If you’ve ever been to Italy, you’ll probably have noticed that there is an abundance of bars. There seems to be a high bar to person ratio; in 2012, there were 172,000 bars in Italy (data from Ufficio Studi Fipe). You’ll find bars in every angle of towns, cities and villages – including, obviously, the Lodigiano area.
Just like the English pub, bars in Italy are a focal point for socialising, as well as eating and drinking. However, going into a bar in the countryside can be quite daunting at times. While you can freely enter a bar in the city without anyone taking any notice of you, country bars are mainly frequented by elderly gentlemen who stare fixedly at you as you walk through the door. Quite often you get the urge to turn around and go somewhere else. Don’t. Once you get to know them, these gentlemen are charming people who love to regale you with anecdotes of their youth. If you’re really lucky, you may even be invited to join them in their afternoon snack of a large bottle of red wine, cured meats and bread!
Some of these men are widowers who go for the company, to avoid passing entire days all alone. Others are sent there by their long-suffering wives, desperate for some peace and quiet. Some are devoted customers who start with a glass of white wine at 9 o’clock in the morning and carry on drinking all day long.
Go to any of these bars in the afternoon and you’ll see everyone sat around tables, divided into groups, partaking in their favourite pastime, Briscola, an Italian card game I’ve never quite understood. This quiet card game can go on for hours, the tranquility broken only by occasional outbursts of temper as one player jumps up, red-faced, accusing another of having played their card wrongly. Everyone in the bar stares, smiling, as his fellow card-players try to calm him down, holding him physically back in some cases. The moment passes, the player sits back down, and everyone else goes back to what they were doing.
Italian bars come in all shapes and sizes, each one differing in appearance and style but, as the saying goes, don’t judge a book by its cover. Below is the Antica Trattoria della Costa, a bar and trattoria in Cornovecchio. It doesn’t look like much from the outside; indeed, before opening time it looks like an abandoned building!
But this is what it looks like inside:
And here are some of its friendly patrons!
So remember, if you’re ever in some remote village in Italy, don’t be afraid to try out the local bar. You may be pleasantly surprised. Cheers!