Indulge me. Yesterday’s love letter (of sorts) to Italy has sent me down a road.
One where I want to share loves, passions and experiences from visiting a country I love.
Today’s view is about touch points. Things that happen during the day. Sometimes each day. That for numerous reasons, we can’t or choose not to accept over here.
Some we do. Or some we bastardise. Like Aperitivo.
Chances are, you’re doing Aperitivo “wrong”. It’s not just the concept of opening the gin at 5.01pm, and shedding the skin of another working day. It’s really about going to a bar, ordering a drink and being given a plate(s) of food to keep you there. To drink that bit more.
When A. was pregnant with our girl, LLK, we went to an Aperitivo night in Turin (Torino), with friends. Tables were creaking with the amount of food that was laid out on them. Folk were attacking the tables as if it was their only meal of the week.
I ordered a couple of drinks. Beer for me, and a soft drink for A. It came to €16 (Sixteen). This was 2009. Being British, I smiled and walked away – feeling as if I had been wronged, but wouldn’t dream of raising it.
I went back to the bar 30 minutes later – having given up trying to get to the food. For fear a Harpy might swoop and attack me. This time I got a Gin and Tonic and another soft drink. I was charged €16 again. I smiled a slightly more crooked smile, then asked, in that confused way, how much the soft drink was? The barman pointed to a sign that I took as meaning “You want food, you pay €8 for a drink. Any drink”.
We left shortly after.
Another element of daily life I love and miss is Passeggiata. That early evening stroll of people you see in Italian towns and cities. Where families head out. To dodge the dog muck, as they wander down to the local gelateria and meet friends and family members. Before heading back home.
We try it here. In the summer, we’ll walk to get an ice cream from the van by the playground in the local park. But there’s very rarely anyone to meet. No one to talk to. It’s an insular experience that tries to replicate a far more social existence.
Maybe that will change after lockdown. More people say hello from 2 metres away than ever before. We smile and nod the “Isn’t this crap” nod. Why can’t we do that with an ice cream in our hands? Let’s all meet by the Meanwood Ice Cream van when this is all over. 99s and Oysters on me.
Much like a Passeggiata preamble, I have used more of this post to reach the actual point that sparked this idea, than I had planned to.
Coffee at the bar.
I want to be back, stood in a coffee bar. Drinking a cappuccino or an espresso. Watching office workers on their way to work – or out on a quick break. Joined by service workers at the end of a shift. Seeing how they engage – interact with each other for the length of time it takes to drink a coffee. Then they are gone.
It’s also the theatre of it all. Paying the grumpy person in the corner. Taking your receipt to the bar. The clatter of the saucer in front of you. A thin paper serviette wrapped around the Cornetto (the sweetened Italian version of the croissant). The cup placed down with no respect reserved for the drink inside. That jolt you get from the dark, black espresso. Flavour profiles – one.
I miss the noise (the blast of a steam wand) and I miss the vibrancy of the people around me. Which is why, maybe, it’s good I only see it fleetingly. Only see it when I am on holiday. Keeping its appeal intact.
So here’s to standing at a bar – coffee or drinks. To walking and talking with an ice cream in hand. To craving contact in this social distancing age. For that’s what it is all about. Constant craving of contact. Of humans I do and don’t know.