About a thousand years ago (or in 2014) I accidentally went to Italy alone. I did not want to go alone. My friend cancelled at the last moment. We had each chosen a city to visit, and she chose Venice. I did not choose Venice. And there I was, alone in a country where I didn’t know the language beyond hello/goodbye please/thankyou and sorry. I had to thoroughly examine the money at every transaction and street signs baffled me. In short: I was nervous and scared.
Just before the trip, I’d read a Rick Steves article about Italy. His advice: “If there’s a bar with a tv on in the corner, and a couple guys at the counter, go in.” Sounds reasonable. Plus, I was hungry at the hour dictated cicchetti in Venice, not dinner. (Tapas. Appetizers. Bar bites.). I saw such a place. Without thinking it through, I braced myself and walked in.
All in the world I wanted to do was walk right back out! There were maybe ten men in the bar. Fishermen and gondoliers, by the look of them. Not American. Not tourists. And most specifically, not women. They all stared at me in silence. I walked boldly to the bar and said, in passable (and thoroughly practiced) Italian, “I would like a glass of wine.” Those 30 lessons in 30 days! He replied but I didn’t get it. I couldn’t get it and for the life of me I couldn’t think of vino de casa. So I said, “Your family makes the wine?” Sua famiglia fa d’il vino? He looked astounded and poured me a glass. One of the fishermen was pushed forward by his friends. They wanted him to speak English to me. He asked haltingly where are you from. I looked at the TV. The Monte Carlo races were on. I said, “America. North Carolina. NASCAR.” Oh baby – magic words and I had ten new friends.
So tonight, here I am. Same bar. Same bartender/owner. The place is filled with couples and American 70s music, and a nice young server who didn’t laugh at my order (vin de casa rosso e olive ascolana, per favore) and I’m trying to figure out how to thank the fellow behind the bar for his kindness, all those years ago.