Italy Roundtable: When “Il Solito” is Italy’s Sweetest Phrase
When we decided that the topic for December’s Italy Blogging Roundtable would be DRINKING, I think the idea was that it was an appropriately celebratory topic for the holidays. The more I thought about it, though, the more I realized that my fondest “drinking” memory in Italy doesn’t revolve around alcohol at all.
Italy turned me into a coffee drinker.
I owe Italy many things. Italy has taught me to take myself less seriously and to always have a Plan B (and C and D). But the most tangible impact Italy has had on me, the one that changed my daily life, has to do with the coffee.
I’ve always been one of those people who needs lots of sleep, so pulling all-nighters in college was never tempting and I never even bothered to try coffee until after I graduated. Even then, it was only a heavily-sugared mocha (which is more milk than coffee, let’s face it) that I found palatable. And then after several months of having one of those mochas every day, my stomach started to rebel. I switched to decaf, thinking that might help, but it didn’t. I had heard coffee was acidic, but when the doctor said the word “pre-ulcerative” and that was all I needed to hear – I didn’t drink coffee again for 12 years.
And then I spent six weeks in Italy.
It started when the husband and I moved into our apartment in Milan, the space we would call home for the next month and a half, and almost immediately decided we needed to find “our” corner bar. Every Italian has one, we reasoned – that place they stop en route from home to office each day for a quick coffee and pastry, that place where there’s no need to order because the barista starts making their usual drink as soon as they walk in the door. We wanted that – I wanted that – and no pre-ulcerative stomach pains were going to keep me from experiencing it, if only for six weeks.
Luckily for us, the first bar we tried was perfect. Located less than two blocks from our apartment on the sort of oversized intersection the Italians call a piazza, Bar Fusina was run by a young couple and was open every day but Sunday. They had coffee and pastries in the mornings, sandwiches and salads at lunchtime, and liquor available for aperitivo in the late afternoon. We started going to Bar Fusina every day.
Of course, in the beginning, we stuck out like sore thumbs. Other patrons got a quick glance and a nod, before taking (what I assume was) their usual seat and having their usual drink delivered by the barista with barely a word spoken. We got double-takes from staff and customers alike. We placed our orders and drank our coffees at the counter. We never felt unwelcome – far from it – only conspicuous. They were all so polite, I stopped feeling self-conscious about standing out after a few days, but it wasn’t until a few weeks had gone by that things really changed.
One morning when we walked into the busy bar, the barista gave us a familiar nod and asked, “Il solito?”
The usual. He had asked if we wanted our usual. At this bar in central Milan, we had a “usual.”
That moment remains one of the happiest I’ve ever experienced in Italy. It’s always my dream to become “a regular” when I travel, but when you’re only in a place for a few days at most that’s nigh unto impossible. Being in Milan for six weeks on that trip gave us the chance to settle not just into a routine but into a community.
For the rest of our stay, we never had to place an order at Bar Fusina again. Leaving the comfort of being regulars at Bar Fusina was one of the saddest parts about going home, especially because we could never explain to them what a difference they had made to our Milan experience. During visits to the city in the years since that trip, I’ve gone back to Bar Fusina just to make sure it’s still there (it is). The same couple was running it the last time I visited, although of course after so much time I got double-takes and had to order my coffee again.
The lasting gift from that trip is that I was so wrapped up in the experience of my daily trip to “my” corner bar that I never thought about my stomach’s prior relationship with coffee. When I got home, I started making coffee every morning in a mokapot, just to continue the ritual. I figured that if my stomach acted up again, I’d quit again – but it never did. I’d like to believe that my stomach didn’t just adapt to coffee better after so many years, but that having achieved “regular” status in the warm Bar Fusina environment had something to do with it, too.
Other Voices at the Italy Roundtable
So, what DRINKING topics are my fellow Italy Roundtable bloggers talking about this month? There’s only one way to find out. Click through to the following links to read each of their posts – and please leave comments, share them with your friends, and tune in next month for another Italy Blogging Roundtable topic!
- ArtTrav – On not drinking in Italy
- At Home in Tuscany – Alchermes: the taste of the holidays
- Brigolante – Italy Roundtable: A Drink for All Seasons
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