Italy Not Italy


I was definitely no longer in Sweden, at least while I was in this restaurant.

Another memory of my travels over the past few years that comes to mind and recurs from time to time, with a lot of warmth and nostalgia, goes as follows.

I had spent about a year working on a house I own, turning what was essentially a detached garage into a small cottage, living there while working there. I did everything except pour the new concrete floor and the new patio, which was way beyond my capabilities; this task was given to a Mexican-American man, whom I pointed out as he was paving my street, to organize a cheeky side job, as one would say in England. Never underestimate the beauty and usefulness of serendipity. Nonetheless, I did everything else, from the poles – electrical, plumbing, tiling, coating, painting, door installation, light fixture installation, appliance installation – and I was exhausted.

It turned out that the family I had rented the front house to had a friend looking for accommodation, so I made a quick deal, bought a plane ticket (the prices were ridiculously low at the time). then, less than $ 300 from San Francisco to Copenhagen), and off I went.

I was fed up with my four walls and didn’t want to do anything other than camping in the open, something that was possible, I found out through diligent research online, virtually anywhere in Sweden, according to tradition if not the policy called Allemansrwait, or Everyman’s Right – feel free to translate this as Every Person’s Right if you mind the standard translation. I just had to make sure that I was far enough away from private property, especially residences, and that if I moved to a farmer’s plot, I got permission first and so on. It is a practice which is based on a measure of Nordic reciprocity, equanimity and reserve.

And that’s how I did it, wandering the rather dark landscapes of southern Sweden like a 70s hippie, namely Richard Harris in Man in the desert, except with fewer American Indians and a lot more cinnamon buns. Sleeping and eating was done outside as I wandered from town to town, finding refuge on a quiet beach, around a port, waiting for the cafes to open, falling to my knees in thanks for the public libraries, which were still expertly managed. by nurturing middle-aged women who had behind them the strength of a liberal, generous and well-organized state.

However, I must say that after a few weeks, something was certainly missing from my meager existence. The cafes that ranged from warm to stylish, the plentiful and immaculate public restrooms, the top hat cheese vendor in his sparkling stainless steel van, the helpful and knowledgeable, albeit rather spicy, supermarket boys and / or girls (i really couldn’t say), made my life possible and comfortable, but my days seemed hollow. Maybe it was the jet lag, but even the trade I did didn’t have the bracing buoyancy that retail therapy gave me in the United States. The “courtesy of commerce” I spoke of in a previous article seemed to be lacking, or I was missing it, not inserted into the essential cultural matrix on which such rich cultural exchanges depend.

All of that changed one day. During one of my library sessions, I happened to see a listing online for a local restaurant that had fairly good reviews. I noticed they were open for lunch so I made it my plan for the day to go to where they were and check them out. As was often the case, I was the only customer outside waiting for them to open, and how nice it was to see the smiling young lady adopt this classic combination of flipping the hanging door panel over. CLOSED to OPEN – I think they were in English – while simultaneously turning the key to unlock the door. I smiled, said hello and walked through the door struggling, swinging my bag off my shoulders and shaking my head to both indicate my bewilderment and ask where I should sit. . The woman graciously showed me a table (saving me the effort of choosing one) and said she would come back straight away with a menu. She came back in seconds and told me she would come back to take my order, asking if she could get me started with a drink. Beer was the order of the day, and even after hundreds or thousands of restaurant meals, I was surprised when another young lady walked out with an open bottle and a glass, apologizing for the fact that it was only 5%. “Are you okay?” She asked, tilting her head. I was both puzzled and charmed by its beer review rubric which only indexed alcohol content. “Yes,” I said, “it’s okay.” I was definitely no longer in Sweden, at least while I was in this restaurant.

While I was sipping my beer and waiting for my meal to come out – I can’t remember if I placed the order with the woman who brought me my beer with the one who opened the door – I saw an electrical outlet in the wall under the table right at my feet. I couldn’t believe my luck, so I rummaged in my bag, pulled out my charger, and plugged in my iPad. The day was already shaping up to be better.

So my dish arrived, which was good. I finished it and my beer, I probably ordered a coffee and a piece of baklava, then paid my bill with a big American tip and left walking out with my bag and saying goodbye to my saviors of the day.

Some time later, a few hours after leaving the restaurant, I realized that I no longer had my charger. I realized I must have left it in the socket under my table. So I returned to the place – a great thing in this kind of life is that you have plenty of time to correct your mistakes – I opened the door and stood there waiting in the empty dining room. Shortly after, an older man came out and raised his eyebrows in greeting. “Did you…,” I started. He cut me off. He then walked over to the refrigerator where the young woman had taken my beer from earlier, took a small box from the top, pulled out my charger and hung it in front of my eyes.

My relief was obvious and he noticed it immediately. He handed me my charger and – and it was a surprise – gave me a big slap on the back, then shook my hand hard, a pair of gestures that I still spend time trying to do. analyze with precision, never with much satisfaction.

What does all this have to do with Italy? It was a pizzeria, but not run by Italians. And that’s another discussion, for another time.

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