Coffee, conciliation and culinary compliance

Another day, another cappuccino.

Having got over my mortification at the hand of the sexy barista, I’m installed in the coffee shop, slowly supping my coffee and making notes on the particularly intelligent-looking book that I’m battling through.

It’s in French, which isn’t really my forte, so it’s taking a large part of my attention. Which is why I jump about a metre in the air when the very same sexy barista plonks himself down beside me.

“Are you nervous?” he says, with a smirk.

Recomposing myself, I make some slightly tetchy comment about him having work to do, but it’s two o’clock; he’s finished for the day, so he sits and eats his lunch with me. The conversation is slightly terse, and I’m unsure whether this is due to shyness (both his and mine) or the sandwich he’s woofing down at high speed.

What’s weird is that it’s not exactly a flirtatious exchange. In fact, it feels more like a job interview. Once we’ve got through our respective employment choices, where we live and with whom, he looks at me levelly and says, “Can you cook?”

Jeez, I think. Italians! Always fretting about their stomachs.

Having spent a few years in Italy, I know that how I answer this question is more important than almost anything else. I could be a raving psycho with any number of eccentricities and anti-social habits, provided I know to cook my pasta al dente and have a more than a passing acquaintance with the salt cellar.

To most Italians, we hapless Brits are the authors of many a culinary faux pas, from daring to consume a cappuccino after noon, to our love of deep pan pizza (insert your own sneer now). But no sin could be as great as our unholy treatment of pasta.

And I use the word ‘unholy’ advisedly since, for most Italians, the preparation of pasta is akin to a religious rite. The fact that we toss our pasta in meagre quantities of water – sometimes without salt – and then boil it half to death is the source of much tongue-clicking, eye-rolling and sarcastic commentary.

I, however, have been thoroughly schooled in pasta preparation: I know that you need enough boiling water to drown in, a generous hand with the salt and an eagle eye on the clock. I even know which kind of sauce goes with which kind of pasta. Ha! Take that, sexy barista and your ill-founded assumptions!

Having thus proved myself worthy, he suggests that we might eat together one evening.

“I’ll cook,” he says.

A worthy dining companion I may be, but not yet trusted enough to be let loose at the stove.

Of course, I may be misjudging him completely; perhaps he’s just being kind, and I’m just a suspicious old so-and-so. Either way, I’ll be happy to stand meekly by while he flaunts his pasta prowess.

But here’s the catch: I’m a busy sort of person whose week books up pretty quickly, so I prefer to pick a day and put it in my diary. Whereas he’s a spontaneous sort who doesn’t want to be, “one of those people in your diary” – ??!!

Whatever, I think.

I’m not sure whether this tentative agreement is worth celebrating or not. After all, I might have myself half a date, but I won’t be surprised if it takes a lifetime to happen…


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