Saturday, March 7, 2009

I almost missed it ...

I almost missed this story, and I almost missed the pictures I had of Charlie's Pastry and Ice Cream shop in Pula (Croatia). You see, I was born there, and last year I visited Pola again, and found myself going back 35something years ...

Charlie's is an institution in Pola. If you have lived in town for anytime, you have been there. The place is at the corner of the fresh produce central market square, and everybody knows it.
Fantastic coffee, great pastry, however, that is not the reason for this post.

Francesca, my daughter and I were there, for a coffee and a poppy seed pastry ( a local delicacy ) on a Monday afternoon. The place was almost empty, it was just us, and a loud group of French tourist, arguing over the menu. The waiter came outside to take our orders, and chat a little. I had recognized him, from my childhood, he and I, same age, I remember his eyes looking up from behind the counter, when we both were much younger. He was a child too, back then, and he was and is the owner's son. Family run business. He came out, took our orders, glanced at the French, and went back inside to make our orders.

That's when they came. Big brother and little younger brother, that's what they looked like. We had seen them few minutes before, in the main street, they were on their bicycles, riding around, in the small town.

The waiter saw them seating down, he came out with a smile, they were, after all, customers.

It was his experience of a lifetime behind the counter, and waiting tables, that allowed him to asses the situation in a fraction of a second. In the meanwhile, the French kept clamoring over virtues of a small cappuccino over an espresso. The waiter's focus, eyes, and attention, instead were all for the new customers that had just taken place on the outdoor table, by the entrance.

Everything in them, from their clothes, to their body language indicated they were in a bad shape. Ragged clothes, broken shoes, older brother unshaven, extremely skinny and clearly from an ugly diet, all in them, called out "misery".

It was clear that this ice cream shop visit was something new and rare for them. The waiter seized the situation in a microsecond, and he knew this couple was a "low budget and no tip" kind of customer. The French did not know yet what they wanted after all, and the waiter glanced at them, and his attention went again on his new customers. And here, I witnessed a small miracle.

He approached them, wide smile, greeted them as they were pure royalties, and asked if he could be of any help. The older brother opened his left hand, revealing a few coins, barely enough for one scoop of ice cream. "If you could, one small cup, one scoop of ice cream"

The waiter smiled broadly, he was a man on a mission, at this point, and nobody was going to stop him now. Not even the French guys that in the meanwhile had decided that indeed, they wanted a coffee and pastry.

The waiter run back into the ice cream shop, and with one scoop of ice cream, he built an ice cream cup full of wafers, fruits, whipped cream, everything he had and then some, went in this ice cream cup ... it was more like a trophy, than "one scoop of ice cream". It was a masterpiece.

He came back out, smiled again, presented the giant ice cream trophy in front of the two brothers, with a smile and a look on his face that was like a presidential speech... The older brother looked at the ice cream, looked at the waiter and there was a brief, quick, intense exchange of non spoken words between the two.

The waiter nodded, and his eyes said "it is my honor to give this to you, don't say a word"
Little brother was speechless too, he too knew they did not have enough money for all that.

The waiter smiled again, said "Oprostite" "excuse me"and finally went on to see what the French had decided to order.

The two brothers ate their ice cream, then called the waiter, paid him with the few coins they had, got on their bike, and left. I heard the little brother say "that was the best ice cream I have ever had". The waiter heard that too, and that was enough for him. He looked at me, and in Croatian said "my best kind of customers" , then he left to take some cakes to the French.

As long as there are still men like him, out there, there is still hope.

Have a nice weekend.


Some Birds said...

Amazingly, andiamo a Pola domani. Devo visitare questo negozio...e certamente non solo per il gelato.

This story is beautiful...

Bolina Stretta said...

Adesso mi fai veramente geloso... Io sono nato a Pola, ed i miei genitori vivono li ... salutameli.. ;-)

Se va da Charlie, DEVI provare il dolce ai semi di papavero, assolutamente. Io l' ho provato nel 2008, dopo quasi 35 anni che non lo mangiavo, e mi sono venute le lacrime agli occhi. Stesso sapore, stesso dolce, non e cambiato di una virgola.