Domenica mattina. Umbertide is silent in the dark before the morning light makes itself known. The days have gotten noticeably shorter. The mornings darker. At 6:30 almost every day of the year, I hear from my bed, the sound of the metal gate on Bar Mary being thrown up to open for the day. Irene (pronounced Ear-RAY-Nay) is the designated opener. Mary, the closer. Saturday night was a raucous party. Sunday morning, is calm. The next thing I hear is the sound of chairs scraping on the stones. Everyday, Irene and Mary, the sister owners, spend an inordinate amount of time repositioning the chairs around the tables. And then the customers come and move them all again.
Once Bar Mary was Bar Patsy. And who knows before that? It is owned by the Catholic Church who inherited it from an old woman who lived in the building. The sisters pay their rent to the church. Our first day in Umbertide, we had driven straight here from Rome after our overnight flight for our house hunting trip, we met Jim, our realtor, who, first thing, took us to Bar Mary for a beer. And it has been our “go to” place ever since.
The first customers arrive shortly after opening. I can hear Irene talking to them. And then a laugh that rings across the Piazza. Both Mary and Irene laugh easily, heartily, and loudly. I affectionately call it a cackle. Esspressi are made, and within seconds have been downed while standing at the bar. Sometimes a customer will linger at the outside tables over a cappuccino and a cornetto. The Sunday bells peal, calling people to mass.
Not long after opening, the old men begin to arrive. Every town in Italy has their cadres of old men, pensioners, kicked out of the house by the wife or coming to the Bar for company if they live alone. They sit, and read the sports page and have arguments about the teams. Before long the Briscola begins. Also called Scopa, but not here in Umbertide. Here, it is only called Briscola. It is a quirky card game played by Italians. The games can get loud and heated. There were four tables going last evening, each surrounded by the inevitable kibitzers. The men always go home by seven for dinner. The old men never buy a thing from Bar Mary. They just take up table space. And they expect the bar to provide the cards! I wonder at this. What is in it for the Bar? And, as far as I can see, nothing. But it is tradition. And no one will complain.
The passagiata usually begins around five in the afternoon. People begin to stroll through the Piazza. Families with strollers and kids in tow. Grandparents with their grandchildren, showing off the bambini proudly. Then the teenagers and young people come through in packs. All seeing, and being seen. An evening ritual throughout Italy.
Not long after the old men go home, the tables will be taken by families, couples and young people. They will order an affogato, or gelato. Maybe a drink or two. An aperol spritz perhaps. The little kids run wild screeching and spinning across the piazza. Chasing the pigeons. The parents pay them no mind. They are perfectly safe. And out of control 🙄.
A day in the life of an Italian bar – Bar Mary. 💕