18 September 2008

“Ciao Chiara! Macchiato?”

Every town I’ve ever lived in has had a coffee shop that I made my own – a place where I was called by name and expected on a regular basis, and if I didn’t show up, somebody would ask me about it the next time I visited. I always choose the place serving the best coffee around. No Starbucks slave am I! In Boston it was Travis Café on Newbury Street (which served old-fashioned “hottles” of coffee). In Los Angeles it was Ship’s for awhile (long gone now), then Bob’s Coffee ‘n Donuts in Farmers Market (also famous for “hottles” and fresh cinnamon doughnuts). And in New York it was Hadleigh’s, where I could sit outside on Broadway, right in front of the opera house.

Here in Venice that place is Zanin in Campo San Luca, just a short walk from my house. This place is rare in that even the women are nice to me. Everyone uses my Italian name (I gave them a choice) and everyone knows how I take my macchiato. As morning is not my best time of day, this gentle treatment is very dear to me. Little else here has given me such a sense of belonging.

An Italian coffee break, from order to payment, can be timed at about 90 seconds total, and it’s all done in piedi (standing up). It’s certainly not the custom to loaf on the banquette and linger over a refill or two the way Americans do. Most Venetians polish off their hyper-sugared caffetino in a quick gulp-and-a-half. At the breakfast hour, they also wolf down a cream- or marmalade-filled croissant (which, inexplicably, they call a “brioche”). But the Zanin folks know I’m still adjusting to European ways, so they let me lean on the counter and dawdle. Sometimes they can even guess when I’m needing “Un’altro?” (“Another one?”)