At the break of dawn on a cold fall morning, I dragged my bags along the bright red cobblestone of Via Torre Verde. Little had I known that seven months in a tiny town nestled on the Italian side of the Swiss Alps and on the banks of the Adige river, were going to be so hard to let go. Grazie, Trento! Sarete Perso.
Trento is your lesser visited cousin of places like Milan, Rome and Venice. Home to one of the best skiing areas in the country, and finest vineyards of the region, more Italian tourists grace the city than people from around the world. One evening in the city’s main town square, and you quickly realize that practically no one speaks English, and the gracious art of communicating with hand signals never made it’s way to the west. America, your loss!
Italians sure know their coffee, and how. In 1971, three coffee fanatics—Gerald Baldwin, Gordon Bowker, and Ziev Siegl—opened a small coffee shop in Seattle’s Pike Place Market. In 1982, a young man who went by the name Howard Schultz joined their marketing team; shortly thereafter, he traveled to Italy, where he became fascinated with their coffee culture. In particular, the role the neighborhood espresso bars played in Italians’ everyday social lives. Upon his return, the inspired Schultz convinced the then fledgling company to set up an espresso bar in the corner of its only downtown Seattle shop. As Schultz explained, the bar became the prototype for his long-term vision. The Italian social coffee bar culture, in essence, is the backbone to the largest coffeehouse company of the world, Starbucks.
Walk into any little espresso bar, mom and pop shop, bakery or establishment in Trento, and you’re quickly greeted with a warm “ciao” wrapped around a bright smile by the owner. Italians love to host, and make you feel so welcome in their little world. “Un espresso machiatto per favore“, five words that will take you a long long way in Italy, five words that open up a world of conversation. Italians, much like Indians, are very gregarious people who find great joy in socializing and sharing with anyone who is open to reciprocation. Howard sure must be grateful to be able to take that warm comfortable feeling inside a little Italian espresso bar, to the rest of the world.
Wine, Food and Coffee; all played leading roles in my seven month affair with Italy. As I walked along the bright red cobblestone of Via Torre Verde, a flash of mixed emotions took me over. If only I could hear one more “ciao” before boarding the 4 am train. If only there were one more espresso macchiato to sip while speaking with the old grandmother who labors in her coffee bar all day.
Arrivederci, Trento – I will be back.
featured image source beachcomberpete.com