Thursday, 20 November 2014

Slippery Italian

In Greenwich Village, in the Italian section, there was an antique-style shop cum Italian coffee house where nothing was what it seemed.
The 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.
And 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.
The two 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.
For a 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.
The 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 chairs. 
In the 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 fa├žade 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.
One 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.
The adults wiped their moist eyes at this unfolding love story, while the children rapt tapped on the window and demanded gelato to seal this bewitching night.
Vincenzo, the son and grandson of bakers knew, as do all Italians, how to use ambiance with good food to slip into people's emotions.