If I had a euro for every time I’ve been asked “Come mai Bari?” (which, roughly translated, means “What in God’s name possessed you to want to live here?”) I would now be living like a bastard in San Francisco, or Provence, or Via Putignani. Actually, come to think of it, for a couple of years I did live in Via Putignani, but those were the days in which, together with my erstwhile partner in crime, The Baxter, I had taken on the challenge of trying to drink the Taverna del Maltese dry, and my memories of the period are somewhat hazy. I can’t even tell you if we got anywhere near succeeding in our worthy endeavours, though I believe the place does still have a small monument to the two of us, close to the cash register.
Someone once described our quest as “bevvying for England”, but as I remember it we were in fact drinking for Art. Some bird on the humorously-named “Rapido” from Rome had told The Baxter about these 19th century French poets who were only able to produce decent verse after long evenings abusing their bodies with drugs and alcohol, followed by long nights abusing the bodies of beautiful Parisiennes. At the time it sounded like the only truly noble path for aspiring writers – and unashamed hedonists – to follow, and so, wallets in pocket, down to the Tavern we would go.
Down the years I’ve often wondered whether The Baxter hadn’t dozed off at some point during his epiphany on the train: try as I might, I cannot quell the suspicion that those crafty Gallic geysers had lined up the totty BEFORE kicking into their Kronenbourg 1664s. We, on the other hand, honouring that long Anglo-Saxon tradition of crap tactics, invariably timed it so that the beer (and/or Cuban rum, from a dusty bottle on Giovanni’s top shelf) was kicking into US by the time any talent arrived in the Taverna.
I’m not saying we never pulled. One night The Baxter staggered home leaning on a more than averagely attractive sack of potatoes, and I myself can vividly remember waking up with a girl who’d once been a student of mine and who persisted in addressing me as “lei” rather than “tu” over breakfast. I kind of liked that. It felt like Art. And in a funny kind of way it may contain the answer to that eternal question: “Come mai Bari?”