La Spezia and the Clarinet Man

Bad coffee made good--and mad men dancing

La Spezia always surprises. It’s not that anybody goes there who isn’t just changing trains to go to the Cinque Terre. But it’s an awful nice town, with good restaurants and a nice daily covered (but not too much) market.

In any case, we spent the morning shopping. Then we decided to sit down and have a coffee. We found a bar with an old man playing clarinet in front of it. He played with grace and ease. He played songs like Benny Goodman might play.

clarinet player la spezia picture
Clarinet Man and his dance crew

I will not tell you the name of the bar because the coffee was horrible. That’s surprise numero uno. I mean, you can almost always get a good coffee in Italy. Sometimes you get a “just ok” coffee. But a tiny cup of bitter sludge you almost never come across. I wondered how the place could stay in business.

In any case, while this guy, whose name by the way is Stingaciu Alexandru, is like one of those Indian snake charmers with his clarinet. Soon a guy comes round the corner with dancing shoes on. No kidding, he dances. By himself. Then, along comes a big guy, a guy who dwarfs him. You can see the dwarfage in the bad picture up there I think. I took it with my iPod. It is not a Hasselblad.

Then He starts dancing. I mean, when have you seen such a thing in the US? Men do not do that. Women! Oh, my yes. But men? A pair of them? Not a chance. (I mean, you might see that in San Francisco, but they’d be dancing with each other. These guys were dancing with no one in particular. Ok, so the dancing is a sort of rhythmic if not spastic shuffling. But still.)

Then the big guy starts singing. He is less proud of his singing than his dancing. (Suprise!) He is crooning away but you can hardly tell. The guy next to him might have heard him better because he heads into the bar.

He orders a “cafe correto”. That’s (usually) a shot of espresso and a few drops of liquor. He asks for Sambuca. Ah, my fave. She pours. And pours. The cup is full. He drinks it. From afar and with the wind blowing in the opposite direction, he smells like a fennel distillery.

And now you know the secret of getting a good coffee at a bad coffee bar.

But Stingaciu Alexandru is quite something with his clarinet. He interacts with babies in carriages without skipping a beat. Benny Goodman, eat your heart out; you could be on a street in Italy surrounded by a couple of old guys shuffling to and fro, one who is three sheets to the wind on account of the coffee and the other who thinks he is Dean Martin—if only you were alive.

But in the end there is sadness. No women throw themselves at this dynamic duo. No one claps when the music stops. Even the babies seem oblivious to the man with the horn.

So we buy his CD. It cost 10 Euros. We are listening to it now. Nice.

La Spezia and the Clarinet Man originally appeared on , updated: Sep 23, 2018 © .

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