time I said Baltimore and the man replied “Oh Boston, I just loovve Boston.” Umm okay, I don’t know what Boston has to do with me but I will take it. At least it is the same country. Instead, everyone knows “Obamaaa.” Stick with what is easy.
She starts crying, tears fill her eyes and she pulls up the sleeve to her black blazer to reveal goose bumps. I wasn’t she what I said, perhaps I offended this kind woman, and there goes my “bella figura” once again, wouldn’t be the first time this week. But, no. She takes me by the hands and we start dancing in the middle of the store, like a circle of joy, and candles. I was perplexed but when every the mood strikes to dance I am not going to be the one to stop her; I am going to join in on the fun. Wiping her tears and slowing down, in a dizzy spell she explains that she lived in a city near Washington D.C for three years, with her children and her husband. She tells me it was the best three years of her life, and she was sad to leave. I ask her a million questions at once, “Why did you leave?”, “Where in D.C?”, Why were you there?” She explained everything, her husband was working and the contract was for three years, they lived in Maryland, about 30 minutes from the house I grew up in. We started laughing as she called the others over to continue in the fun. Since she was opening up to me, it was only fair that I tell her everything about me, I told her that it was my first Christmas away from home, and that I am spending it with my boyfriends family which I have never met. She asked me about him, and asked if he was a nice man, because apparently this woman thought that I deserved a wonderful man in my life. Secrets from both of our past poured out as smooth as wax, easy and freely we stood in the middle of the store sharing stories, we told each other personal details and became fast friends.
She took me by the hand and led me to a table, luckily this table had no cigars, shot glasses or spinning wine glass but, a beautiful house that you put a candle in and it glows magnificently spilling golden light out of the windows and doors. It was off white and made of tin, and the typical American house she adds. “I have two in my house, I use them for Christmas and then in summer on the balcony” she says. Well that settles that, I am not sure why, but I trusted this petite woman that has the sweet face of a good mom, I will take it, I exclaim.
She takes me into a back room as she puts white stones on the floor of the house as well as a few tea lights. We chat effortlessly as she wraps clear paper around the house and then ties it with many bows. The entire staff is in the room with us as we chat and they ask me questions about my life and “this boy” I am spending Christmas with. I assure them that he is a very good man, and not to worry. “How could they not love you, she sang, you are beautiful and blonde, look at that hair, and American, just smile dear” says one of the ladies. Well, says Roberta which is the woman’s name “I want you to come to my house for Christmas, yes you and your boyfriend must come” And guess what, she says excitedly as her eyes light up, my family from Texas are coming tomorrow, oh please do come, I would love nothing more than for you to spend the holiday with us.” Flattered and honored that a stranger would open their home to me, I told her maybe we would come later but we already had plans, I can’t burn the candle at both ends, I think. “Well come for dinner some time then, New Years?” Okay I said laughing. We live right here, she points up and then at stone stairs that lead upstairs. “Come any time, it would be a pleasure for me” We talked for about two hours and exchanged numbers when I finally left the entire staff lined up at the door and hugged me, telling me good luck and wishing me a happy holiday. Filled with joy and happiness at the love and compassion from strangers that became friends, and how two hours can change your life forever. Life is good I think, it is sweet and full of surprises if you open your heart. A few hours later I had a text message from my new friend “I am so happy that I met you, and you made my day good”, I was just thinking the same thing.