I’m Canadian, and I love Canada—I really do—but I wake up every day homesick for Italy. When I need an “Italy fix” (which is daily), there’s comfort in books about the bel paese, and of course there’s also the endless rabbit hole that is the Internet. The journey through that rabbit hole isn’t always satisfying, but occasionally one stumbles upon just the right thing at the right time.
Gran Caffè Gambrinus’s website is a delightful little escape to Napoli. The site has an English version, adequately if quirkily translated, and it includes a history of the café, which was frequented by the likes of Ernest Hemingway, Oscar Wilde, and Gabriele D’Annunzio. In 1938, Caffè Gambrinus was forced to close after being declared an “anti-fascist place,” but it was reborn and restored to new splendour in the 1970s. (I hope it doesn’t take decades for us to recover from COVID-19, but stories of rebirth are most welcome these days, are they not?) There’s also a virtual art gallery featuring the café’s treasure trove of sculptures, stuccos, reliefs, tapestries, and paintings.
Best of all, there are lots of short video tutorials under the “Taste Corner” or “Angolo del Gusto” tab (you’ll find more in the Italian version of the site than the English). If you’re studying Italian, the videos that include monologue or dialogue are a charming way to train your ear and pick up some new expressions. Many of the videos simply have a musical background and captions describing the preparation of Gambrinus’s specialities in a mesmerizing minute or so.
You might be inclined to actually prepare some of the coffee drinks and pastries in these tutorials (how ambitious of you!), but they’re thoroughly enjoyable even if you’re just a spectator. Similarly, you don’t need to understand Italian to appreciate the poetry of the language and to be enchanted by the gestures with which it’s spoken in the videos involving speech. These are filmed outside the café before an impromptu sidewalk audience—a perfect example of the constant street theatre that existed before COVID-19 in Italy, and that we’ll all be overjoyed to see return one day soon. My favourites are the tutorials for Torta Caprese, Crostata di Frutta, and Shakerato. If you love Italy, I promise they’ll put a smile on your face and a feeling of calm contentment in your heart.
Like the film that led me to this site, Caffè Sospeso (2017), Caffè Gambrinus’s website is strangely soothing—a little bit of comfort in troubled times (and really, what times aren’t “troubled” to some degree or another?). Make your favourite kind of coffee, find a quiet corner, and enjoy a virtual visit to Napoli’s most famous and most beautiful historic café. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.
Andrà tutto bene,