Thursday, December 1, 2011

Giving Him the Bird

My alarm didn't go off this morning. Fortunately, I was off work and no big harm was done. But I did wake up 5 minutes before my appointment to deliver two field pigeons and a chicken.

So,  I found myself on a cold December morning rushing off in my pajamas and my nice coat, a total fashion disaster. A quick brush of the teeth and I was out the door, keys in one hand and a bag of poultry in the other.
After dinner at Gionni's last night, I was asked to bring three birds in to town for delivery. A friend of his dad had promised them to one of his friends that lives near my place.

Last night before placing the birds in the fridge, I took the opportunity for a photo opp. I couldn't help it, the chicken looked just like the fake rubber chickens used in comedy acts. The moment I saw it I began laughing uncontrollably.

Out of respect for the field pigeons, I didn't take a photo. They had been stripped of their feathers and looked like one of those weird fur-less cats.

Back to the clandestine bird delivery.

Imagine an older Italian man, wearing a jean jacket and standing next to his Vespa, waiting in front of a movie theater on a winter morning. A poorly dressed American girl walks up, hands him a large bag. He looks inside and inspects the goods, then hands the girl a roll of cash.
He rushes off on his motor bike. She, despite her pajamas and matted hair, runs across the street for a much needed coffee, yesterday's mascara forming rings below her eyes.

This hasn't been my first encounter with fowl. Back during my year in Pisa, I was riding one evening with my (ex) boyfriend when our car hit something.
Marco turned the car around and screeched to a halt. He soon realized we'd hit a fagiano, a pheasant, and his eyes lit up with pleasure. He got out of the car and I heard the trunk open and close as I waited in the passenger seat.
The next thing I knew he was back in the car and we took off toward his house. I hadn't realized it, but Marco had put the fagiano in the trunk.
That night, we ate our road kill for dinner.  Marco's grandmother, a short and sturdy woman with silver-blue hair and huge biceps from her lifetime on a farm, cleaned the pheasant and prepared it in umido. It was delicious.

A few weeks later,  Luna (a Lab/border Colly mix) brought us a chicken. She'd taken it from our neighbor, who we disliked due to his habit of burning grass in July (totally against the law and dangerous!). Hence, we felt justified in eating the chicken. Oven roasted.

We sliced into the chicken and found a couple of eggs inside. I had never seen anything like it (at the time I'd only been in Italy about a year and was still used to pre-packaged, pre-butchered, anonymous, grocery-store sourced meats). This was the first time I'd eaten a truly free range chicken. I'd like to tell you that I loved it, but not so much. It was tough and chewy. It would have been perfect for making a good broth.

The experiences opened my mind to a whole new source of food. Road kill. Found food.

That is one of the wonderful things about living in Italy. You never know where your next meal might come from. Italians eat seasonal and fresh fruits and vegetables, bread baked daily, pastries fresh from the baker's oven... Cheeses aged in caves and holes, wines aged for years and sometimes decades. Here, a poor man can eat like a prince, and a nobile can eat a sandwich on a bar stool.

Food is what keeps Italians together. It unites families, coworkers, pheasants and cars, and complete strangers. And the best part? A girl's got to eat at least 3 times a day, which leads to endless possibilities.

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