Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Scenes From a Bar

I had barely disentangled myself from the seatbelt when I saw Anna's face in the bar doorway.  She had spotted me and was waiting, a smile spread broad across her face, arms raising to wave.  "Bentornata!"  Welcome back!  She pulled me into a hug while scurrying me into the bar.  In a flash she was behind the counter, her face beaming while she started preparing a cappuccino, and peppered me with questions about my flight and my plans, reaching across the bar to pat my hand every few minutes.

I spend a lot of time here.  This coffee bar, like countless others across Italy, is the main meeting spot and central diffusion point for all gossip in town.  It is in the main piazza, so all comings and goings are clearly seen...and discussed.  Everything starts here; when the stone masons arrived, we met up at the bar and had to have a coffee before proceeding, a preliminary courtesy.  At the end of the day, it is customary to offer them a beer or aperitivo to cap off their hard work. 

Bar owners of Lucanella

Old men always occupy a table inside, whiling away the time with cards and caffe corretti.  Their own conversations stop to listen to my comments, no matter how banal they may be.  At one point, a cappuccino-drinking patron asked me a casual question and a man from the table responded to her with my answer before I could!    

One fine morning a man initiated a conversation and we chatted for about ten minutes about all manner of things, after which another guy entered and bobbed his head in my direction asking his friend if I was a foreigner.  "No, la signora e' una paesana nostra," (she is one of our villagers) he answered, which told me clearly that I was accepted as an official resident.  Since my family heritage lies in a village nearby, I have been accepted as a local despite my far-away accent and my inability to maneuver my car into tight spaces in full view of everyone.

Another day while enjoying a cappuccino and cornetto, a man was passing through the piazza, glanced over and saw me in the bar, and made a bee-line for me.  "Mah!  You're Michele's cousin?  I saw you yesterday with Michele and asked around...I was told you're cousins!  E' vero?  Wow, Michele was the greatest soccer player in the region!  He's a legend.  Benvenuta...welcome.  If you need anything, you come to me.  I'd do anything for a family member of Michele's!"  Hmmm, interesting, since my cousin had never told me of these glorious victories of his. 

Throughout my three weeks, little by little, I met the majority of the townspeople while standing at the bar sipping my coffee.  And little by little, they got to know me and shed their initial wariness or curiosity about me.  After all, I'm just an ordinary villager like them.


carol said...

hey Valerie,
what a sweet story! That's actually kind of how we are feeling now, here in Soriano. It is really feeling like home.
Hope you'll be back soon!!

Linda @ Ice Tea For Me said...

That's what I love about Italy. Thanks for sharing your story.

LindyLouMac said...

It is such a great feeling when you feel welcome isn't it. Great piece.

Valerie said...

Carol - Glad you found that homey feeling!
Linda - We really lack those kinds of gathering spots here, it's something so distinctive about Italy.
LindyLou - It is; very heart-warming. Thanks!

Miss Footloose said...

I remember my puzzlement the first few times we came to the bar in the little town where we stayed: People would come in, stand at the bar and the barrista would plop coffee and a cornetto or other goodie in front of them without the people having said a thing, or given an order.

I realized they didn't need to: they were regulars! Ah, the joy of small town life.

Then again, there is the gossip!

Loved your post; it offers the color and flavor of real Italian life.

airport berlin hotel said...

I also love Italy a lot.thanks for sharing such a lovely story and yes will be waiting for your next one.

italytutto said...

I enjoyed your post so much that I added it to my Top 10 this week over on www.italytutto.com.

Valerie said...

Hi Miss Footloose - Yep, to be a regular is a great thing! The gossip, well, it's part of the scene and I'm sure someday I'll get to participate instead of being the subject!

ItalyTutto - Thanks! I'm always flattered when you feature my posts. :)

Debra Kolkka said...

I love going to Bar Italia in our village (Bagni di Lucca)every morning for a cappuccino and a sfoglia. Annalisa makes the pastries on the premises and they are delicious. It is delightful to be accepted into the community.