Sunday, August 9, 2015

I Love This Bar, Part IV

A sweet little guy visited the bar one morning.

 “The world would be a nicer place if everyone had the 
ability to love as unconditionally as a dog.”
MK Clinton

The world's worst kept secret is that I love dogs.  Love. Dogs.  I can barely remember the short time that I didn't have a dog of my own. What I do remember from that time is that my Aunt Ann and Uncle Frank had a standard dachshund, Nero, so named because they were Italian, and he was a black dog: Nero is the Italian word for black.  I finally got my own dog when I was in first grade, and not many days have gone by when one has not shared the house with me.

My friend, Kathy G (who was a member of the second group), said I am a dog magnet (below).  Tré true, although it might be better said that the little pookies are magnets for me. I can approach anyone who has a dog and start a conversation with him/her because I know we have at least one thing in common.

Moi being a magnet with a cute beagle whose name I don't remember.
"What is your dog's name?" I usually ask.  They tell me, and I continue. "I miss my dog, Riley, who is at home in the United States."

"You should bring him with you," many of the people tell me.

"It's too difficult," I always have to tell them, and it is.  Don't think I haven't tried to figure out a way to bring him with me.  I make do, though, loving on the dogs around me.  (Don't tell Riles. He is quite the jealous little baby.)  Meet some of my Bolognese quadruped friends.

Welsh Terriers rock! Liam in front of Bar Santo Stefano.

Liam (above) is a little Welsh Terrier whose owners frequent Bar Santo Stefano daily.  Like another Welsh Terrier who shall remain nameless, Liam is more interested in food than people.

"What do ya have in your hand for me?" he'd ask. I'd show him my empty paw, and he'd turn his attention elsewhere.

Zina (above the two photos below) is the resident dog at Vittoria's dress shop next to Bar Santo Stefano.  Zina and Vittoria open the shop every morning after they arrive on their scooter. Vittoria wears a helmet, but Zina doesn't like things on her head. 

Zina is about nine years old, so she likes to take it easy most of the day. She'll sleep on her chair (below), and she'll follow Vittoria around.  Over the last two summers, she's gotten to know me and will come to the door if I walk by.  She's also started bringing me her toy so I can play.  I'm sure she doesn't want me to be bored while I'm around her.  :-)

 “I think dogs are the most amazing creatures; 
they give unconditional love. For me, they are the role 
model for being alive.”Gilda Radner

Ulisse (Ulysses) walked by the bar one morning when Mike and I were sitting outside.

"What kind of dog is that?" I called to the owner.

"Cane corso," he told me.  A cane corso is an ancient Italian breed, an Italian mastiff, if you will. You can probably tell by the size of his head that Ulisse is a HUGE dog. I can verify that he is not only big (He sat on my foot.) but also a docile soul.  He's more likely to lick you to death than bite you.  While we were talking to him and his owner, a lady at the table next to us ran into the bar as she was terrified of Ulisse.

"He loves everyone," the owner told me.

"Some people are just afraid of dogs," I told him.  He shrugged.

OliverIf I remember correctly, this Bernese Mountain Dog puppy's name was Oliver. We saw him and his owner in a piazza one afternoon while the owner was trying to teach Oliver to 'STAY.' Having the attention span of a gnat, Oliver was having nothing to do with it. 

 "If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when 
I die I want to go where they went." Will Rogers

Fox (pronounced 'fauxxx) is one of my terrier buddies. I met him and his owner, Giansomething (Sorry, I forget), last year, and I see them a lot since they live around the corner from my apartment.  Fox, like Riley, is six years old.  He's also very food-motivated which should come as no surprise to anyone.

One morning last month, Mike and I were walking down Strada Maggiore, the main street in town, and we heard a dog barking.  Because of how the buildings line the street and how the porticoes enhance sounds, the barking reverberated all over the place.  Suddenly, I saw Giansomething riding his bike with a barking Fox in the basket.  Giansomething pulled over to the side of the street to calm down Fox.

"Fox!" I greeted them.  "How's it going, Pooky?"  Giansomething picked Fox up and set him on the sidewalk so we could talk.

"He never barks when we walk," Giansomething said, "but put him on the bike., and he becomes a loudmouth."

Sure enough, as soon as Giansomething put Fox back in the basket, Fox started barking again. We could hear him for five minutes as we walked in the opposite direction.

Artoo is another of my old friends. Mike and I met him when we came to Bologna the first time.  An older dog, he's very food=motivated, and he loves to play frisbee.  At age 14, he has sight and hearing problems, but he can somehow find the frisbee when someone throws it for him.  He's also not lost his sense of smell and knows when food is in the general neighborhood.

This poochie is 19 years old, and her owner joins the morning ladies some days.  I can't remember the dog's name because they aren't there a lot of the times I am.  (Sorry, Pooky!) Except for being a little sight-impaired, she's in relatively good health.  She, like Zina, follows her owner everywhere.

Next time: A few observations....

