Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Battle Of The Bar Door

I am involved with a few blogs where people who are seeking information on life in Italy.  Many are considering moving to Italy, and are researching the hows and wheres, etc.  These blogs are helpful and I try to make a few comments in them about life here besides writing my own blog.   For my subscribers….. I am back to writing about Italy.  Here we go, my attempt to season your romantic world view.

The sky today is  gray, the clouds are low, the humidity is heavy like a wet blanket.   Italian pop music rhythmically reminds me in what country I reside in, while  three old guys sit near my small table in my coffee bar, Cafe Jolie.  A balding guy with a neatly trimmed mustache is speaking in Veneto, the dialect of this area.  He bears a striking resemblance to  Higgins, the character on Magnum PI.  Looking over the top of his glass he says, “ Heyay gowa sua eeah ay cava subata laya comeeah waka veeyaw, si, roba comabah….”  Veneto sounds exactly like this to me.  The acoustics of the dialect Veneto to my ears has less use of consonants.  Lotta vowels!  Lots.

Not a day over 75,  two other men throw in their comments and laugh.  They hardly look up as a fourth old gray haired guy arrives and pulls up a chair.  Together the look like aged pall bearers at the Godfather’s funeral.  Should I be worried?

They sit relaxed and jabber.  They have ordered no coffees.  They are just here for some engaging talk.  No one seems to mind.   In a village like mine, bars are meeting places. Hollywood has shown us this picture numerous times, the tiny village, the old guys sitting at a table playing cards and the sexy barista tending the bar.  However, no one plays cards in my village.

Slot Machines in Bars Here
A rough looking man, in need of a shave, wanders in.  He is dressed in typical orange worker garb, the kind that highway workers wear for visual protection.  He walks straight to the door of the bathroom.  
Bars are useful for refreshments but also for the bathrooms provided for their customers.  I also have learned to use them out of desperation. 
I sometimes buy something out of guilt and sometimes I don’t.  Like the burger place, It’s in and out.    Bar bathrooms are the local public restrooms for Italians, and unlike in the 70’s, are quite clean.  (Remember this when you are a tourist.)  

                                           A Good Example
Two days ago I was in the village of Noventa Padovana where I had held a painting exhibition some years ago.  One of my paintings now hangs in the mayor’s (Sindaco) office.  Which ought to count for something, right?  I was driving by and in need of a restroom, as there are no gas stations there and we don’t  have  7/11’s in Italy.    So I stopped in the convenient free parking area and went into the city hall with the office of the Sindaco.  I was met with a scowl in the hallway by a custodian in an prisoner-ish orange suit.   I could tell I was in trouble before I started.  He curtly wanted to know what I wanted, and I explained I was needing a bagno (bathroom).  He said, “what?”   My hit and run Italian accent had revealed me to be a stranieri.   I had little hope in the first place as most Italians take one look at me and figure I am either German or Russian.  I told him I was looking for a toilet.  At this point,  with feigned outrage, he stuck his arm out and pointed to the door, while he said, “BAR!”  He was pointing to the bar directly across the street.   Here was the prisoner in that orange Jailbird suit, telling me where to go!  I was being viewed with considerable disfavor, somewhere between a bill collector and Vlad the Impaler.

Later I was having an interesting discussion with my wife, and she politely told me that in Italy people do not use the city hall bathrooms.  Those toilets are reserved for the pampered fannies of the elected officials. Something about the perks of officials here in Italy don't add up!  I countered with my thoughts on this:  In America, no one would be refused to use a bathroom in the city hall.  We  Americans own that city hall!   I guess tax paying Italians don't own the local city hall.  Where is the justice in this!  RISE UP, ITALIANS!  (While you are at it, more benches and water fountains, please!)

Then it got funny when my wife told me I had looked pretty “rough” that day and much like a Romanian immigrant.   (I don't have any Romanians reading my blog, so I am safe to use this.)     Should I be wearing suit and tie?   I have been judged before the trial!  I countered that I did not look like the 4 guys who robbed me in St. Petersburg!  
I looked at myself, clean shirt, pants, hair combed, shaved, (Okay, I did need a haircut) everything in place and to top it off,  I had smiled and was polite to the orange costumed custodian.  This is not justice!  What would happen  if I had a SUDDEN AND URGENT need for a bathroom?  
Such is Italy.  They can hang my painting in the mayor’s office, but I cannot use his urinal!  I think I want my painting back!

                                           Back to the bar. 
 The old guys have now ordered a spritz which is a combination of compari or aperol and prosecco (champagne style wine made in Italy and quite good- - a lot cheaper)  They have waited until after 11:00 because bars feature snacks for free when you order a spritz at this time of the morning.  Cafe Jolie brings to your table a large bowl of chips surrounded by tasty finger sandwiches.  While they are wolfing down the freebies, another old friend joins them, coming in from the light rain shaking his umbrella.   I have noticed that he has left the door open and we are now feeling the chilling effect of the cold sneaking its way into the toasty-warm bar.  This happens a lot in this bar.  I don’t know why, except that Italians like doors open more than I would.  They don’t seem to realize the money lost in losing heat this way.   The door remained open for most of the morning that day.
Music Videos Pump It Out
The day before this it had been an even colder day and sitting in the bar I glanced up from my keyboard and saw the door had suddenly been propped open.  I had a light jacket on and was feeling uncomfortable from the cold.  I looked at the barista, but she was busily sweeping the crumbs dropped from people’s brioches.  I waited.  I tried to get her attention, but no....  I waited....My nose began to get cold and my fingers seemed to be at the first stage of frostbite.  

This is more than a petty annoyance to me and finally I got up and closed the door.  ( BTW I am sitting 6 inches from the wall heater.)  Soon it became comfortable again.  I couldn't see my breath anymore.  Ten minutes go by and the manager rushes out of the kitchen and hurrying to the door says, “Dave, I must open the door, it is hot in here!”   What can I say?  It is 54 degrees outside.  She wants it the same!  They have lived their lives in this cold humidity.  The kind that caused consumption in the past.  I have lived in the dry cold of the Rockies and the west coast of the U.S.    This is Italy.  
Italian Breakfast Of Champions
Another heated discussion at home occurs the same day.   I am made to realize that scarfed and jacketed Italians walk in off the street to have a quick hard-core two-minute coffee “whatever” and leave.  They don’t come into a bar, remove their jacket, and sit around reading a book, working a computer or talking on the phone.   They come for their coffee fix, a jolt of caffeine in a tiny cup.  If they want to sit, they will do this during their hour and a half lunch.  (Factory workers only get 30 minutes, I say this to save myself another at-home discussion later.)  There is no lollygagging around.  This is NOT Starbucks!  I am the lone goof-off in the whole village.  For me, pacing is important.  At least they know my name in my bar!   (BTW we have checked and Starbucks in Milano is still a few months away.  So some of you will have to wait a bit longer for your souvenir Milano mugs.) 

Cin Cin!

This is life in Italy, the bare bones, reality.  People want to know.  It is not a hard life, and if you let go a little, you find a very peaceful one.   Those little things combined with no crime in my village?   They are gladly acceptable for me.  I just have to wear a better jacket…..
long underwear
wool socks
Russian hat with flaps
scarf (no I refuse that)