In Greenwich Village, in the Italian section, there was an antique-style shop cum Italian coffee house where nothing was what it seemed.
owner, whom we shall call Vincenzo, was a petite, eccentric Italian
chap. Everything about him was exceedingly neat from his diminutive
stature to his small hands and feet. In fact, he looked as if all his
parts had been assembled on a factory line, even down to the shiny
hair on his perfect shaped head, which was the colour and texture of
spun sugar and which some said must be surely dyed. The standard
black waiter-style suit he wore always looked freshly pressed and the
shirt beneath spotless, and so naturally you assume that my
description will end with a pair of sturdy black, polished loafers,
but no, for if you care to glance down you'll see his shoes are
open-backed and made of Italian flat bread.
while the bread shoes were the last visual clue to his flamboyant
nature, they were by no means the first, for there are two I'd
purposely not previously mentioned. If I had remarked upon these
first it would have decided his character, and quite rightly so, but
nevertheless it's best not to judge a person's cover.
items I earlier omitted were a rather large dark moustache and a
gold-plated monocle. Vincenzo was fascinated with the English,
styling his facial hair like that of an old-fashioned pilot and his
eye wear on a country lord. Without these, you would have guessed he
had Italian blood, but with the groomed 'tache, and the one
bespectacled eye it was hidden, and only his Mafia-American accent
was a dead giveaway.
lean man his charm could be both brutish and disarming so that men
and women were equally putty in his long-fingered, elegant hands. He
played with them as he did with his papa's recipe for ciabatta.
Slapping the soft, wet dough on the work surface and kneading it
vigorously before tenderly shaping it.
inside of his shop was a fashionable mess; the left side housing
distressed to Art Deco and kitsch items, while in the right there was
a wipe-clean counter with bar stools, from behind which Vincenzo
served doll-sized cups of espresso. The front of that right bay was
reserved for alfresco dining: the outdoors brought indoors for two
lucky diners. For friends, lovers, proposals and intimate occasions.
The inside of the bay window was festooned with twinkly lights
entwined with grass-green garlands over a rose-pink cushioned window
seat, and then a little further back, but squarely in the centre,
stood a round wrought iron glass-topped table with two handsome
daylight, these decorations looked tacky, but by night the setting
seemed almost magical. People would stop and stare at the two diners
in the window like they were a façade or a staged picture postcard,
and Vincenzo's service, being Italian, was of course impeccable. He
switched easily from a chef's hat to a linen cloth draped over his
arm and quite mesmerised couples with his ambidextrous skills.
memorable moonlit night, which went down in the village's ledger of
history, he re-enacted a scene from a beloved Disney animation with
two professionally trained look-a-likes. The crowd outside gathered
under a canopy of stars; the children lined in front of the adults
pressing their faces into the glass as Lady and Tramp took their
places at the reserved indoor garden table and Vincenzo danced around
in his flat bread carpet slippers. Of course, the pair shared a
steaming bowl of spaghetti and meatballs, inevitably finding they ate
from the same yellow strand until their wet noses met in the middle
to the ill-sounding strains of Vincenzo's violin.
adults wiped their moist eyes at this unfolding love story, while the
children rapt tapped on the window and demanded gelato to seal this
the son and grandson of bakers knew, as do all Italians, how to use
ambiance with good food to slip into people's emotions.