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Breathe In

Photo © Amitai | Dreamstime.com

“We won’t find anything for dinner here,” I whispered to my wife, Chris. “Look at that pitiful tomato.”

I pointed to a solitary, withered blob in a wooden crate outside the shop. There was little else to suggest the entrance led to a grocery, other than the word Alimentari painted carelessly on a weathered board. Shops in Tuscan hill towns usually have colorful outdoor displays to lure customers inside, but this market tucked into a corner of a sunny piazza had no alluring bin of flowers or vegetables, no baskets swollen with panettone or shimmering bottles of limoncello. Only the slumping tomato and the afterthought of a sign.

“I don’t think we have a choice,” Chris whispered back. “It’s siesta time and the other place is already closed. We’d better hurry while this one’s still open.”

Peering inside, I could barely make out the shop’s dark interior. The sunlight streaming in illuminated a small shelf of produce along one wall. Opposite the shelf, a bare, incandescent bulb dangled over a narrow counter. A small, battered ice cream freezer sat in front, emitting a dim, fluorescent glow. Perched on a stool behind the counter, with arms crossed, sat an elderly, white-haired woman in a threadbare sweater.

We were in Montisi, a village in the Crete Senesi region of Tuscany. It had a single main street that was so narrow in places, even the tiny Piaggio trucks had to maneuver carefully to avoid scraping the walls of adjacent buildings. We were renting an old farmhouse on the outskirts of town. After four days, we ha...