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Saturday, 9 December, 2000, 12:21 GMT
Rome's heavenly sweetshop
By Joanna Robertson in Rome
I hurry up Via de Pie' di Marmo - the Street of the Marble Foot, wrapped up in my scarlet coat, a shopping list penned on parchment-thick Roman notepaper tucked safely in the pocket, red leather wallet at the ready, my warm breath hanging in the ice-blue December air.
On the corner, nestled behind an unruly stack of semi-parked mopeds - or 'motorino's' - is a large, plain shop window.
Through a gap in the heavy port-wine curtains, drawn protectively against a pool of still strong winter sun, I glimpse a capacious copper vat filled to the brim with plump brown-sugar encrusted chestnuts, marron glaces.
Numbers 21 to 22, Via del Pie' di Marmo, is a sweet shop, the Confetteria Moriondo and Gariglio.
Warm scent of chocolate
The brass door handle wobbles unsteadily, the shop bell rings, and the thick warm scent of chocolate wraps itself around me.
Stepping past the cast-iron Dachshund door-stop, his nose out-stretched and gloriously sniffing.
At a round occasional table spread with vibrant coloured foil and scarlet-lettered cards, a young girl sits in a rumpled similar-scarlet overall, listing ingredients methodically in gold ink.
Around the room, shelves up to the stuccoed ceiling are buried with stacks of brightly coloured woven straw baskets, blown-glass sweet jars filled with chocolate coated coffee beans or raisins or sun-baked sultanas; wedding-white sugared almonds; jellied fruits; and plain no-nonsense preserving jars, rubber sealed, full of with succulent marron glaces and carefully marked with slips of paper for customers' Christmas preparations.
Mona Lisa smile
Behind a broad, heavy old glass and mahogany counter, a clock stands eternally at not quite half-past eight amidst untidy rows of small Christmas trees hung with assorted chocolates, in pale pink, turquoise, Quality Street green, red, gold, silver, midnight blue.
What earthly chance does my well ordered pocketed shopping list stand before such a paradise of sensual temptations?
Too and fro goes the Signora Piemina Mimeli, the proprietress, her dark hair loosely twisted into a bun, her well-worn crepe soled shoes bulging a little at the corns. She has a Mona Lisa smile, in a face aged kindly with secret recipes.
Generation after generation
Her father, Marcello Proietti, was an inspirational grand maestro chocolate maker from Turin in the Piedmont region, who journeyed south to Rome in 1886, bringing with him the great chocolate tradition of his famous home-town, and founded his shop at the Street of the Marble Foot, a few minutes away from the glittering Palazzo Doria Pamphilj.
Signora Mimeli carries her father's art with her, too and fro across the shop, in and out of the sweet-kitchen door, where her son, Attilio, who grew up amidst copper pans of bubbling sugar syrup, rich south American cocoa solids, and thick boiling cream, works away each day re-creating his grandfather's sublime confectionery.
In all, there are over 80 varieties of chocolates, pralines, fondants, jellied fruits, truffles and caramelised nut confections.
A world of choices
Modest thick gold cardboard trays of sweets are laid out under the glass-topped counter, where napkins sit to wipe one's mouth after tasting.
"Try this, and this, and what about these, Signora, your baby daughter will like these."
Tiny sugared balls, in pink, white, violet and mint-green, tasting delicately of summer roses; sugar-crystallised drops of rose-water, done up in a paper cone to take home to a two-year old, who already loves them.
And another filled with dark chocolate 'lingue di gatti', or cats' tongues, shaped like old-fashioned ice cream sticks, each stamped with a miniature kitten's face.
The chocolates, in either latte or fondant, milk or plain, are flavoured with amaretto liqueur, coconut, orange oil, raspberry, coffee, pineapple, pistachio, strawberry, or marsala zabaglione.
Next to them lie glistering rows of jellied quince, orange, lemon, pineapple, strawberry, raspberry, tangerine, in slices or small delicious lumps.
Chocolate hearts are stacked next to chocolate stars, chocolate Christmas trees and golden wrapped chocolate coins.
My shopping list withers in my pocket as my wallet takes over.
Back to reality
The shop bell rings once more, and I am out on the street again, facing the stack of inelegant motorini, the air no longer sweet but sharp and cold.
Now then, there is one thing more I would like to buy. A certain type of torrone, or nougat, in roasted pistachio or almond, only available at a tiny but excellent Jewish pasticceria on Piazza Benedetto Cairoli near the market square.
But that is another story.
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