It’s a hot day, even by Naples standards. The garbage collectors are on strike and the reek of refuse sitting in the streets mingle with exhaust fumes from two-stroke engines, the noise of which fill the stifling summer air.
I find all interaction with this city to be utterly intense. At night my dreams are filled with strange rhythmic bursts, like manic jazz solos that will only end as I wake up to face another day of drama. Navigating the labyrinthine streets by foot feels like having stumbled onto a stage where an experimental dance troupe is improvising a show around me. I need a cup of tea.
So I get off of the street into a tiny hole in the wall with just a few seats along a diminutive bar disk, at one end of which stands a muted tv showing some local game. A fan turns slowly in the ceiling and steam rise from an ancient espresso machine, rendering an almost tangible quality to the ribbed sunbeams that enter through the slats of the blinds. As my eyes adjust to the half-light I notice I’m the only patron.
The old man behind the counter is busy slowly cleaning his coffee machine. His back to me, he acknowledge my request with the slightest of nods and sets about his craft.
There’s nothing spectacular about it, but still I find myself spellbound. Every move the bar man man makes while preparing my tea is perfectly measured, it’s like watching a Tai-Chi master.
Twenty years later the poetry of this scene is still vividly present in my mind. For the longest time I couldn’t really say why, but I think I know now. What I witnessed that day stays with me because it was such a powerful occasion of one human being fully embodying his craft. That old man all those years ago wanted nothing else than to spend yet another day of his life tending his bar. When he brewed me that cup of tea, he must have gone through the motions for the millionth time, and yet watching him doing it was like seeing an artist paint, every stroke of the brush creating the world anew.
I aspire to one day become equally at one with my craft.