Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Costa On The Campo

Hell's Teeth! Entertaining the thought of a Costa Coffee on the Campo in Siena delights the company and almost induces apoplexy in me.


Sorry the beard went feral through shock.
Costa Coffee on the Campo!? The very thought was a corkscrew to my heart. My excited companions however were ready to decamp from the shady corner of Spadaforte and hotfoot over to the sunny side seeking what exactly? A milky coffee-like substance dispensed at 4€ a bucket? Off-the-shelf universally standard offerings and minimal social interaction? Mistaking the font of 'La Costa Caff√®' for Costa Coffee was an error born of cognitive dissonance – the brain's internal editor blanking out the foreign and homing in on the familiar. Of course, globalised business knows that most of us prefer to stay firmly in our comfort zones. The Polish Food stand on Florence market knew it too, selling cabbage stuffed dumplings to culinary conservatives as “Polish Ravioli”. Italy, the land of gelato, has a Ben & Jerry's right at it's Renaissance heart for the geographically displaced or discombobulated.

Sometimes it's impossible to iron out the discomforting dissonance as evidenced by the guests so convinced they were forced to eat what was put in front of them and then ripped off for 25€ a head that they only ate in McDonalds for the rest of their (shortened) stay. What they had in fact experienced was a fixed-price menu and the quasi-hostile reception was just the usual Italian lack of schooled customer service insincerities. Globalisation means expectations of uniformity and disavowal of any notion that they just might 'do things differently over there'.

Well, some things at least. Zara, H&M, Primark and the like have arrived to chew the last few Euro off Italian high streets (and spirit it off to the latest supranational tax-haven du jour) dismantling Italian manufacturing in the process and de-skilling the population. Even the famed Galleria in Milan - once the preserve of bespoke Italian quality - is now home to McDonalds and Autogrill. Socialism we were told would lead us to grey uniformity and lack of choice, but we seem to have arrived there by other means as we race to the bottom. 5€ blouses are flying off the shelves and pretty much straight into landfill.
La Costa Pizzeria & Gelato

But I digress; clearly the idea of a Costa on the Campo was a preposterous chimera. Although they smother the UK like a rash, Italy has so far resisted the global coffee chains. To begin with good coffee is ubiquitous and relatively cheap. Even on the Campo you're looking at less than 2€ for a cappuccino. Italians would rightly baulk at standard UK prices; UK mark-ups on coffee are usurious. Everyone knows those kinds of prices are reserved for Caff√® Florian on Piazza San Marco, Venice. (No whining please! It costs a lot to put on that particular show in that particular location!) Secondly, Italians are puzzled by leather armchairs and dralon sofas. In Italy coffee is an on-the-hoof affair and nobody is encouraged to linger.  Get a prosecco or spritz if ya wanna stay. Thirdly, selling a facsimile Italy to tourists would be the apogee of post modern irony – a sort of safe space, a refuge from the real Italy - right at the heart of Italy! If you want ersatz Italy why not go to Venice, Las Vegas whose website tells me I can take an “infamous gandola (sic) ride” or head to celebrity chef Mario Batali for a burger?! An infamous Italian burger presumably?! There's bound to be a Starbucks somewhere on its chlorinated grand canal.



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