Sté is holding the phone up pressing it with his ear and shoulder while trying to write something on the computer. He has never been able to focus on one thing at a time.
“Yes, hi, I wanted to book a table at 8.30 p.m. please.” – I hear him say – “Ah, you only do the rounds, then at 8 or 10…ok, wait a second” – he turns to me and says: “At 8 or 10 p.m.?” And then formulates a sentence by moving only his lips without uttering a sound: They make the r-o-u-n-d-s.
My facial expression is prepared to say: “They do what!?”, but I quickly deliver: “Ok, at 8 o’clock then.”
“At 8… yes, I know that the other guests will be there at 10, everything will be all right, thank you, see you tomorrow.” – says Stè and hangs up.
“I didn’t understand who arrives at 10 o’clock and what does that have to do with us?!” – I ask.
“They make the rounds dear” – he replies serenely.
“Who? The waiters, the cooks–who? “– I ask.
“The restaurant only does the rounds, you start dinner at 8 o’clock and you must leave before 10, because there’s other guests. Where do you live!?” – he answers still looking at the computer. He didn’t take a second to regard my question. Stè is a 100% Milanese.
In fact, where do I live, I wondered to myself. I am used to the restaurants being open all day long, at any hour of the day for lunch or dinner, it doesn’t matter, you eat and you do not need to define it as a meal within a fixed timeframe. And what’s more, you can stay for as long as you like, without feeling obliged to order anything else. The waiter would not ever dream of asking you to leave.
I’ve imagined the Milanese restaurant guests like the double-shift workers on an assembly line, with a stopwatch in their hands (the only difference being that the workers are dressed for a marathon): you have to be hungry at a certain point in time, you have to make quick decisions, you have to chew quickly, you have to swallow in a hurry and then get up in a hurry, because there are people behind you breathing down your neck.
Next time you have dinner there, I would recommend you bringing a dual mechanical watch with you, the one that is used by chess players. You know what I mean? Here’s how to use it: the one who, you or the other person with whom you’re having dinner, finishes the meal first, activates the clock. And when the flag starts rising slowly, you’ll know you have only 5 minutes to go, and when the flag starts goes down quickly it’ll mean your time is up. This means you’ll have to forcefully swallow your food and hope that there’s a doctor nearby in case you start suffocating, And if the next shift (the guests) has already arrived you might just begin to feel a little bit like Cinderella. Someone will surely have to turn into a pumpkin. But the pumpkin won’t be for you to eat, because the time is up!
PS I asked Stè to cancel the booking. We chose to eat in peace in an ethnic restaurant where the staff were ready to make us the camping bed for the night if we felt like it.