Caffe’ al Vetro

We are currently without an espresso machine in our household. As my daughter would say: “Sad face.” 😦 We sent the Francis Francis X1 off to the repairman after five years of almost daily use. I think it needed a little pick me up. 😉 We are making do with our dark roast espresso ground Illy coffee in the Bialetti Moka, but I miss the visual delight of a well-pressed coffee. I came upon this vignette from Italian Notebook (an email I get weekly or so with little tidbits from Italy) about caffe’ al vetro–which made me miss the X1 even more. And also reminded me of one of my favorite scenes in my book, The Vendetta. A little excerpt for you below. Enjoy!

They left Trevi Fountain behind, and Nick turned down a small side street where they saw a man sweeping the stoop in front of a petite coffee bar. Nick said something to him in Italian that Lisa didn’t catch. The man put his broom aside and beckoned them in.

When she raised a brow in question Nick said, “He says he can fire up the espresso maker but it will take a few minutes. The cornetti are fresh, just delivered.”

Lisa grinned in anticipation.

They stepped into a tiny room furnished with a bar, an antique espresso machine, and a wall-sized mirror behind liquor bottles displayed on glass shelves. The scent of fresh-baked pastry wafted from two paper-wrapped boxes on the counter. Lisa chose a cornetto filled with a chocolate-hazelnut cream Nick said was Nutella.

Grazie.” She gestured toward the pastry in her hand. The man nodded and went back to his machine. She turned to Nick as he selected his own cornetto.

“What was that you were speaking to our proprietor?” she asked. “It sounded like Italian, but I couldn’t understand a word.”

Romanesco. Roman slang. Sort of like cockney to an English speaker,” he said.

She bit into her cornetto and then licked the sugar off her lips. She noticed Nick’s gaze riveted on her mouth as her tongue came out to catch a drip of chocolate.

“So you’re from Rome, then?” she asked. “Why do you speak English so well?”

“You’re very persistent, aren’t you?”

“And you’re not going to answer me, are you?”

“Look, Lisa—”

“You’re awfully stingy with details about yourself,” she interrupted cheerfully. “It makes me wonder what you exactly do as an exporter of luxury goods.”

She licked the tips of her fingers. “What do you export, Nick? Ladies lingerie? Silk drawers?”

He snorted.

“No? OK, how about drugs, then?”

He frowned slightly and shook his head. “Lisa—”

“No? Hmm, well, maybe it’s looted artifacts and stolen art.”

His frown became ferocious, and he stepped toward her, as if he wanted to shake her.

Fortunately, or maybe unfortunately, the barista chose that moment to serve Lisa’s cappuccino. He set the steaming cup down on the bar next to her and offered the basket of sugar packets.

Prende il zucchero, Signorina?

Nick stepped back.

Glad for the distraction, Lisa selected a packet of sugar and then emptied it into her cup. The foamed milk was so thick the sugar stood for a moment on the surface before it slowly sank into the steaming liquid below. She stirred it with the little spoon from her saucer. She picked up the cup, took a sip, and saluted the man behind the counter, one barista to another. The drink was delicious.

Nick’s espresso came in a small shot glass with a dash of milk dotting the top.

“What do you call that?” Lisa asked as Nick took his first sip.

“It’s called a caffe macchiato al vetro. Coffee in a glass. You’re not familiar with it?”

She shook her head. “Why the shot glass?”

He shrugged. “For coffee purists. Glass is non-reactive so you get an unfiltered taste.” He turned up the little drink and took another sip.

When he didn’t say anything else, she returned to her coffee, trying to find another way through his curt reticence to the information she needed. She dunked the remaining bit of her cornetto in the creamy foam in her cup, savoring every last bite. When she looked up, she saw Nick watching her, his gray eyes flashing sliver.

“What?” She self-consciously grabbed a napkin.

“Finished?” he asked.

She nodded behind the small white square.

Nick put a few euros on the bar, thanked the man, and grabbed Lisa’s hand.

“Let’s walk,” he said.

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5 thoughts on “Caffe’ al Vetro

  1. Nice injection of conflict into what could have been a boring scene! And as such, it wasn’t. Thanks for sharing! 🙂

    • Kecia Adams says:

      Thanks, Jennette. The original scene was much, much longer. 🙂 *sigh* My panegyric on Italian coffee culture sacrificed to the tyranny of pace and characterization…

      • journalpulp says:

        But you needn’t necessarily sacrifice those panegyrics and paeans — not to plot, pace, people, or anything else. Why? They can all coexist (Light Years, for example, or Blood Meridian or The Crossing). In my opinion, it’s precisely that which ultimately separates literary fiction (so-called) from genre fiction. Blood Meridian and The Crossing are in many ways full-blown Westerns, but they are even more properly classified as literary novels — because they are both so stylistically driven.

        I’m in the minority (among writing instructors) when I say this, but it’s those stylistic passages that many of us most enjoy.

        In the fine passage you excerpt, for instance, you’re unquestionably at your best here:

        The foamed milk was so thick the sugar stood for a moment on the surface before it slowly sank into the steaming liquid below. She stirred it with the little spoon from her saucer. She picked up the cup, took a sip, and saluted the man behind the counter, one barista to another.

        That is what this reader wants more of. That is what this reader enjoys reading.

        But one shouldn’t think of it as either-or: either I pace faster, or I focus on details and the beauty of the language.

        I once sent a letter to an erstwhile friend of mine — an award-winning novelist who’s published several books and several short-story collections, an excellent writer — and I told him that his latest story contained a few sentences that were so beautiful that they stole the entire show, that he needed to develop those sentences, elaborate upon them, make them into longer passages. He did not agree, and time has sunk that story, which could have been stylistically timeless.

      • Kecia Adams says:

        Very interesting comment. I would agree with you that description is a strength of mine, and it is in those stylistic passages where that elusive quality of voice comes to the fore. That said, I think writers must walk a very fine line between pulling readers into their fictional worlds with lovely prose without falling in love with their own writing. I still believe in keeping readers in the story with close attention to pace and characterization. That’s my quick answer anyway. I may have some more to say after I mull it over. 🙂 Thanks for you comment, Ray.

  2. Emma says:

    Great excerpt. I love the descriptions of the food and coffee.Very mouth watering.

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