Two benefits of eating alone while travelling are that the tout selling single-stemmed red roses doesn’t come near you, and you get to eavesdrop on other people’s conversations.
English speakers in foreign countries often talk surprisingly loudly in public. Perhaps they believe no-one is listening. Or maybe not speaking the local language gives them a misguided sense of privacy. When I’m dining alone with nothing but food and wine at the table to distract me, other people’s sentences waft over me like aromas from the kitchen. When you stay silent and listen, it’s amazing what you hear.
At a café outside the Pitti Palace, one university student told friends about the misery she felt during her student soccer years and how, if it wasn’t for one tiny physical imperfection, she would be undoubtedly be a star by now. I heard a woman in Montepulciano pontificate about women who think that marrying a rich man is the answer to all their problems. “Just you wait and see how that turns out.” A man in a gelato shop in Porto Venere complained about how the locals “didn’t want their photo taken until the money came out”.
One conversation that reminded me of the joys of dining alone on occasion was between two couples sitting in a café in a piazza near the Accademia museum. Over lunch, the three Americans and one Australian were planning their time in Florence. One man did his best reading the Italian names from his Lonely Planet guidebook and made some terrific suggestions for places to visit – the Ponte Vecchio, Michelangelo’s lookout, the Uffizi Gallery. They agreed on an agenda and, with a full stomach and a sound plan for the afternoon, decided to order il conto. The Australian girl diligently divided the bill between them. It was twenty euro per couple, which I thought was pretty good value in the tourist strip. She looked closely at the bill and then at her boyfriend.
“You spent eight euro on one glass of wine!” He smiled and sipped his drink. “I can’t believe you did that.”
His smile became a smirk then flattened out to a distant stare.
“Why do you do that?” she asked.
He skolled the remains of his wine, placed the glass firmly on the table and said, “Because I’m on holiday.”
Corzano E Paterno IGT Rosso Il Corzanello 2012. $30
From Tuscany, this wine bursts with aromas of crushed cherry and cranberry fruits. The palate is succulent and savoury with red berry flavours, some dried herbs and a gentle grip to finish. A charming wine that also happens to be great value, in case you-know-who is watching.