Saturday, August 8, 2015

I Love This Bar, Part III


"A rose is arose is a rose is a rose."  
~ Gertrude Stein

And a bar is a bar is a bar is a bar.  Supposedly.  Some may make a cappuccino more to your liking than others, and some may serve a better prosecco or frullato or brioche. Some may have more comfortable seating or lighting. Others may have hours or a location  The big difference comes in the people who run and work the bar and the people who frequent it.  Think about it... How often did you wish you had a bar like Cheers that you could frequent?

As I mentioned previously, when Cesar and Lilli closed the bar for a few days last year, I went to the other bars in the area.  The big difference in the bars was the atmosphere created by the people who owned them. Let me introduce you to the people who make Bar Santo Stefano a warm and welcoming spot in Bologna.

 As I mentioned a few days ago, Cesar is a native of Barcelona.  He originally was working for his father and lived in a number of places including China (where he met Lilli).  He eventually moved to Piacenza, Italy, and worked in a bar there before he and Lilli decided to buy their own bar.  Cesar speaks Spanish, Catalan, Italian, English, French, and some Chinese, so he's probably got you covered if you go into the bar and can't speak Italian.   

Last summer, I relied a little too much on my Spanish when talking with Cesar.  At one point, one of my Italian instructors told me I should change bars and find someone who spoke only Italian.  Almost the exact same day, Cesar told me he was going to talk only in Italian to me.

A native of China, Lilli has lived in Italy for 20+ years.  Her parents spend six months in Piacenza and six months in China, but they visit Bologna at times.  Lilli speaks Chinese and Italian, of course, and she's learning English.

One thing I'll tell you about my two good friends is that they work long and hard hours.  Cesar opens between 6:30 and 7:00, and Lilli joins him mid-morning.  After the rush, he goes home to rest and comes back later in the afternoon.  They close between 7 and 9 pm, and after they lock the door, they clean everything.

After Cesar and Lilli, Giovanni was one of the first people I met in Bologna last year.  He owns a farm a short distance from town, but his home there was destroyed in the earthquake in 2012.  Currently, he lives in Bologna and travels to the farm to check on things.  Giovanni has a heart of gold, and this year he gave Mike and me a list of towns we should visit near Bologna.  Because of him, we discovered Faenza and the ceramic museum and Reggio Emilia.

Last summer, Giovanni bought me wine one evening. My Italian was pretty choppy last year, and my part of the conversation was a series of lurching words.  Bless him, but he stood and talked to me without grimacing at my mistakes.  I was happy I could actually communicate better this year.  (PS Giovanni gave me the white rose in my hair in honor of our leaving.)

Vittoria owns the dress shop that is next to Bar Santo Stefano.  She is another friend from last summer, and I enjoy talking to her.  She is, like me, a dog lover.  If you look closely, you can see Zina, her little dog, on the chair behind us.

Le Donne
Gianna, Rosanna, Patrizia, Lea, and Carla are a group of women who meet at the bar most mornings. Some of them are there every morning, and others come and go.  They always ask me about my day, what I've done, what I'm going to do, etc.  I just love these ladies.

Gianlucca is the brother of one of the morning gals, and like them, I just met him this year.  He is extremely nice, and we've had a number of good conversations.  Like the others, he helps me with the Italian.  Believe it or not, he's a black belt in the martial arts and has taught and competed in them.   The morning before Mike and I left Bologna, Gianlucca and I had a long talk about politics (below).

These are only some of the people I've come to love in Bologna.  Tomorrow I'll introduce you to some of the others (below) who also make my days...

Thursday, August 6, 2015

I Love This Bar, Part II

Cesar & Lilli

" I love this bar
It's my kind of place
Just walkin' through the front door
Puts a big smile on my face
It ain't too far, come as you are
I love this bar..."  ~ Toby Keith & Steve Emerick

I mentioned yesterday that Bar Santo Stefano is a 15-second walk from the apartment I rent when I'm in Bologna.  In all honesty, there are four bars that are all within a 30-second walk from the apartment, and even more within a two-minute walk. Walk five minutes in any direction, and you'll find more bars. They are all over the place.  I've not seen two right next to each other, but I have seen them across the street and a few doors away from each other.

At any rate, not long after I arrived in Bologna last year, Cesar and Lilli closed Bar SS for a few days so that they could clean, paint, and refresh the place. During that time, I visited most of the bars in the Santo Stefano area. While one can get some food at Italian bars, they are not restaurants,. As I mentioned yesterday, they are not really coffee shops, nor are they bars in the sense of American bars. They are a hybrid combining the best of both worlds—a place to go for liquid refreshment of any kind.

Bar Santo Stefano's espresso machine & coffee grinder (on the right)
The centerpiece of the bar is the espresso machine (above).  You won't find coffee pots in the bars as caffe in Italy is different from coffee as we know it.  Caffe in Italy is espresso (below), and Italians joke that caffe americano is "dirty water."  Adding a "little" sugar to espresso is okay, but cream? Wimpy.

(Side note:  I have to admit that I have a problem drinking coffee for a few weeks after I return to the States from time in Italy.  I miss the strong, smooth espressos.)

