Sunday, May 12, 2013
Caffe With Mom
Cafe Ovidio, Sulmona
"Mothers are those wonderful people
who can get up in the morning
before the smell of coffee."
In Honor of My Mother on Mothers Day, 2013
September 3, 1996
"Happy Birthday, Mom," i exclaimed as soon as my mother answered the phone on her 75th birthday.
"Don't remind me," she said. My mom didn't like getting older and kept telling everyone he was 39. . . even after I passed that landmark age myself. (Yes. Yes. I come by my disgust of age-telling honestly and naturally.)
"So, what are you doing next month?" I changed the subject quickly. "Are you interested in going to to Italy, by any chance?" Because I was the Tennessee coordinator for an exchange student program, we had free airline tickets and a couple of other bonuses we would use for the trip.
"Quit playing with me, Christine," she said. "That's not nice." No need to recount the rest of the conversation, but when I finally convinced her that we weren't kidding, she got very excited. "Can we go to where Mama was born?"
About a month later, we were winging it to Italy. As luck would have it, we were in the middle of one of those rows of 2-5-2, and at the time, passengers in rows 50-the back could still smoke. We were in row 49. Nervous, happy, and a little sick from the smoke, Mom didn't sleep during the flight. She held my hand and shifted in her seat a lot.
Fast forward to our arrival at the Hotel Bolivar in Rome around 11:00. Mom was hungry, so after we checked in and washed up, we headed to a little bar around the corner from the hotel. We ordered panini and drinks. Mom, true to form, ordered coffee.
(Let me step away from the story for a moment and explain, in case some of you might have missed earlier posts or don't really know or remember, but what Americans consider coffee is not what you get when you order coffee in Italy. Nope. What you'll get is what most of us consider espresso — a shot of espresso with foam (from the coffee, not from milk or cream) on top. Ordering cream or milk with coffee is unpatriotic. Sugar is okay, though, and some Italians even put brown sugar in coffee. Espresso, by the way, is coffee without the foam on top.)
So, at lunch, Mom ordered coffee, and the barista delivered a cup of Italian coffee. She added milk, sipped...and practically spit it across the table at me.
"Oh, my God," she gasped.
"Strong?" Mike asked her.
"I could tar the road with that stuff," she replied. She pushed the cup towards me. I don't know why because I wouldn't drink it. At that time, I was new to drinking coffee, and the strongest stuff I could handle was gas station cappuccino which, if you know it at all, was sugar, powdered milk, sugar, instant coffee, sugar, cocoa, and sugar. The coffee was cold when we left.
The next morning, we ate breakfast at the hotel since it was included.
"Mom, do you want coffee?" Mike asked her.
"Not if it's like what they gave me yesterday," she replied. I don't remember if it was Mike or the waiter, but someone suggested she order cafe americano. "Ok. I'll try the American coffee."
She never said it, but I think she thought they'd bring out Maxwell House for her. Nope. The waiter brought her the same Italian coffee in a bigger cup and a small pitcher of hot water.
"I can't drink this," she said before she even put the cup to her lips.
"Why not, for heaven's sake?" I could get pretty frustrated with my mother.
"It's the same as yesterday." She was stubborn.
"ADD THE HOT WATER TO IT," I directed her as I poured the water into the cup. She took a sip barely big enough to wet her lips.
"I'm not drinking this," she said. The coffee, once again, was cold when we left.
In the week we were in Italy with my mother, she refused to order coffee again. Instead, she drank hot tea because she knew what she was getting and could control its strength (In other words, she could make it weak.).
On our return flight to the States, the first thing my mother ordered was coffee.
"How do you know they're not going to bring you Italian coffee?" I teased her.
"This is an American airline. They better not."
The flight attendant brought American coffee (probably Maxwell House). Mom drank that first cup down as though she were dying of thirst and ordered more as soon as she could. I remember thinking I should just ask the flight attendant to leave us the pot and a carton of creamer.
In the past few years, I've grown to appreciate coffee here more. I can even drink espresso straight with no sweetener. (You can tell when I do that because my hair stands straight out.) Of course, a you know from my pot a few days ago, I really want a mug of coffee. (No, I didn't get it the other day in Perugia.) Until then, though, I'll have Italian coffee and continue to think of my mom every time I do.
Happy Mothers Day, Mom. I miss you.