La Paninoteca

On Via Industrie, near the Fincantieri shipyard, there was a small paninoteca to which the shipyard employees would often go for lunch. Though the other Americans on site often chose a fancier place to eat, I walked there every day because of its proximity and because its prices met my limited budget.

Bread and Mortadella from "momentaneamente" blog. Not quite the same sandwich, but close.Before I could even open my mouth to place my order, the shopkeeper would often recite from memory what I wanted to eat: “doppio prosciutto e formaggio”. I had learned early to order double meat on my panino[1] if I wanted an American-style sandwich. I only wish I knew how to ask for softer bread.

I will never forget my first day eating at the paninoteca. Even before I entered, the strong smell of grappa wafted through the door. While US businesses, even back then, did not want employees to drink during business hours, these Italian shipyard workers thought nothing of a liquid lunch comprised solely of a shot or two (or more) of hard liquor. It made the shipyard men’s room smell like a bar, and I had to wonder what effect it had on shipyard safety.

Beyond this surprise, however, was the unexpected sight when I first stepped through the door. Adjacent to the far wall stood one of the small round tables so common in European restaurants. There were a pair of shipyard workers seated at the table, the collection of empty shot glasses before them testifying that their lunch break was well underway. Norman Rockwell couldn’t have painted a better scene.

Between the men lay an ashtray, full to overflowing with cigarette butts. Both men were smoking, and as I watched one of them casually lit a fresh cigarette from the one he had just finished before adding the depleted butt to the pile. On the wall above the men hung a sign which read “Vietato Fumare” (smoking prohibited) in bright red letters.

I have since come to believe that Italy is a place where nearly everything is illegal, and few people seem to care. At least they were using the ashtray.


[1] For the benefit of American readers, let me emphasize that the proper word for a sandwich is “panino”.  “Panini”, in Italian, is a plural, and it is not meaningful to order “a panini” any more than you could roll “a dice” or raise “a cattle.”

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