Feet Under the Table – Dinner in Italy.
September 20, 2023. The local Starbucks summoned with the promise of a caffeine gift after a long morning at the computer and the prospect of an afternoon with more of the same.
The good news is a creamy latte always fills a need for more than caffeine. It’s my reward for sticking it out at my desk when I’d rather be reading the book I’m currently absorbed in or sitting outside in our gazebo with my dogs all around, nosing in the dirt or roughhousing. That’s my perfect place to think, take in the glorious California weather, or just – be.
The bad news is our Starbucks has never recovered from the stark, silent, sad days of the Pandemic. The coffee sanctuary used to be a hopping-happy place with a line of people waiting to order their drinks but seemingly in no hurry to drink them. The tables were full. So were the chairs and couches. I was delighted just to walk in the door, take in the giant blast of caffeine mixed with the sound of people’s voices laughing, talking, and whispering – a joyful mix of caffeine and humanity worth every dollar.
I realized my sweet coffee sanctuary had turned into an empty room half the size of a gymnasium that, on this Friday morning, had ten customers (I counted them) staring into or tapping on their laptops not far from four men lounging on couches staring at their cell phones.
What has happened to us? Where did the joy of conversation and the buzz of human voices go? The only noise was the rattle of machines crunching beans and the far-off, barely distinguishable muffle of voices coming from behind the closed doors of the “kitchen.” The Starbucks I loved before the Pandemic felt like a three-ring-circus with fifty or sixty patrons slurping coffee and corralling their boisterous kids who wanted lollipops and ice cream.
I remembered Italy and the story of feet under the table.
Jim and I were visiting the Italian family my son lived with in Parma for a semester. One night we treated them to an American BBQ: salsa, a big bowl of chips, tossed salad, garlic bread, and beans. We bought the meat at a local butcher shop and the lettuce at a green-grocer.
When the night of the big feast arrived, I noticed a long table more suited for thirty people, than the family. Who else was coming to the BBQ? Claudio, our host, told us in words I’ve never forgotten.
“Family for sure, but soon friends will drop by. They will bring something for everyone – maybe ice cream or fruit or a little salad – something. But the most important thing about an Italian dinner is feet under the table.”
“Feet under the table?” I asked. Where else would feet go?
“One of the most important for an Italian family is we eat together. And always at a table. We don’t eat watching television or with food on our lap or heavens! In a car like so many Americans. We put our feet under a table and talk to each other while we eat.”
Since then, I have taken photos of Italian tables on my trips to Italy because that is where the soul of a family lives, thrives, and grows. With their feet under the table. Smart way to live.