Bookstores in the Heart of Italy
I spent two and a half days wandering around the city of Modena, Italy – visiting wine bars, eating provincial food, checking out the Friday morning market, watching bicyclists careen across Piazza Grande, and visiting a Balsamic vinegar production operation that has been run from a home for decades.
I also had a chance to visit bookstores.
Surprisingly, the first ‘bookstore’ visited was a post office. While waiting to send a letter, I eyed two separate racks filled with new books for sale. One included fictional books (many about some apparently heroic woman named Tiffany), while another rack located mid-lobby sold books on weight loss, as well as Italian ‘Dummies’ guides on internet use and finance.
In an age when much of the book world is moving online, it was refreshing to see a post office running a viable enough book sales business to earn sideline operational cash.
The second store was medium-sized and sold magazines and books. The bearded owner told me in English how he spent time living in San Francisco in the 1970s. ‘Crazy times,’ he said. There, I bought an Italian book about Lambrusco wine, as well as a map of Modena city.
The third bookstore was a larger chain store. Once inside, I asked a sales clerk, “Avete libri in Inglese?” to which she responded, “Si, di che tipo? Letteratura?” I told her yes and she walked me to the English Book section – with ‘literature’ that included Tom Clancy novels and books by Mitch Albom.
Nevertheless, impressed by a bookstore in Modena catering to English readers as well as Italians, I perused the shelves, then examined other sections, finally finding a cook book section. Here I purchased a book on Emilia cooking (the city of Modena is in the Emilia-Romagna province), which included recipes in Italian and their English translations.
My favorite parts of this book? One included a recipe for Zampone, or Stuffed Pig’s Trotter – requiring one kilogram of a pig’s trotter (preferably purchased in Modena) – pierced with a fork several times, wrapped in a towel, then soaked in cold water overnight. The next day it is cooked in the same water – simmering for three hours before being served with lentils, sauerkraut, beans, and potato mash – as well as a chilled glass of Lambrusco di Sorbara sparkling red wine.
The book I purchased earlier about Lambrusco wine boasted of the rich food culture of Emilia-Romagna in Italian, translated as: “…perhaps the cuisine is the only one, among twenty Italian provinces, capable of undisputed success with supplying a complete banquet, from appetizers to desserts, with different and appropriate wines to accompany each dish. From puff pastry to soup, meat derived from slaughtering pigs, to the delicious eclectic flavors of balsamic vinegar – all softened by the crowning of the greedy concert with Lambrusco wine.”
Not only food and wine, but poetry.
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