Amaro del capo in Rome
Tyler and I were sitting outside at Bar San Calisto one early June evening. We had grabbed a pizza for dinner and needed to sit and digest. He pulled a pouch of Pueblo tobacco out of his checked shirt and fluidly rolled a cigarette. I asked him to roll me one while I went to get us a drink.
“What do you want, a beer?”
“An amaro del capo. Get yourself one, too.”
I went inside, where Marcello the proprietor was perched over his register like a goblin. He gave me my receipt and change from a five-euro bill. At the bar counter, the Action Bronson-looking barman retrieved a squat bottle from the fridge and poured out two viscous, mahogany shots.
Back outside, I handed Tyler the shot and accepted my smoke. I held the shot up to the fluorescent light from the bar sign, examining it like a diamond, and then took the first sip. I normally don’t enjoy amari — Italian liqueurs meant as after-dinner digestives. Amaro del Capo pleasantly reminded me of Fireball, even though the main flavorings are actually anise, juniper, hyssop, and mint.
I looked out at the small, scruffy piazza that gives the bar its name. Bar San Calisto is one the oldest, most popular bars in the city. Although the neighborhood, Trastevere, seems to get more and more touristy and flashy every summer, nothing about this little bar seems to change.
There’s nothing so special about it. Beer by the bottle, decent coffee, cheap spritzes and amari in plastic glasses. But crowds of people show up every night to carry those glasses out into the piazza, or the neighboring piazza, or down the street to who knows where. You could bring anyone there.
A humming crowd was already gathering when we finished our glasses and went back inside for another round. I swirled some capo around my mouth, savoring the warmth, before speaking.
“You know how in 1920s Paris all those guys, those writers and artists, would just hang around cafes all day, drinking and talking?
“If I ever write a book about my years in Rome, trying to make it as a journalist, I think Bar San Calisto is going to be that cafe. Young me, my archaeologist friend, smoking and drinking an Italian digestif and talking.”
“For sure, man,” he replied with an affectionate laugh.
My Paris remark was a bit superficial, I thought on the walk home. But what I was trying to say was this: the fear of missing out is one thing, but the fear that we’re failing to create the memories that will sustain us 40 years later is something much worse. Our evening at Bar San Calisto—amaro del capo, a few cigarettes, some conversation—hadn’t been different than the other patrons’. But it was one of those rare moments. I knew that 40 years later, my memory of it would be even more pleasurable than the moment itself.
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