We were going the wrong way in Italy
Italy – The wrong way on a one-way street in the tiny coastal town of Arco Felice. Usually, roundabouts went around. Getting lost or confused about which direction to take while you’re inside one is an easy fix – you just keep driving in a circle until you figure it out. It’s a merry-go-round of traffic and much simpler than an intersection requiring immediate action. But this was not a roundabout at all. It was a round-a-straight. We’d driven the motorcycle in a circle and were facing oncoming traffic. A Bambi-in-the-headlights moment, all for one cigar.
The cigar store in Arco Felice is famous for its Cubans. Plunking down twenty-eight Euros for one of Cuba’s finest was the only goal on this lazy Sunday afternoon. Thumping around oceanfront Arco Felice and the sister community of Pozzuoli was relaxing compared to the death-defying speeds required to survive the Autostrade, so we were taking it slow – albeit in the wrong direction. Calmly pulled off to the side of the road, we smiled and waved cheerfully at the other drivers like we’d done this purposely to entertain them. After a deft u-turn, the elusive cigar store was spotted, and we parked, only to discover what we should have already known.
Italians take a three-hour lunch
Yes, from noon or 1:00 PM to 3:00, 3:30 – or maybe 4:00 if the mood strikes and the wine is good, the shops are often closed. This means in the winter when the sun sets at 4:45 PM, you might be running to a vegetable stand in the dark. A simple way to pick a bad tomato. But, it’s all about the adventure, and seeing the metal shutters closed over the doors and windows of the cigar shop only makes us more curious.
It’s time to kill time, and here that always means Cappuccino and Italian pastry.
The girl making our coffee in the Up and Down Cafe across the street from the cigar shop didn’t look like a barista from Starbucks. She was fancy in black clothing with a white apron and stood a few feet away from our table ready to jump into action should we need anything.
This attentiveness isn’t typical in Italy, and anyone working at a Starbucks in the United States would be shocked. We appreciate it. She’s shy when I asked to take her photograph. We’d burned 30 minutes. Fifteen minutes to go. Time to kill more time.
We wandered across the street and watched the keepers of a flower shop open the doors. Living in San Diego, one of the endearing things my husband did on a weekly basis was bring me roses from Costco.
I know, you’re thinking “Costco? Really?” But hey, it’s the thought that counts and it was always touching to see him come through the door with a 12-pack of paper towels and my dozen roses. He ducked into the flower shop, and I pretended not to notice, wandering up the sidewalk to ponder more closed shops.
Fifteen minutes later he hadn’t reappeared and wondering if my roses are seeds that have to sprout first.
I peeked inside the shop and saw that my flowers were getting an elaborate treatment. The shopkeeper had cut and tied them in a bundle, sprayed them with an oily substance to make them glossy, and was wrapping them in an elaborate bundle of what looked like wire lace.
It appeared to be a painstaking process, and I wondered if adorned like this, the blooms would even fit on the bike. The last bit of packaging was finally attached, and we left, me wondering how to unwrap, water, and work with the latticework he had crafted around my bouquet.
It was past time, and the cigar shop was still not open. The wine must have been splendid. We stood outside the metal shutters and pondered whether to wait. Suddenly an Italian man stepped up and reached into his pocket – but instead of emerging with keys, he pulled out a five-euro bill and moved up to the building. This is the first time I noticed the ATM next to the cigar shop’s front door.
But why would you insert money into an ATM? This is where the man I laughed at for driving the wrong way on a one-way street gets his laugh. A bank machine is actually a cigarette machine with a variety of choices – including prophylactics.
Not since I visited Japan in the early nineties have I seen a cigarette machine. They are nonexistent in the United States, and I can’t remember when or where I last saw one in a public place. The man was baffled at my fascination and flattered when I photographed him securing his Pall Malls. Another 10 minutes have elapsed, and the man with the keys to the door that unlocks cigar heaven finally arrived. Only 30 minutes late, which we’ve learned is on time.
An hour later, we were home, having experienced everything we would have enjoyed on a Sunday afternoon in California. A sunny motorcycle ride through what might have been La Jolla or Del Mar at home, a good cup of coffee, an aromatic cigar shop with another gem for the humidor, and my roses.
Arranging them in a vase, the odd wire mesh around the roses looked like a bad hat on a girl attending a royal wedding. But remembering his laborious effort to trim and curl it, I stuck the entire display in the water. It might have been the wrong way to do it, but living in Italy, we’re learning there’s more than one way to do everything.