We always bought coffee on a “subscription,” a punch-card system, where you pay in advance for ten coffees and get a slight discount. During our last week in Milan, I finished my last card and began paying for each coffee individually. Around the third coffee, Italo said to me: “You can still get a new subscription; it will be honored after I leave.”
I was massively confused. “I’m not buying the subscription because I’m leaving,” I said, “We’re moving.”
“You’re leaving?! But so am I!”
It turned out that he had sold his bar, and would be leaving it to the new proprietors on July 15th. His explanation was that the neighborhood had changed, many of his old clients had moved (or died), and he just didn’t know how to do business in the new climate: “There’s always tension, always arguments.” The neighborhood is now multi-ethnic, with recent immigrants from South America, North Africa, and China, and Italo’s clientele was becoming noticeably more mixed. Maybe there is tension between the groups, or between immigrants and Italians. I had never noticed anything particular going on, but of course I wasn’t in there 14 hours a day like he was. It was disconcerting to realize that this neighborhood fixture was leaving just as we were. You can’t go “home” again; if you do, it will have changed out from under you.