How to get A free coffee: the Pending Espresso

Dear Reader,

Italians are masters of many noble inventions and deeds, most of them taken from unnoticed customs in other countries where they did not receive much attention evidently. Truth to be told, we did not invent pizza, pasta, coffee but we certainly invented the way the rest of the world conceives, serves and drinks coffee, starting from the linguistics of it (espressocappuccino, latte macchiato, etc) to the steam-driven espresso machine (first pioneered by Angelo Moriondo in 1884), to the more stylish brands (Illy and Lavazza, my favourite). If coffee has a spiritual home, this is it. Italy.

Today 🙂 let me delight you with some Italian coffee culture.

“Work is that annoying thing that we do between one coffee break and another” – by Maurizio Crozza

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The Espresso-macchiato:  an espresso literally “stained” with a light amount of steamed milk. This is my friend Riccio‘s favourite although she might have transitioned to the more tasteful marocchino, another great invention from north of Italy, which carries a mix of espresso, cocoa powder and milk froth.

In Italy having coffee is a form of art: is a ritual that may be practiced more times in a day depending on the need, before a meal, after lunch, a work break, etc. Come to a bar and live the full coffee experience. A bar, normally very crowded and noisy coffee house, is where people gather to have coffee and meet friends, discuss politics and sports. It’s where they start their day and, at times, where it ends along with an aperitivo.

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This is a typical bar in Rome, more specifically in Ostia Antica, my home town. Normally crowded, this bar is located right outside the train station.

The barista, the man or woman behind the bar who prepares the coffee is key element to this tradition. He joins random conversations, debates, he or she is normally friends with the regular customers. Coffee gives us morning boost, helps digest our food, avoid nappy desire and open the evening together with aperitivos. In few words: coffee rules our lives.

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Cappuccino, my absolute favourite: 50% hot milk, 50% espresso with foam to the top usually had for breakfast. Traditional Italians would curse me if they knew I have cappuccino also after meals, even if I ate fish. I don’t care because it’s just too good.

But let’s go deeper into Italian culture and tradition and explore a very unknown term to most foreigners: a pending espresso, or caffĂ© sospeso or caffĂ© pagato (paid coffee).

The caffé sospeso is a concept mostly unknown to rest of the world, a very old Italian tradition that enchants many because of its romantic simplicity: gifting an espresso to somebody.

Born in Naples during Second World War, this habit came to symbolise solidarity in a very critic moment in Italian history. Those who could afford an espresso at the bar normally would pay for a second coffee to pay for a coffee many times they would pay for another one which would be left pending. This pending coffee would later be given to anyone who wished to have it (normally it would be someone poor or homeless).

In that very moment of our history, coffee became a sympathetic and philanthropic gesture made by any happy person entering a bar.

Precisely because a person was happy, he or she would decide to have an espresso at the bar and pay for an additional one to be assigned to anyone. In few words, an espresso was offered to a stranger, any stranger coming into the bar later on.

This person, aware of the tradition, would go to bartender and ask if there were any pending coffees.

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Nino Manfredi on the most classic Lavazza Caffé ad of 1986.
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The Day of the Dead in Mexican Style

Dear Reader,

Have you met Catrina? no?!
This is her:

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Ladies and gentlemen, this is Catrina.

Catrina is a tall, elegantly attired female skeleton sporting an extravagantly plumed hat. She is the creation of print maker JosĂ© Guadalupe Posada, dated back in 1910, a time where calaveras (Spanish for ‘skulls’) images were wielded as political and social satire, poking fun at human folly. La Catrina has everything to do with the Mexican Revolution elements and she is also the main character of the curious Day of the Dead Mexican festivity.

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Unlike in many other countries, Mexico has a different view of the Dead. Even though this holiday coincides with the Catholic holiday called All Soul’s & All Saint’s Day, the indigenous people over here have combined the traditional Catholic ritual with their own ancient beliefs of honouring their deceased loved ones and celebrating their return among the living. That’s right, dear Reader, they believe that the gates of heaven opened at midnight on October 31 and the spirits of all deceased children (angelitos) are allowed to reunite with their families for 24 hours. On November 1 and 2, the spirits of the adults come down to enjoy the festivities that are prepared for them. This is what gives this holiday a very curious and yet unique touch.

It is a festive, joyous time of celebration in Mexico. The Day of the Dead is probably one of Mexico’s most important holidays, and this means that people invest a lot of time and money into celebrating it, more so than any other holiday.

Ok, so Travel Buddy and I went to the core heart of traditional Jalisco state, a little town called Tlaquepaque because we literally wanted to immerse ourselves in the Day of the Dead festivity.

The entire town looked glorious and colourful

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When you walk along the streets you notice many little altars which honour parted loved ones. Some of them will even have some of the things they loved, such as their favourite drinks, objects, dishes.

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Sometimes the dead person is a child, or many in fact. One specific altar, dedicated to the fire which killed 38 of children in Sonora in 2009, was filled with toys and pictures of the children.

Catrina is without a doubt the representative of this holiday. So much in fact, that everyone wants to look like her!

Children

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Adults

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And even waiters in a restaurant will join the spooky folklore

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Stanito and Travel Buddy could not be exception to this rule

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Here I am sitting between a lady skeleton and her male companion

While Travel Buddy took it even further when he sat down and played cards with another skeleton gentleman

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In the end, why should the remembrance of our beloved dead ones be a sad event?

How to make your dreams come true: the Japanese Shinto ritual

Dear Reader,

I bet everyone you know would love to have a formula to make their wishes and dreams come true, and the sooner the better.
Well, Stanito, big Japan fan as she is, found the way to do it. The Shinto way to do it, to be more precise.
She found it for you in the outskirts of Tokyo in a mid-summer afternoon…

Continue reading “How to make your dreams come true: the Japanese Shinto ritual”

Sicilians vs Superstitions: the Black Cat

Dear Reader,

If someone wanted to list (and I’m sure that someone has done it already) all superstitions present in different cultures, I can assure you the list would be very very long. Every thing, or person, or event could potentially bring us good luck, bad luck or all sort positive/negative effects.

Luckily, I have two Sicilian flatmates – Angelo and Teresa – who are more than happy to share their beliefs with me anytime something of valuable significance happens, and I enjoy those moments like crazy 🙂 Continue reading “Sicilians vs Superstitions: the Black Cat”