Italy Stories - The Patron of Caffe' Roma is Part 1 of 5 in a series on living and working as a writer in Puglia, Italy.
Mike walked into a small coffee shop just outside the main square of Monopoli, Italia. The market was raging just outside the door and he could see the comings and goings of local men and women from his miniature table and 2 chairs positioned just inside the door. For reasons he did not know the shop was called Caffe' Roma. There were a few token photos of the Spanish Steps on the walls and some other indicative art but nothing about the place aside from being in Italy gave one a feeling of being in Rome. The place was tidy with gelato in myriad flavors on offer just across from the row of tiny tables where he sat. Men in white shirts, white pants, and black bow-ties moved at an elevated pace most people in this region reserved for house fires and boarding trains. The only female working at the Roma was a woman of about 60, smartly dressed, lean in build, and very clearly in charge of the money. Cashiers in Italy always come across as a mix of proprietor and armed guard Mike thought as he motioned a barman to visit.
The youngest of the the 3 servers in white rushed to the table and leaned in to listen to the American's order. Just as Mike was about to discreetly whisper his order he was interrupted by shouts of Dai! Dai! from the market outside. The American was used to the pitchy shouts of Pasquale the market man yet it never failed to startle him before he had his morning cappuccino and pastry.
Mike started again with his order and the young, eager server who looked so foolish in his barista costume and Buddy Holly glasses scurried away to prepare the ticket. Mike ordered the same thing almost everyday: a cappuccino, a donut-like pasty called a Krapfen, and a small glass of sparkling water. Mike did not like the name Krapfen as it was clearly borrowed from Germany and no place in Europe was less German than Monopoli, Italy. Mike preferred the Italian slang for the donut, la bomba. Never was there a more appropriate term for how these cream-filled gluten "bombs" felt when they hit the stomach. At the same time, the comfort of eating la bomba while watching a fresh market go live and enjoying a fine coffee was an unmatched way to begin a morning for Mike.
Dai! Dai! Forza, tre pezz un'euro tre pezz un'euro screamed Pasquale holding some gorgeous butter lettuces as the first bite of the bomb passed Mike's lips. Mike stared out to the street and wondered if they had cime di rapa today as he was in the mood for orecchiette. It was not uncommon for Mike to ponder his lunch options while he ate his breakfast. Mike was in Monopoli to study and to write but to him eating was the principal reason to get out of bed in the morning.
Moments into his peaceful breakfast an obvious American woman aggressively entered the room. This woman was clearly out-of-place as she moved impatiently towards the cashier. Mike thought this was going to be good as the American woman engaged the Italian woman without hesitation. The cashier actually cracked a smile as she pulled up her reading glasses and looked at the woman's map. There was a careless dance of finger points and "I don't understand gestures" that seemed to go on for minutes. It was clear there was little progress in resolving what the woman wanted. Mike, as he sipped his final bit of residual schiuma from the cappuccino rose from his chair and walked over to the American Woman. As much as Mike loved his anonymity he was always eager to help an American who had the travel chops to visit this part of Italy.
Mike: Buongiorno Signora (to the cashier and interrupting the discussion) Forse posso aiutare la Signora Americana.
Cashier: (looking relieved) grazie signore...grazie
Mike: Hi, it looks like you may be a little lost
Woman: You think?
Mike: I know the town pretty well
Woman: Good for you, what do you want?
Mike: (surprised at the woman's reaction) I just thought I might be able to help
Woman: I am stuck over here, have no idea why I chose this place, my kids are at home, and I just wanted to know where an ATM was and this lady could not get it. I mean, it is letters A.T.M.
Mike: They call them Bancomat over here
Woman: Well aren't you Mr know-it-all?
Mike: You are welcome to sit down and I can point out a couple on your map. (gesturing to his still crumb-filled table)
Woman: Is there someplace nicer we could have coffee
Mike: (laughing) This is easily the nicest cafe in town.
Mike: Seriously, have a seat and let's get you squared away
The two Americans sat at the disheveled table as the eager server rushed over with a rag and quickly brushed away the remnants of la bomba. Mike ordered a cappuccino for the woman as she turned her nose up at any of the pastries listed on the menu.
Mike: No nutritious pastry for you?
Woman: Just the coffee and thank you. How did you know I wanted a cappuccino
Mike: Oh that was for me, did you want something?
Woman: (puzzled look on her face)
Mike: I am just kidding, I figured I would just order the best thing they make.
Woman: Why are you here?
Mike: That is a good question. Why are you here?
Woman: My husband is fucking our maid, my daughter is fucking our maid's son, and my only son has been diagnosed with a rare disease.
Mike: Would you like a little grappa in that coffee?
(a moment of silence broken by Pasquale- dovete assagiare dovete assiagiare Dai! Dai!)
...to be continued