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Italy

The Corner Bar

ITALY | Monday, 11 May 2015 | Views [209]

The Corner “Bar”

 

Ducking into an open doorway, a friendly voice shouts out, “boungiorno, bella!” Looking up, I realize the barista, in a clean, crisp, white button up shirt and a black apron is smiling at me from his usual place behind a large marble counter top. I smile and answer, “Si! Si!” as he motions me to the counter. “Come stai?” (How are you?) the barista asks.  “Bene, Bene. (good, good)” I reply. He nods as he takes emptied espresso cups from the counter next to me and places them into a sink for washing. Men are lined up at the bar around me discussing the soccer game from the night before, and conversations take on lively interaction and boisterous laughter.

Men and women seated near and around the bar stare at me as if trying to size me up. A year ago I would have been intimidated to stand at the counter of this café and order. A year ago I was the outsider American attempting to figure out her new city and culture.  Now, I’m a regular part of this group of Italian men and women enjoying their morning espressos and pastries. I smile at each of them, saying a quick “ciao” with a smile and a curt nod. The women smile back, the men nod in reply. “Un cappuccino con zucchero?/Cappuccino with sugar?” he asks me, already in the motions of loading the espresso machine. I smile again and answer, “come sempre/As always.” I look over at the pastries and cookies lining a shelf nearby. Chocolate. Chocolate everywhere. The smell of espresso and cigarette smoke permeates the air around me as I listen in on the injustices of shin kicks and un-called fouls.

Having arrived one year prior to the city of Naples, Italy I had been the one staring and questioning as I walked into this corner café for the first time. Walking through ancient cobbled stone streets attempting to get my bearings; I had been lured by the smell of freshly brewed espresso and a window full of pastries. Untrained in the ways of Italian social graces, I didn’t understand that it was normal to be stared down until you had been properly sized up. It wasn’t rudeness or dismissive judgment. It was simple contemplative curiosity. My first time entering this café and feeling a large amount of inquiring eyes persuaded me to look for a quick exit. Yet, that barista saw me and yelled out a quick, “Ciao, Bella!” with his welcoming smile. “Vieni! Vieni!” (Come! Come!). I approached the counter apprehensively, pointed to a coffee cup next to me on the counter and asked for “un café.” He shook his head and replied, “No, no, bella. Un cappuccino.” I was a little thrown off by his assertion that I had no idea what I wanted, but then I quickly realized my error. He held up an espresso cup and said “un café.” Reaching towards the larger cup I originally pointed out, he held it up in comparison to the espresso cup. “Un cappuccino.”  I laughed and nodded in agreement. ”Un cappuccino, per favore.” A few of the old men at the counter next to me chuckled and all at once became welcoming and attempted to speak to me. “Dove vieni?” (Where did you come from?) The ability to recognize the difference between a shot of espresso and a cappuccino was my first lesson in Italian coffee culture, and the gateway to my love affair with Italy.

I ended up chatting for a little over an hour with the barista and various customers at that counter. Me, with my broken Italian and them as they asked about America and occasionally teased with certain American catchphrases that they had learned on television. We chatted about the weather, the city, and the art of the perfect cappuccino. What I couldn’t understand in words, they created in grand hand gestures and motions. I’m sure we appeared as a hilarious and elaborate game of charades. At the end of our conversation, he came around the counter and gave me two quick kisses, one on each cheek, and made me agree to come back again. “assolutamente” (absolutely).

Two years, many conversations, charades, and cappuccinos later, I am ever thankful for that first café experience. If it hadn’t been for a sweet and welcoming “ciao, bella!” I doubt I would have found a ‘home’ in Italy as I did in that corner café in Naples.

 

Tags: cafe, italy, naples

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