The Man who Lost his Wife at Caffè Al Bicerin

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Google image search

I could almost trace the place it was when Alexandre Dumas (the father), Nietzsche and Giacomo Puccini sipped a Bicerin there. I didn’t want to do it. I didn’t want to walk in looking like another Chinese tourist unable to speak Italian and just shout out “Bicerin” (a coffee, cream, chocolate drink invented in this cafe and something you’re told you must drink before leaving Turin) but I did and I felt sorry for the historical cafe for doing it.

Who knew that red velvet bench seats, marble tables, little wooden chairs, and a mirrored and wooden wall paneling would not photograph well together. A materially rich environment was suddenly made cheap by its image. I had the whole place to myself for a good 15 minutes just sipping on a Bicerin, perfect conditions for some iPhone photography. I tried again and again but nothing, not even a cropped, Instagram filter could make it look interesting. The shadow was too illusive. (the photographs you see below required a second visit from another trip except for the first image)

As I sat there, I watched the other tourists stumbling in and one was a real Chinese tourist, a man with his family, a wife and a child I never got to see. He did something similar to me. He said the word “Bicerin” and then held up three fingers and then pointed outside. However a few moments later, he realized that the real experience of the cafe was inside and so he sat down and waited for his drink. His wife never joined him. I imagined it went something like this. She having never seen the inside wanted to stay out in the good weather or simply didn’t care for historical experiences and he felt differently.

Once his drink arrived, he slowly sipped his Bicerin while looking at his phone and I did the same. For awhile, it was just the two of us and a local Italian lady defiantly ignoring us as she read the newspaper, had an espresso and chatted with the proprietress.

Then a waitress went to the Chinese man and said that his wife had already paid for his drink. He didn’t seem alarmed by this in the beginning but then once he got up and found his wife was no longer there, the speed of his movements changed.

I also left around the same time and saw him later across the street, looking erratically around him, frantically texting, and speed walking to a place he didn’t know.

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Mafia: Bold, Brave, and Beautiful

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Palazzo Branciforte

While reading Helena Attlee’s “The Land Where Lemons Grow,” she wrote the most interesting thing that in Palermo dialect the word “mafia” originally meant bold or beautiful completely different from its meaning during the same time in Piedmontese or the Florentine dialect which meant poor, petty, and miserable. The meaning of bold, brave, and arrogant first appeared in the 1650s and then about 250 years later the added meanings of beautiful, perfect also took hold. As time went on, it continued to evolve in Palermo dialect to also mean something closer to a union or fraternity of brothers.

The area outside of Palermo known as the Golden Bowl or Conca d’Oro was where for centuries lemon trees had been cultivated and lovingly cared for amid palaces and later Art Nouveau buildings (I wish I could have seen it) which were all then demolished by the money the Cosa Nostra made from exploiting the lemon trees or the wooden slaves they had once protected- all to be replaced with high-rise buildings. But even after blind capitalist corruption, earthquakes, bombings, and volcano eruptions, Sicily is still bellezza, baldanza, perfezione, eccellenza or mafia from 1880. One can only imagine how beautiful it must have been when Palermo was one of the most dazzling, cosmopolitan cities in Europe. There are still a few street signs in Italian, Hebrew, and Arabic.

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Detail from the Church of Gesù
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Heaven as Palermo

Echoic Mention

“We are standing by a wishing well
Make a wish into the well
That’s all you have to do
And if you hear it echoing
Your wish will soon come true”

Snow White  “I’m Wishing”

An English artist revealing the resonant frequencies of architectural structures… how poetically perfect, every work of art is a wish come true.