Old Italian men like to hang out. Drink wine. Buy wine for others. Play the accordion. Both in both Italy and California, apparently.
Last Friday night, the Italian American Heritage Foundation (IAHF) invited me back again to one of their events. It was a night of pasta, salad, and nonna-made pizzelle, followed by arias sung by members of the San Jose Opera. People bought me pinot grigio and nero d’avola. I donated a couple books to the raffle and got to meet and shmooze all evening. But the place also evoked for me some strong memories of Venice.
One wandering guy playing accordion brought my mind back to a summer dinner at Da Romano on Burano. We had heard about the go risotto and booked an early dinner reservation. While the tourists all petered out of the square, the local men wandered in.
As we sipped prosecco and figured out what else to have with the risotto, one guy brought out his accordion and began playing for his friends. This wasn’t someone working for tips going from trattoria to trattoria. He was hanging out with his buddies on a gorgeous evening. He’s the guy in the blue shirt on the far right.
Those who say that Venice is overrun by tourists apparently don’t know where to look for locals.
The IAHF hall last Friday held about 150 people, of whom about six were under 50 (me, the two teenage girls getting community hours to serve dinner, someone’s 7-year-old, and a brother and sister who are helping to re-vamp the organization). It reminded me of the Little Old Man Club I got to visit in Venice once.
I often stay in the Santi Apostoli neighborhood, and there are a couple guys there that I see every time I visit. Giorgio is often pretty tipsy at all times of day and treats me to a prosecco now and then. One day, we ran into each other in the street, and he said it was time to visit his club. I had seen its sign countless times because it was at the end of the street where my apartment was. But this time I got to go in! About 30 men, all over 60, were hanging out, having an afternoon drink, arguing politics, discussing arthritis, or football, or women, who knows. They were hanging out and I got to visit this most exclusive club and drink wine from a small water glass. I’ve never again seen the place with its door open. But the IAHF reminded me of that day.
Back from my musings, I focused again on the IAHF hall when the singers began their arias. Of course I have a couple aria memories. On my first solo trip to Venice, I had a dinky apartment across from Ai Promessi Sposi, an ancient trattoria on a little alley. As I lay awake in a daze of jet lag, older neighborhood men stood in the restaurant doorway with wine in hand and sang arias. Thank god I couldn’t sleep. It was a dreamy introduction to a city I would fall more and more in love with, one whose little old men serenaded me from under my window. Here’s the restaurant, where I’m having dinner with my friend Jan.
On a later trip, with friends who joined me to celebrate Carnevale, we were befriended by Giulianno, the chef at Ai Promessi Sposi, and Emiliano, the manager (who looked like a young George Michael and sang like him too!)
Here he is:
We were there almost every night, and so were the little old men. They linked their arms through ours and sang us songs and raised their glasses. They kissed us on both cheeks. We fell in love with them. These men know not only how to live but also how to grow old.