I heard him speaking Italian, muttering under his breath and then calling out coffee drinks with an unmistakable accent. He spoke to a customer at the mahogany bar who looked very much Italian, but the man explained in northern accents that he grew up in Germany and knew no Italian.
"What part of Italy are you from?" I asked, for surely this man looked southern and familiar.
He leaned on the counter and looked at me oddly, as if I might burst out into some radical action now that I was apprised of the proper information.
"I've just come from Naples." I smiled when I said it, and it sounded so strange to say! Even the word "Naples" sounded strange in my mouth; it should be Napoli, always.
"Ah, Naples. You like Capri? Amalfi?" He began to name some more specific touristy areas that I hadn't been to or hadn't liked.
"I don't know." I shrugged. (Honestly, I've never been to Capri though I lived in Italy for several years before I came to be in Ireland--but you don't just go about admitting that to people.) "But Naples . . . Naples is beautiful. I loved Naples."
He squinted at me. "You liked Naples?" I thought perhaps that he was questioning my command of the English language, but perhaps the question was merely the natural cross-examination of a traveller by a countryman.
"Yes. Good coffee in Naples, much better than here. I don't know how you stand it." Always, Italian coffee will be better than the coffee from anywhere else. "Is there anywhere else around here that makes good coffee--Italian coffee?" He handed me my coffee (oddly called a "latte") over the counter.
"There is . . . hmm, I used to work at a place--you know the quay? Bar Italia on the quay?" He pointed in the direction of the river and pronounced "quay" with an accent. People came in and out of the leaded glass doors of Bewley's with their handbags and pale faces and low-heeled shoes, and I felt oddly out of step with my normal self-consciousness.
"I know of it. Good coffee, though?" But of course I had noticed the pseudo-Italian restaurants on my meandering walks through Dublin.
He shrugged. "It is like coffee from Rome." His face was carefully blank. I wrinkled my nose and made a face, and he nodded emphatically. "Neapolitan coffee is better." Suddenly I felt as if I'd spent the last few hours reading Hemingway.
"This is good coffee." He said grudgingly, gesturing to the machine next to him.
"Ok." I smiled and my phone protested. "Grazie!" I said, and carried my coffee over to the coffee-doctoring table where I would put a few too many sugars in my pocket so as to have a better cup of tea this evening.
"Arrivederci." He said it with mannered nonchalance like I've heard it many times before, and it sounded so familiar that I couldn't help but feel more at home. Only not.