There is a local watering hole I frequent, which I call the “Old Farts Bar”. We have several bars in town where one can get a number of different kinds of coffee drinks. Old Farts is only patronized by tottering old men, well past the age of 70. It is a deep-rooted “men only” establishment. Not more than once or twice have I seen a woman venture inside, sitting by what I gather would be their husbands.
These old men have been beaten down by a lifetime of hard work, wear and tear. Italian life hasn’t always been easy. You can expect sudden loud clearings of throats and noses, coughing and snorting. If they see a friend on the street, a greeting will be bellowed out to get their attention. They know everyone in the village and have an opinion on everything.
The only woman inside this bar is the barista, a knock dead 30 year old with shiny well kept hair and big black glasses which partially hide her dark blue eyes. She daily dresses herself typically in Italian designed super tight pants, and a loose blouse. Bending over to clean a table brings near applause. There are times when the old codgers line up at the bar, hovering over her even without ordering a coffee. They outright stare at her like a kid catching Santa under the tree. They hover like flies on honey and oogle Miss Hotpants as if judging a painting in an exhibition. Beyond doubt they are completely dazzled by her charms. There is a lot of “back in my day” thinking. The owner has been smart, with an eye on profit making.
Baristas are quite like therapists. People make short visits and while drinking their capuccino unload recent problems. Offering little advice, Italian baristas are like therapists who listen and let you figure out your own answers. However, the above mentioned hottie does not give therapy, they are too dumb-struck to communicate.
|A Turkish Old Guy Group|
One would expect to see old Italian men in a bar playing cards, but that scene is a bit of Hollywood. They don’t play cards in my village. My wife tells me that it is not allowed as it is considered gambling. This is against the law. The local police are visible much of the time, and also two Carabinieri come in for coffee in the mornings. The result is that there is no crime in our village.
I sit in this bar with my coffee Americano and with my laptop I type descriptions of these colorful characters that hang out there. The whole gathering is a portraiture of old Italy in black and white. What little testosterone they have left they use in their loud voices and litigations. Opinions are expressed with a flair of typical Italian hand gestures.
Observing them is good practice for me as the preponderance of them seem quite off-center. If you are a writer and need characters for a novel, look nowhere else. Sitting at the tables painted in Italian colors of green, red and white, you will find a brigand, a gangster, a farmer, and a performer, comedian, mime, politician, and a mafia boss. Even though there is no mafia here there is one who could easily put Marlon Brando on the bench.
The top 10 most fascinating inhabitants of the town would have the majority spots filled by these wacky pensioners. In a faded yellow shirt an old fellow looks like a fossilized Sean Hannity, pleasing himself with his point of view. Another I have named The Roamer. All morning with his hands stuffed in his pokets he walks back and forth to his car about every five minutes reminding me of a hyena trapped in a small cage at the zoo. In the corner a thin man with tossled hair looks like Luciano Pavarotti gone diet. He sits quietly hunched over the table thumping his knuckles and has a gaze sending me a message, “come back when you can’t stay so long”. (Clearly, being American, I am out of their league.)
My favorite is the one I call the Pirate. Sauntering in around 9:30 with the gait of a barbarous privateer, he sports a red bandana around his neck and a large and shiny gold earing hanging from one ear. With his grizzled face and his hair tied back like a tattooed biker, he commands respect from all his peers. His gravelly voice orders his macchiato, while he positions himself at the head of the table with his buddies. He speaks to them with a library voice, and everybody listens. If Steven Spielberg ever needs an old crusty pirate, I know the guy for the part.
This is a glimpse of the real life in a small village in northern Italy. In future posts I will continue to describe my village. In a few ways it IS like you have seen featured in the movies. Just don’t expect the accordion player you see and hear in the background playing O Sole Mio.