Coffee Stories from Italy

5 Coffee

Coffee story #1 The cafe opens directly onto a narrow street. There is just room for a tiny table and bar stool between the cars and the wall. I sit with an espresso doppio and a brioche and watch, sharing my table with a large full ashtray.

A woman Polizia Locale with a white cap and cute pony tail stands in a junction waving cars past, which they would do anyway.

Two Guardia di Finanza men in grey uniforms, army boots and berets, with guns in holsters, lean on the bonnet of their car talking to a woman. They pour over a thick book. He holds a green/red, stop/go stick. This goes on a long time.

On the opposite side of the street there are tables and chairs under an awning, overlooking the harbour. Groups of old men hang around and discussion is lively.

The proprietress comes out of the cafe and takes the other bar stool and chair inside, then closes the door and disappears . . . ??

I see a procession slowly approaching. At the front is a lone brown and white dog, barking. A priest in bright purple follows, holding aloft a stick with a tortured figure on it. He is flanked by two somber men — more follow.

Then a silver hearse, the driver quite out of place in his shiny suit amongst the rough men. In the back a casket covered in flowers. We care for the unfortunate dead more than we ever do for the living.

The long procession trudges by right next to me, now with some older women too. I notice that everyone around me is standing up but I do not share this religion and remain seated — anyway it is too late now. Some women glare.

Slowly the straggling group makes it way down the narrow street and around the bay towards the cemetery where I parked my car yesterday.

The proprietress opens the doors and reappears with the chairs, safe from the shades of the dead. The old men across the street sit down and the mood lightens.

The two Guardia di Finanza finally straighten up and shake hands formally with the woman. She hurries off stuffing a much needed cigarette in her mouth.

I finish my coffee and leave in the opposite direction.


Coffee story #2 On my way to the mountain I stop in the little village of Foria for my morning coffee. There is a small paved square with a bar/cafe in one dark corner.

Several men stand around separately, gazing vacantly in different directions.

I buy my coffee and pastry and sit on a tiled seat along the edge of the square, under the pollarded remains of a tree. Electric cabling vanishes under folds of growth where it loops around an old branch.

Three old guys sit around the only table in plastic armchairs. They talk loudly and hail everyone that passes. Every so often another old guy strolls in with affected nonchalance and greets the chair. It seems that they are following stage directions.

A pigeon flutters from the church tower — there is always one nearby — and disappears into a hole in the house.

Near me on the tiled edge of seating there is a mother with a baby in a pram. Everyone who comes up greets her, ‘Salve’ and pokes their head inside the pram. A five year old sister in a red puffer jacket skips around the square and her father shuffles after her.

No one is in a hurry. Nothing needs to be done. This is all.

I am sad to break the spell and leave. On my way out I glance at the back of the chairs, hoping to see ‘Direttore’. I think I understand Fellini better.

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