Cultural Footnotes: Italy

Our friends on the ground here in Florence are another American family who have children the same ages as Victor and Eleanor, by just a few weeks, and also an older boy and a younger girl.

Courtney is American, and has been here for years; she and her husband Tommaso had just started dating when we lived in Florence in 2005. She and Jason met during their time working together at Butterfield and Robinson, where she still runs the Italian show. They helped us get set up with a motorino, two helmets, and an apartment in Le Cure.

Courtney, Tommaso, and me in 2005, in the apartment I am pretty sure they sourced for us.

We returned for their Tuscan country wedding in 2009, which still rates as the fanciest wedding I’ve ever been to, castello, cena, musica, and all.

Jason and I enjoy a prosecco at Courtney and Tommaso’s wedding.
Good thing you can’t see the 30 mosquito bites on my back, courtesy of summer in Florence.

Tommaso’s family is proudly Florentine, and the fact that they now live down the road a piece in Pisa diminishes this fact not at all. His brother owns and chefs at a restaurant nearby in Vicarello, Ristorante David, that you should not miss if you are in the area. If I could eat David’s food continuously, I would. Seriously, if you go to Pisa, skip the tourist hoardes in centro and make a reservation.

It is impossible to count all the many kindnesses that the Nicoletti family has done for us. They are truly the closest thing we have to family, and an extended family, in Italy. We’ve had Christmas dinner with them. Tommy is always our Italian connection for larger projects. Spent the night as their guests numerous times in Pisa. Shared late-pregnancy freezer meal menu ideas and baby name lists.

All this to introduce you to … language class with Tommy, when I am lucky enough to get it.

Tommy is hilarious. Florentine, with a heart of gold, and years of close companionship with a smart and energetic American, and an amusing way of looking at the world, and translating Italian culture aspects, have made him the ideal unwitting language instructor. And even though his accent is Tuscan, it’s not Tuscan in the way of the sweet teachers at Scolopi.

For some reason I can understand Tommy really well. Maybe it’s because he always has me in stitches with his Tommyisms. Maybe because Tommy is the first Tuscan I ever met, whom I still know. I suspect he slows down just a tiny bit for me. I appreciate so much that he does not edit or adjust his conversational content at all when I’m along for the ride.

I here present two Tommyisms.

On this past Sunday, when Jason was out of the country for work, we went to their apartment for lunch. Weekend mornings with the kids on my own is like Appomattox. They live about three blocks from us, but because we tried to use Google maps to walk there, we took the 14-block route. (Had not yet walked there from our new apartment.) We arrive, Eleanor in a stroller and Vic tagging along, through various doorbells, gates, stairs, and elevators. Urban living.

Once we unfurled into the apartment, removed our shoes, and led our children to toys, Courtney asked if I’d like an espresso.

“I never say no to coffee,” I said.
“Do you want a corretto?” Tommy asked. By this he meant a generous pour of grappa or sambuca in my espresso. Well, that would certainly take the edge off, I thought to myself.
“It’s a little early, no?” I responded. It was 11 a.m.
“In Italy it is never too early for a corretto. You can have one anytime you like, You walk into a bar and say, a corretto please, in the morning, they have to give it to you. It’s practically a law. We do not judge.”
I laughed. “I think I am fine with an espresso,” I said.
But Tommy, who always provides more information, had more to say on the topic. “In fact, if you go up north, to the Veneto, you walk into a bar, you can get a corretto without the caffè. They will just pour it into an espresso cup for you.”

So there is that. God bless Italy. Come to think of it, I did have my first caffè corretto in the Dolomites, in San Virgilio in Marebbe…. an acquired taste, but one I do enjoy from time to time. I’ll have to remember the trick to order a corretto with a wink and a nod to the barista though, next time we are up there.

A long play session followed by lunch. A couple glasses of chianti, and we are back to espresso. Court put the cafetera on and as we have learned, I never say no to espresso. The kids are playing again happily, Tommy and I are watching them and gently assisting as necessary.

Out come the perfect little cups with our replenishing elixir. Tommy stands, and briskly pats the top of the half-wall that divides their salotto from the corridoio. 

“Monica, qua,” he says, motioning me to stand and join him. “I never drink coffee sitting down if I can help it. It is bad for the digestion. That is why we have a bar in our home.”

I am dying. We sip our espresso.

A coffee bar in the apartment. For taking your own espresso. At home! It just feels so much better and natural! Who sits for coffee? Who needs to drink copious volumes of coffee? Why do Americans insist on to-go cups in Italy? These are all questions.

This could be you, in your own home, or in a caffè.


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