Freakishly, I had my first fresh coconut in Florence. This is rather surprising in an austere city of stone where the sun can disappear all winter long, and it is very hard to even track down a proper palm tree unless you make your way to the synagogue and peer through the garden’s gate for a glimpse of the holy land.
Even after 17 years of exploration, Florence contains surprising corners. I was making my way through the produce vendors of Santo Spirito one morning doing my daily assessment of the apricots, which is far better than the farmer’s almanac for tracking how spring is folding into summer, when I caught sight of a tiny store front of beautifully juxtaposed gray concrete, heavy glass, and metal cages filled with young pineapples and aged wood. Raw is an urban oasis of heavenly proportions. I don’t believe in heaven, but I heard angels.
While I have written about this place before, I feel as though I have been keeping a secret from you. There is a limited supply of coconuts in Florence, and this may soon unfold in a micro economics supply and demand chart around precious cargo. May I add that it would be easier to buy coconut meat from the vendor dragging a cooler and aggressively shouting COCO to the high heavens as he walks from blanket to blanket across the public beach of Viareggio? But, it’s the water that will bring tears to your eyes.
And speaking of joy; It’s almost impossible to describe how delicate and complex a lavender smoothie can be, or how you can feel a shot of aloe vera cut with a crisp green apple coating your body and going to war against man’s toxins, but I digress from the coconuts. I saw them that first day and inquired curiously. They had come from Thailand, but maybe one day they could be grown in the wilds of exotic Sicily. I took note.
I’ve had coconut water in the States. Packed queerly in little boxes, it promises to rehydrate you naturally. However, even cut with fruit, it tastes like nature’s armpit meet nature’s unwashed feet and they spawned ala Sigourney Weaver in Aliens. The processed variety is quite putrid.
With this false start, it is not surprising that it took me a long time to work up the courage to ask for a coconut. And my hesitation was compounded by the tools and brute force needed to access the coconut’s water. In a vegan raw foods setting, the mallet seemed to hang there as a symbol of abject butchery. But one day, after a long run down the Arno, thirst won. I asked.
I am sure it is quite the site to see a woman, who is somewhere between being Italian and American, sitting with a coconut in her lap settling into the high sun of the piazza. I gathered my courage and took a sip. It was the most perfect food I have ever had the pleasure of consuming. Ice cold, with the essence of crisp nuts and tropical perfume; it was as though nature had managed to capture all of the glory of the ocean breeze on that first perfect spring day and had packaged it up for my consumption.
I walk to Santo Spirito every day, by hell or high water, for my oasis. I’m not sure what I will do stateside. Does Betty Ford have a wing for coconut rehab?
Coconuts are my much-needed daily reminder to live simply and boldly. Today, I asked the graceful woman who owns Raw about a strange bunch of delicate deep yellow fruit that had appeared in the window display still attached to their oversized leaves. They say that vegans glow, and while listening to her describe a gluttonous meal of these you can actually see a peaceful aura rising. When she carefully selected and firmly plucked one of the fruits and handed it to me with a smile and a rough little napkin, in that moment, all was perfectly right with the world. I carried that little fruit like a primal treasure, cradled carefully in my palm, across Florence. I haven’t eaten it yet, because it’s just too beautiful.