(I fell asleep while composing the following on Friday evening. Twice. Here it is now, twelve hours after I began.)
As I mentioned in my last update, I had planned to return to La Vecchia Taverna for dinner this evening. As the more astute amongst my readers may have guessed from the title of this post, I did so.
Two nights ago when I dined there, I used the pilgrim discount card from the hostel. That gave me access to a €10 "menu pellegrino." My expectations had not been all that high. On the Camino, most pubs and restaurants offered this sort of thing at about the same price point, but there it was generally solid fare, without style or grace. I've never eaten so many french fries in such a short period of time.
La Vecchia Taverna, on Via Svizzera in Santhià, doesn't look like all that much from the outside. There's a largish neon sign projecting from the second storey (first floor if you're European), and entering from the street you find yourself in a cramped-feeling room that has a small bar, a small ice cream freezer, a cash register, a pizza oven, two pizzaioli (in this restaurant, they don't toss the dough up in the air like you've probably seen in commercials), and a lot of empty pizza boxes waiting to be filled.
The restaurant is actually upstairs. I'd manoeuvred myself up the steps two nights ago, not knowing what to expect. The large room was full of tables, and many of these tables were already occupied, even though it was only ten minutes past their evening opening time. Always a good sign!
I was shown to a small, two seat table near the entrance. The table setting was nice, but nothing fancy - just what was needed. Clean linen, packaged bread sticks, salt, pepper, toothpicks. My first real surprise was when the waitress came and asked what I'd like. On the Camino, the menu pellegrino usually has very limited options - soup or salad being the most common choice I had to make in Spain.
Welcome to Italy! For the first plate, I was given five or six options to choose from. I went with the pesto, and for "secondo" I just repeated one of the items the waitress had rattled off for me. (It turned out to be a perfectly grilled pork chop.) I was also given the choice of insalata (take a guess!) or something I didn't understand. When I looked confused, the waitress said, "French fries." I went with the salad. (Photos will be uploaded to Flickr once I get a good legit WiFi connection again. If I remember two weeks from now when I finally reach Vercelli.)
Shortly after placing my order, a bread basket was set on the table, and I began stuffing my face. (I'd managed to somehow miss eating lunch.) And then the pesto arrived. I'm not a foodie, so I have no idea what herbs were involved in the sauce, but the plate of penne was a rather unappealing greenish-gray colour which tasted like the best movie theatre popcorn had been transfigured. All I know is that there was plenty of olive oil involved, and that when the pasta was gone, I used the fluffy soft white bread to sop up the remaining bits of glory. The pork chop came soon after, with a lemon wedge. As is standard in these civilised parts, a jar of olive oil and one of vinegar arrived for me to dress the salad to my taste.
That was Wednesday night. (And let me apologise to my Orthodox readers if I have caused offense by not keeping the fast. If I do make it to Jerusalem in time for Holy Week, be assured that I will follow the canons to the letter.)
This evening, I chose a more restrained course, ordering a pizza for take away. While I was waiting, I observed something which I'd missed on my previous visit. La Vecchia Taverna in the small town of Santhià has been a participant in the Campionato Mondiale della Pizza for the past twenty years. (I'm not absolutely sure that they won in 2014, but their entry was featured on a large sign. It's called the Santhiàtese, and I think I'll be trying that at least once before I finally leave this town.) The pizza I ordered was so good, my tastebuds wept for joy.
I felt I had earned a bit of a treat, since there was a fair bit of pain and nastiness involved when I went to see the doctor at 1:30. My dressings were cut off, and for the first time I had a good clear look at the horrific mess my foot has become. This time there was no local anaesthetic when they peeled the inner layers of the dressing off my flayed foot. The horrid menacing colours which showed the progression of the infection had not diminished any, but I'd only taken two doses of penicillin at that point - one last evening shortly after dinner, and one this morning with "breakfast."
My next appointment is still set for Monday, but until then, I'm supposed to soak my foot in a footbath for at least ten minutes everyday. I bought the necessary supplies at the pharmacy, including a package of antiobiotic-infused gauze dressings to bind up my wound afterwards, and set about the task after dinner.
It wasn't as unpleasant as I had expected. The really encouraging thing was seeing how much improvement there had been in only eight hours. The amoxicillin is starting to do its job!
In the meantime, the satellite crew from Rai has arrived in the town square and parked their trucks opposite the church. Apparently the network has a show which features life in small town Italy. Since this weekend is a major feast on the Roman calendar, they'll be filming right here in Santhià. I asked my bilingual friend in the café about it, and then chided him gently. Just the previous day he had been complaining that Santhià is too small, too quiet, and that nothing ever happens here.
So, a mixed day. I spent some time on a park bench consoling a very friendly stray cat. As I type the last of this update, the sun is just hitting my table on the sidewalk in front of "my" café. The film crew looks to be all set up and ready to capture the excitement of All Saints' Day in Santhià.