My wife, myself and our small baby entered a local bar in a small Tuscan town. We went to the counter and ordered a cappuccino and a small beer.
Underage Drinking Allowed
As the barmaid was preparing our drinks, I hesitantly held up the baby's empty bottle of milk. Before I knew what was happening the barmaid had grabbed the bottle, stuck it into the cappuccino machine's hot steam pipe and sterilised it. Then she poured in some fresh milk and asked if the baby preferred it 'hot or cold, with or without froth'.
'Cold will be fine, thank you' I replied. She then indicated to us to go and find a table to sit down at.
As we were settling, I saw her place the milk, the cappuccino and the beer on a tray and hand it over to a waitress who balanced it high in one hand and walked to our table where she stopped, lowered the tray, placed all three drinks on the table, moved the cappuccino towards my wife and said 'I presume the milk is for the baby' and laughed.
We all sat at a table and all three enjoyed a nice drink.
Later on that day we took a stroll along the town's main drag. It was about six o’clock in the afternoon, the time when smartly dressed partner-seeking teenagers take their passeggiata.
I noticed a group of boys talking and joking whilst leaning casually against a wall when a group of signorine turned the corner and strolled nonchalantly towards them. The boys suddenly stopped talking, brushed their fingers through their hair and gazed in the girls' direction.
As the girls walked unhurriedly passed, the boys' heads turned, gradually following their every step until the last high heel disappeared down the narrow crowded street.
As their heads returned to a more comfortable position one of the boys, who was wearing a sort of string vest, tough leather jacket and elegantly torn designer jeans caught a glimpse of our baby's wide open eyes.
He walked towards the buggy, changed his macho "signorina stare" to a butter-won't-melt-in-my-mouth smiling face, waved his finger up and down and said 'Ciao, bella'.
A few of the other boys followed, formed a semi-circle around the buggy and started to act as long lost big brothers. The first boy looked up at my wife, nodded and said 'Bimba' meaning girl, we both nodded. The boy smiled and then carried on talking to his mates, playing with the baby and now and again tuning his head when a nice girl walked by.
Well, this seemed to do the trick, I suppose he looked more approachable next to a baby. One of the girls stopped to say hello, her friends followed suit and before you knew it our baby was an active part of the local teenage dating scene.
I am still not sure if the baby was part of a cleverly worked-out ploy to help break the ice with the girls or just a coincidence, but in either case I felt that we were in a child-friendly environment, and I am not talking about the odd building. I am talking about the whole town.
These little incidents helped make up my mind to move here. Today the baby is approaching the age when she to will be part of that teenage traffic, meandering slowly around street corners, on the lookout for smiling babies to help break the ice with leather-clad teenage boys.
On a recent trip to London, my wife, myself and an old friend entered a local pub. My friend bought a round and we all sat down in a cosy corner and chatted about old times.
No Milk Served
Later I went to the bar, rested my elbow on the counter, hesitantly held up the empty glass and started to count the number of horseshoes on the exposed oak beams.
Before I knew what was happening the barmaid had grabbed my empty glass, stuck it under the beer tap, started to fill it up with some real ale, and asked if I preferred it 'with or without a head'.
'With, thank you' I replied. She then expertly finished pouring the round and handed over the drinks.
I held the glasses high above my head, squeezed through the buzzing crowd and toddled to our table. I placed the drinks on the table and thought 'Wow, this is great, not a whiff of milk anywhere' and laughed.
I sat at the table and all three of us enjoyed a nice, relaxing drink in a wonderful, smoky, child-free atmosphere.
Later that evening we went to a local wine bar. We sat in a romantic corner and ordered a bottle of white wine and a few snacks. I noticed a group of young men talking and joking whilst leaning casually against the bar; a group of young ladies came in and strolled nonchalantly past them. The boys stopped talking and gave each other a nudge.
As their elbows returned to a more comfortable glass-holding position one of the older lads caught sight of my inquisitive eyes.
He walked towards our table, waved his finger towards me and said 'Hello, remember me?' I nodded, got up and gave him a hug, he insisted we join him and his friends. So we wandered over and started to act as long-lost brothers.
Well, this seemed to do the trick. I suppose the group looked more approachable with a female in their midst, the girls came over to say hello, and before you knew it we were an active part of the local scene.
We were in an adult-friendly environment, and I am not talking about the odd building. None of the buildings we visited that night sold milk, smelt of baby’s oil or had two-foot high screaming obstacles hovering around your feet.
These little incidents are starting to confuse my mind. As our baby is approaching an age where we are not needed anymore, what’s the point of us sipping wine to the sweet sound of other babies' wind?
Maybe it's time to come back to a milk-free environment or, if not, at least move to a bigger, slightly less child-friendly Tuscan town.