Three decades ago, Phil and I arrived in Italy, not knowing much of the world other than the busy, metropolitan life of New York City. After a short stay in an apartment in Perugia, we decided to buy a 300-year-old house on Lago Trasimeno. We were soon told by the townspeople that the gypsies who first settled the town had built our “new” home. The house had survived earthquakes and world wars and felt as solid as a mountain. Two-foot deep walls constructed of humungous boulders and dirt “mortar”, exposed wooden beams that had petrified over the years, and an old fireplace that let in unwanted 4-legged houseguests made it easy for us to imagine life in another century. Geese walking in the street and women carrying “erbaccia” (weeds and grasses) on their backs all added to the sense of a world I had only seen before in National Geographic magazines.
Although our home jutted out into the road, and the noise of high pitched Vespas and thunderous 18-wheelers frequently vibrated through our kitchen, the location of the old house became a distinct advantage for us. Directly across the busy street was the grocery store and post office, which meant that we were living “downtown” in the heart of the tiny (less than 1000 people) but self-sufficient town. We quickly became acquainted with many of the “key players” that kept the Italian village life beating smoothly. There was Quartillio, the owner of the grocery store, who kept us abreast of all the town news, and, more importantly, would yell out to me “Diana, la ricotta è arrivata” (the ricotta cheese has arrived). And there was, of course, La Postina (the postal woman) who would regularly joke with me that she had no mail for me and no one from my distant home in America wanted to write to me. And without fail, there was the daily bread and pastry delivery. Phil would watch from our kitchen window for energetic Laura to make the delivery with her small white truck-- he wanted to be sure that he would get his focaccia con cippolli (focaccia with onions) before the competition (an 8 year old boy who lived down the street) would beat him to it.
Things have changed over the years. The grocery store is long gone and the large supermarkets in neighboring towns have replaced its function. I now wait for my mail to be brought by the internet rather than from a bubbly and talkative postina who always made me laugh. But Laura is still making and delivering bread and her smile is as bright and cheerful as ever. I sometimes think we decided to move to Laura’s nearby town, 8 years ago, just so we could be within walking distance to her warm baked goods and heart.
Bomboloni con crema (cream doughnuts). This is where all discipline breaks down for Phil. And Laura knows it. So when we walk into her pasticceria (pastry shop), there is a familiar ritual that has gone on for, yes, decades. If there are some fresh baked bomboloni, she immediately grabs one from the case and pretends to weigh it with her hands. “Più crema?” (more cream), she asks Phil with a sparkle in her eye. And then she goes to the back of her bakery and fills the donut with so much cream that the donut now weighs double what it did before.
Laura never went to the Università for public relations, yet she is a master at it. The life of a baker is not an easy one, yet that does not keep her from smiling every day. And no matter how busy she is, there is always time for her to come out and greet us and to frequently take a few minutes to sit and chat as we sip our cappuccinos. She laughs when I tell her how much Popcorn likes her biscotti, and is sure to give me a few extra to take home to keep the pooch happy. This lively woman knows that joy and generosity combined with a fabulous product is the perfect recipe to make the customers come back, again and again. I’ve watched businesses come and go over the years, but Laura’s shop is still going strong. And it doesn’t hurt that she makes the best bombolone con crema in the world—just ask Phil.
I invite you to take a closer look at Italy through my free video series, "Italian Mystery Artists. Walk in the footsteps of Italy's master artists right along with me and my little dog, Popcorn!