By the way, cappuccino at one bar is not the same as cappuccino at another bar.  The coffee makes a difference, and I'll admit that most of it is pretty good no matter where you go, but the way the barista makes the cappuccino makes a big difference.  I've had some that contained so much milk that there was little foam and the espresso was too weak. I prefer a good amount of foam and a little milk so that the taste of the espresso comes through.

Italian coffee = espresso
By the way, decaf coffee is not an option in Italy.  If you need decaffeinated coffee, you order "caffe d'orzo."

"What," I asked Cesar last month, "is orzo?"  I had heard a few people order it, and while it looked like coffee to me, he used a different machine to make it (below).

"It's made with a grain," he told me.  A coffee-like beverage made from barley, orzo has a long history in Italy.  Originally made by peasants who could not afford coffee, it has grown in popularity among people who cannot tolerate caffeine.  I've never tried it, but I understand that the taste is smooth and a bit bitter, and it takes some getting used to.  Since I have no problem with caffeine (unless I *don't* have it early in the day), I won't be trying orzo anytime soon.

Instant orzo machine
I think I may have mentioned this before, but Italians don't drink cappuccino after 10 am because, according to what I've read, it's hard to digest warm milk.  I don't know if I believe that, and when I'm home, I make a cappuccino every afternoon.  When I'm in Italy, I tend to stick to the cultural norm and drink espresso after 10.

One afternoon when the heat and humidity had the best of us,  Mike decided to try a frullato—a fruit and/or vegetable drink.  Frullati are similar to smoothies except that they usually don't contain milk or yogurt products and use natural juice and ice cubes as the base.  Cesar and Lilli keep all sorts of fresh fruit and vegetables (below), and instead of having a limited number of frullati on their menu, they allow customers to choose what they want in their drinks.  Mike chose cherries, strawberries, oranges, and pineapple.  It was so good that I tried one the next evening—pineapple, lime, cherries, apricots, and oranges.

Cantaloupe, lemons, apples, oranges, pomegranates, bananas, pineapples, limes, kiwi, cherries, apricots, pears, strawberries, and more

In the time that we've been home, I've tried to make frullati using frozen and fresh fruit. Unfortunately, the frozen fruit makes the drink too thick.  I don't quite mind that, but Mike prefers it to be more liquid, so I've defrosted his fruit before I make his.  When I go back to Bologna, I'll have to have Lilli and Cesar show me how much fruit they use so I can make mine a little better.

Moi with a cherry, apricot, pineapple, and orange frullato

While most Italians use bars as a place to get a quick beverage, some us the more comfortable ones as a gathering place where they meet friends to talk politics, sports, or life.  Such is the day at Bar Santo Stefano.  Every morning, friends meet to have their cappuccino or espresso and spend time with each other. 

Tomorrow (or Saturday), I'll introduce you to the men and women of Bar SS.

Morning at Bar Santo Stefano

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

I Love This Bar, Part I

Bar Santo Stefano
 “All true friendliness begins with fire and food and drink..."   ― G.K. Chesterton

Last year at this time, I was just starting my first week in Bologna.  After I finally woke up the morning after I arrived, I went in search of cappuccino. As luck would have it, Bar Santo Stefano was a 15-second walk from my apartment.  I stumbled in the door and ordered a cap and apricot brioche from the guy behind the bar.  As I stood and had my breakfast, we talked.

His name was Cesar, and he and his significant other, Lilli, had just bought the bar.  That morning, August 1, 2014, was their first day as owners of the bar.  Originally from Barcelona, Cesar had met Lilli when he was working in China. They worked together in Piacenza and decided to open their own bar in Bologna.  I was one of their first customers.


I had gone in the bar in search of coffee but also to see if I could connect with someone in Bologna. Since I was there alone, I wanted to have friends who would know to keep an eye out for me. They became friends, and I enjoyed talking to them on my daily visits.  I had cappuccini and got to practice my Italian...except when I lapsed into Spanish with Cesar. 

 Bars in Italy are not quite what bars in the US are.  Italian bars offer offer everything from espresso and brioche in the morning to panini and soda in the afternoon to appetizers and drinks in the evening.  Bar Santo Stefano is no different. Cesar usually opens the bar between 6:30 and 7:00 to serve people on their way to work or school.  Lilli joins him around 9:00 or so, and late in the morning, he goes home to rest. After he returns, they work together until they close, sometimes as late as 8:00 or 9:00 pm.

Cesar is a great cook.  When I asked him if they could provide aperitifs for my two tour groups this year, he made a number of different things that included a Spanish tortilla (eggs and potato omelette), something with tuna, something with peppers, and a few other things. I don't remember what everything was, but they were all great.


If you were to ask everyone in my groups what they thought about Bar Santo Stefano, I think they would all tell you the same thing:  Cesar and Lilli are wonderful people.  The bar is a friendly and comfortable oasis on a busy street.

 Last year, Mike didn't have the chance to get to know Cesar and Lilli since he was only in Bologna one night. I'm glad he got the opportunity to meet them this year.

"Thanks for watching out for Chris," Mike told Cesar after he arrived this year.  "I appreciate it."

"I am like her little brother," Cesar replied.  He most certainly is.

With Lilli and Cesar this year...
Tomorrow: More of what makes Bar Santo Stefano #1 in Bologna