Getting a kebab is like a cultural journey in itself.
The rain banished the May heat and turned the narrow streets of Florence into death zones with umbrella prongs passing at neck-height. Confused gaggles of tourists made the pavements unpassable and I already saw them as so many herds of sheep, proof that I was settling right in to the Flornentine way of life.
Getting ready to liase with Jim, the other Road Junky editor over Skype (a 21st century business if there ever was one with partners working on opposite sides of the world,), I followed my nose through the dripping streets in search of something to eat.
I came across La Cafe Sahara where drifting Arabic music floated out into the street and an attractive menu with a calligraphic font suggested dishes of hummous, baclava, kebab, felafel and Greek salads. Inside there were low tables with leather cushions, a stained glass design of a princess rubbing a genie from a lamp and toy camels on raised alcoves. Well-to-do Italians nibbled to candle light and it was a cosy, tasteful shelter from the inclement weather outside, obviously run by Italians who had traveled and fallen in love with another culture.
So I walked straight past it and into the Filipino kebab place.
Bollywood music was screaming from the television on top of the fridge and the kebab and curries available were set out on plates behind a glass counter. The light was the cheap, glaring florescent kind and the seats were stools at a shelf by the side. The felafel came wrapped up in a plastic bag and I helped myself to a beer from the fridge, watching the Indian dance moves as I munched.
A couple of African guys walked in and complained about the weather with an Italian man who had ventured out of the safe territory of pasta dishes to try something different. I finished, paid up and walked out, running back a minute later to grab the bag I’d forgotten and they were all waiting to give it back to me, laughing like old friends.
In Italy they say that ‘all the world is a village’. You can package up culture all you want and create some imagined ideal but usually the real thing is just around the corner. It changes, gets mixed up and generally stays quite interesting and alive. I travel these days just by going to get a bite to eat.