I just spent 24 hours in Naples.
There is so much talk about organized crime and the mountains of unattended garbage, that I will not bother mentioning either any further. Instead, I want to tell you about an encounter that reconciled me with the traditions of that magnificent city:
I was having an excellent coffee in a caffe’ bar called Augustus on the main shopping avenue, via Toledo.
Random eavesdropping is one of my favorite sports, so there I was, ears wide open and sipping as slow as I could to prolongue my exposure to local conversations.
A well dressed gentleman of about 80 with a Borsalino hat and and elegant cane, walks to the cash register and asks to pay for “a coffee, and a suspended coffee”. Then drinks his coffee and leaves the bar. I tried to ignore my curiosity, but I only could for so long. Then I just had to ask the man at the register, what in the world is a “suspended coffee”.
So he patiently explained, trying to speak as close to a scholastic italian as he could (my question had given me away as an ignorant stranger):
“Right after the war, many gentlemen had lost everything they had, and couldn’t even afford coffee. Now, being that black hot liquid pleasure not considered a treat, but rather a basic human right in the life of any Neapolitan, those gentlemen who could still afford to have one, took a habit of paying for two: one they drank, the other was credited, to be had by the first less fortunate peer who would casually walk in the bar. The bartender would then say: “would you like a coffee, sir?”. Which meant: there is a coffee paid for you, if you can’t afford one.
The donor and the recipient would remain anonymous to each other, to protect generosity, pride, and the pleasure of coffee beyond hardships.