The real Italy

He should not have had that second glass of wine. No, definitely, he should have resisted and contented with water after the first glass, like all the other guests in this ristorante. Italian restaurants are full of temptations, he thought, especially those in Italy. It was practically de rigueur to try one of the incomprehensible things the waiter was throwing at you, verbally, with a very earnest voice, as if it was his life’s job. Which it was, of course.

One group of guests after another trundled into the focacceria, which was strictly speaking only supposed to serve focaccias but seemed to have a secret kitchen for heavier food in the back. Every now and then the waiter would disappear into these secret crevices and re-emerge with something steaming and delicious and linguistically difficult to pin down.

These guests. Some had been there already when he arrived, of course. It was past 1pm when the main crowds showed up and this although he had always thought Italians would eat between midday and 3pm, at least. Maybe they did, but perhaps the focacceria was just a stop-over, part of an elaborate restaurant-crawl by the ever-hungry guests from the neighbourhood, popping by one restaurant after another for yet one more little snack. And perhaps another primo. And one more segundo. This wine definitely had gone to his head.

Anyway, these guests. Some were workers. And they talked about food, all the time. While eating. They talked about some other meals, pasta dishes they had had in the remote past, which had been either better or worse or at least comparable to what they were stuffing into their mouths at that very moment. That is, if he understood correctly the morsels of vocabulary falling onto his table. Should he order something else, a dessert perhaps?

Other guests were from the doctor’s surgery next door, he was sure. There was something clinical about them, and they were all women. And they drank only water and talked quietly and behaved just generally not very Italian, he thought. But then he was only visiting, for two days or three, trying to make sense of it all, purposely holding on to all his preconceived ideas and the stuff he had read in the latest travel guide, the one that focused on this globe’s single travellers, which is also what they liked to highlight  in their name.

But back to these groups of guests. Others just joined after he had finished his primo piatto, an exceptionally good plate of spaghetti de gamberi, with just the right level of tomato and pepper and gamberi, the pasta nicely al dente, just on the right side of too hard, something he never was able to achieve passably at home.

The last two groups arrived nearly at the same time. Five women and one man, all in their thirties, clearly having a luncheon business meeting because one was throwing English expressions into the conversation, such as ‘sales point’ and ‘marketing’ and ‘online payment’. One of the women, just after having ordered several plates of buffalo mozzarella with bread and sparkling water, opened a laptop and started declaiming some business goals in Italian, something that seemed to the traveller an infraction of the sanctimony of Italian lunch time. How things had changed.

And then there was the all-male group of middle-aged business people in stripy shirts, sporting moustaches, eating their mozzarella and focaccia with napkins tucked into their suspenders, looking around the room as if they owned everything in it, which they probably did because they were regulars and had been going to this place since day one when it first opened. They looked like the brokers from next door. If there was a broker next door, which he heavily doubted – they could also have been lawyers. With moustaches.

The effect of two glasses of excellent white wine from the region, not too fruity not too dry, was just about to wear off when he noticed the last group coming in, latecomers at 2:30pm, all women with the shortest hair possible, most likely hairdressers or radical leftist tourist agents or government employees, who had probably long ago stopped caring how staff was supposed to appear at the office. They devoured their food as if their lunch breaks were all too short and they had to go back to shave some more heads or send people to the Comores to salvage local lizard populations, or to reinvigorate government spending in health and education. Their time was limited, their food only a necessity.

The traveller, now sobered up, decided to leave this establishment and find some other, one that really was Italian and fulfilled his normal fantasies. With gondolieres and arias and cheap red wine and mafiosis lurking in dark corners, their guns barely hidden under their shoulder pads. The real Italy, eh?