There were eight of us packed into two cabs, racing from our hotel in Times Square, down toward the East Village. It was mid-November and somewhat cold out, but we didn't care. My husband and I, joined by our nephew and his girlfriend, a sister and brother in law from out of town and their daughter and son were excitedly heading toward East 8th Street and 1st Ave.
This was our first trip to NYC after a two week family trip to Italy and we were all missing it very badly. I know I've said this before, but everything, from the meat to the milk to the cheese to the fruits and vegetables, tastes better in Italy. Could be the rich, volcanic soil or the fact that they don't adulterate their meats and produce with growth hormones or genetically modified whatnot. They just farm that shit. Seeds, dirt, sun, period.
Our plan was to visit an Italian restaurant that had authentic Cacio e Pepe, like they make in Rome and then to go to an Italian bar/restaurant for drinks and the possibility of hearing people speak Italian. The Italian language feels like a fuzzy blanket to me. It warms my soul in spite of my inability to understand it. I have tried to learn it a half dozen times over the years, trying Rosetta Stone, Pimsleur and others. But the bottom line is, unless you speak it, you forget it and good luck finding a native speaker that speaks it slow enough to understand. Italians speak like they drive - very fast and all jammed together. The only phrase that sticks with me is the one that I found myself using over and over in Italy - Piu lentamente per favore (more slowly please).
We settled down for what turned out to be a fabulous dinner. Although the restaurant was run by a Sicilian family, they made true Roman style cacio e pepe and served good wine. Bellies full, we made our way over to 7th street to a place called Via Della Pace. It was a cozy little village bar with candles on the tables, floor to ceiling windows and tinned ceilings. From the moment we stepped into the place it was ringing with Italian authenticity. The bartenders were from Rome and spoke to each other in Italian. There were black and white Italian movies with English subtitles playing, the bartender was pulling espresso shots and passing them over the wall to the kitchen staff while simultaneously shaking drinks and schmoozing patrons.
We took our spot at the bar and waited for the bartender to take our order. When he made his way down to our end of the bar, he was friendly and efficient and before we could say Bella Italia, eight properly mixed drinks were sitting in front of us. By the time we got to our second round, we had struck up a conversation with him about, what else? Italy. Having just come from what seemed like the most idyllic place on the planet, we couldn't understand what he was doing here in cold, rainy NY. Seems that the idyllic place has a less than idyllic job market and the promise of making a living makes the good old USA, something to aspire to.
It seemed like everyone we met in Italy was unusually excited when they heard we were from New York. Pretty much all of them said that their dream was to visit the USA, but more specifically, New York City. One cab driver in Naples, upon hearing that we were American, treated us to a serenade along with his "Breakfast in America" CD. If you want to know the definition of surreal, I think getting a Supertramp serenade from a Neapolitan cab driver, on the way to a museum full of penises is a pretty good example. But his excitement for the United States was obvious and speaking to that bartender reminded me of that cab driver and the countless waiters and shopkeepers that had the same burning passion to come to NY that I have to return to Rome.
When we were settling up the tab, our bartender poured us eight complimentary Limoncello shots. I lifted my shot to the bartender in an appreciative salute and said a silent prayer that someday, we would be in a position where we traded places and I would be handing out complimentary shots of Limoncello at my Roman watering hole. Until that time, I guess I have to belt out "Torna a Surriento" to every Italian cab driver that I meet, just to hedge my bet.
Imagine this with an Italian accent...
Breakfast in America by maralexdim