I begin each day In Lecce by waking up and sneaking to a nearby caffé. It’s usually the Garden Caffé, conveniently located less than 50 yards from our complex, a bustling place full of Italian chatter, with indoor and outdoor tables and little cups of espresso for 80 cents, served to you by the friendly barista Giorgio, a perfect spot for soaking up the atmosphere, sipping on coffee and, if I’m alone, writing.
I like Sundays in particular. It’s the end of the weekend and the place is particularly packed at 11am: 2 or 3 old men presiding over the caffés entrance in plastic chairs, doling out “buon giorno”s to familiar customers; friends groups of younger Italians sitting at outdoor tables laughing, seemingly still in their Saturday night makeup and attire; parents with small children engrossed in their Nutella-filled pasticiottos; returning-from-church couples standing on the sidewalk socializing.That’s one thing I love about Lecce: the all-the-time socializing, on street corners and the main piazza and at outdoor tables at restaurants and wine bars. “That’s one thing you won’t see up north in Bologna,” a proud Leccese told us last week amidst the hustle and bustle of people standing, walking, pulsing through Lecce’s Piazza St. Oranzo. You’d think it’d be too much, too many crowds, but then I look up as I hear a “buona giornata, Maria” from the chums next to me, and remember that they know each person they’re greeting by name, that most people around me know those around them, that Lecce still retains its neighborly intimacy, so different from the modern, crowded yet distant cities I know of. I finish my coffee and get up to leave. I don’t get any parting words from the guys but remember I’m not yet a regular. I’m getting there, Lecce