One of the things on my must-do list while in Caserta was to track down the family coffee shop that I'd heard so many stories about growing up. My mother talks fondly of this neighorhood institution and of her great-uncle Vincentino who baked all of the pastries for the shop. What a coincidence to learn that our hotel was only a few blocks from Caffe Centrale, on Via Roma!
Shortly after we checked into the hotel, we set off down the street, only to discover the caffe and everything around it was locked up tighter than a drum. I should have known, it was only 2:45pm- still siesta time!
We went back to the hotel, and tried again at 4:30. Sure enough, the doors were open. And there was cousin Pietro behind the counter! Pietro is the younger brother of cousin Enzo. I've met Enzo briefly before, and could pick out the resemblance instantly. Although I was hoping my arrival would be a surprise, Enzo had already informed Pietro I would try to find him. And Pietro was waiting for me.
After big hugs and kisses, and drinks at the counter, Pietro gave us a bit of history about the caffe. It has been in the family just about 100 years! Oh, I can't even imagine! Pietro's grandfather, his great-uncle, his father, and now Pietro himself have run the caffe over the years. He explained that the present site is not the original shop. It used to be in another part of town, however an earthquake ruined the first shop,so they opened up in this second location and have been here on Via Roma ever since. Pietro's grandfather's brother Vincentino was the baker, however no one followed in his footsteps. Today, the pastries sold in the caffe are made by another local bakery. According to my mother, no one baked as well as Vincentino did.
By the way, Pietro speaks no English, so I was very pleased that my Italian skills got me through this meeting with a lot less difficulty than I had imagined. I had to keep reminding Pietro to slow down, however!
In Italy, the neighborhood caffe is where you stop on your way to work for coffee and a pastry in the morning. It's where you take your coffee break in the middle of the morning, and it's where you stop for a drink of wine or whatever on your way home from work. It's exactly like the Cheers bar, because everyone knows you there, and you know everyone. It's like your family.
For me, drinking a cup of tea at the counter of Caffe Centrale the other day really was finding my family! To be honest, I'm not sure I can find the right words to describe how I felt being there. The emotions were running high- this was another dream come true for me. And even better, this isn't just a story I've heard about the past any more- this is part of my life now.