The bar is ubiquitous in Italy. Like the piazza, it is a space where people pause and meet. Here, in Anghiari, my favourite bar is the Caffé Garibaldi, located in the main piazza, where, not surprisingly, there is a statue of the man himself.
There are three other bars within less than a minute’s walk from this one, all of which have a constant stream of people dropping in as they go about their daily activities.
Like most bars all over Italy, Caffé Garibaldi is an ordinary place – there is nothing chic or fashionable about; it bears little resemblance to coffee shops, or indeed ‘bars’, in my home town of Sydney. Of course, there are upmarket bars, particularly in certain areas in the cities, but, for the most part, those to be found every few paces (due passi), on every street, in every piazza, are ordinary. And it is the taken-for-grantedness of a bar like the Caffé Garibaldi that fascinates me. Just being part of everyday life, it seems to me, is what gives a place like this a sense of life.
A few days before Christmas, after some shopping, I went in a little later in the morning than usual. The early morning ritual of coffee and pastry standing at the counter, exchanging morning greetings, was well and truly over. There was a slower tempo. A couple of elegant ladies were sitting in the window, having aperitifs. (Unlike, the more usual unplanned meetings in the bar, this one was clearly planned.) As I entered, from the far end of the counter, the butcher who has been selling me all sorts of delicious local specialities, called out ‘salve signora’. He was in a group of men, some standing at the counter, some sitting at a small table, all being served aperitifs. There was another man alone, reading a paper as he had a coffee. We acknowledged each other. I felt at ease in this company, sitting at my table having a coffee, reading a paper. (At this bar, unlike many in cities, you don’t pay extra to sit.)
That evening, as we were in piazza at passeggiata time, my companion and I stopped by the Caffé Garibaldi for an aperitif. The RAI 24 hour news station was on the tele, with the sound turned off, replaced by music. Where the elegant ladies had been sitting in the morning, there was now an elderly man engrossed in his computer. A craggy-faced friend arrived later, and they peered at the screen together. There were also a group of four young people, and an elderly couple, sitting at tables. Others (including another butcher, in his work clothes) made short visits in, up to the counter, and out again. Drinks were brought to us at our table, accompanied by chips and olives.
Friends from Sydney have arrived to stay with us, and, without any prompting, they have discovered the Caffé Garibaldi. It has quickly become part of an everyday routine: every morning they are there for coffee and pastry, and every evening, an aperitif. They have met people, from Anghiari, from other parts of the world; they have gathered local information. And now, I’ve found that, at any time of the day, if I’m looking for any member of our party, it’s very likely that I’ll find them there, alone or with someone else. I don’t bother with a text; I just head for the bar.