Friday the 13th, at least for Brits, is generally considered to be, at the very least, inauspicious. Fortunately for the Italians, the opposite is the case, with the 13th considered a good date for events to fall upon. So it was that on Friday the 13th of October 2006 one of the oldest institutions in the small community of Pergo, just outside Cortona, closed its doors for good. Giorgio and Marcella have run a bar, or shop, or both, in Pergo for fifty years now and the aforementioned institution has been on its present site since the early Seventies. As with many of the bars to be found in small Italian communities, the bar also acts as a tabaccheria (tobacconist) and edicola (newsagent), though the main purpose of its existence has undoubtedly always been to shell out caffè, grappa and Campari sodas in indecent quantities, as well as the ubiquitous (and quite incredibly cheap) local red wine, to anyone who has the stomach lining hard enough to deal with it. The bar has always been the focus of life here, with a great cross-section of regulars wondering in and out throughout the long day. Fortune had it that Giorgio’s three daughters, Stefania, Cristina and Rosanna were keen to follow the family business, allowing him to eat and catch some sleep at least some of the time. There are a lot of builders around here and they probably account for the majority of the business (they being the ones who consume most of the Campari and grappa), as well as the colour of the language that can often be heard flying about the place. It only ceases when the friendly local priest, Don Giuseppe, enters for a morning caffè, though he has probably heard it all before in his own fifty years in the village.
We have been frequenting the bar, affectionately nicknamed PB (Pergo Bar), for over six years now. When we lived in the centre of Cortona we only ever used to drop by on our way to or from work, but after moving out to the Pergo area two summers ago, we become, we like to think, regulars. Despite the fact that we showed our faces in there just about every day for two years however, did not deter Giorgio from failing to remember our names and insisting, still to this day, in using the formal Lei term when speaking to us. We realized that tradition was too entrenched to change his ways, so eventually stopped trying to convince him to refer to us in the normal tu (you) form. We grew to enjoy the many little idiosyncrasies of our beloved PB; the strip lighting which reminded me of one of my earliest memories, being wheeled on a bed through a hospital corridor aged three; the fact that there was not really anywhere to sit inside; the extensive hardcore porn collection nestling side by side with magazines about hunting dogs, rifles and Christmas recipe ideas. If there were more than two non-Italians sitting at a table together, their drinks would all be written down under the simple heading “stranieri” (foreigners), leading to complicated paying procedures and a bit of confused wallet shuffling. A visiting friend who had ordered a round of drinks was even written down as “straniero con cappello”, foreigner with hat.
So now PB, officially known as Bar La Dogana (due to its being on an old boundary line), has closed to make way for an extension of the next door mini-market. Where there were once groups of old-timers playing briscola, a local card game we have never managed to learn, there may now be rows of tomato paste. Along the ‘corridor’ section of the bar where the local lads used to squeeze in to watch heated Fiorentina matches, there will probably be a vast assortment of cleaning fluids and mop handles. We are sure to find out soon enough. Fortunately all is not lost for the Perghesi, as the ‘Andry’ Bar on the other side of the road opened its doors for its grand inaugurazione on the 14th. In Giorgio and Marcella’s place we now have Eddo and Patrizia, who chose to name their new bar after their son Andrea. There is no longer a ‘football corridor’, but a snazzy new seating arrangement, a shiny, modern bar and a loo that seems to be more like room temperature than fridge, it even has a window. There are many vestiges of the old local; the racy mags still sit alongside Hunter’s Weekly, the usual punters are crowding around for pre-lunch Campari and Cristina is carrying on the family tradition by continuing to work with the New Kids. Good luck to the Andry Bar, Eddo and Patrizia, as without them the place would never be quite the same. We may even see Giorgio propping up the bar from the other side. Either way, we look forward to many good times to come, glad that, in the grand scheme of things, nothing has really changed that much at all.