Tag Archives: bars

Lost for language at Da Candido

Just around the corner from Via Taormina is the Cooperativa La Vittoria, with its Bar/Trattoria, Da Candido. Of solid, late 19th century style and stature, La Vittoria’s stern façade stares down the glass front of the cool 21st century wine bar across the road with an air that says “wine bars like you will come and go, but I’ll go on for ever”.

Da Candido at Cooperativa La Vittoria
Da Candido at Cooperativa La Vittoria

That evening, as G. and I take a stroll through the streets, the wine bar’s lights are already dim and its chairs are stacked on tables. La Vittoria’s door and Da Candido’s lights are bright and beckoning. We venture in for nightcap. The place is empty and the bar is unmanned but there are sounds of merriment offstage and through a half open door, I see curls of cigarette smoke, a table with glasses and heads bent over hands of playing cards. As if by ESP, a Signora appears. She seems neither surprised, nor pleased, to see us and says an unsmiling but not unwelcoming “Buona sera”. She’s a generously built, plump-faced white-haired lady, of indeterminate age – perhaps a well-preserved seventy or maybe a worse for wear forty.   We timidly ask for “vino, per favore” Without enquiring bianco or rosso, Signora points us to a nearby table.

We head to the window. As we pass the half-open door, silence falls and heads turn. I nod and smile. The heads nod back briefly, then turn away. The talk resumes and the game goes on.

Signora arrives with coasters, grissini and two glasses of red wine. I really prefer white but I’m not prepared to argue. I don’t have the language anyway. Signora is watching from the bar, so I take a nervous sip. It tastes good. I determine to drink more red from now. I nod and smile at Signora. She nods unsmilingly back and continues to watch. Conversation feels awkward, so we gaze around da Candido. It’s a room full tables. Those in the front half are casually scattered. At the back, they’re lined up in ranks, refectory-style. In one corner is a large plastic palm tree and dotted around the walls are pictures of tropical isles and postcards of sunny beaches. There is also photo of the Pope and a print of the Virgin Mary. There are posters for bierra, aqua minerale, vino and even cigarettes. I feel Signora’s eyes studying us, studying the walls. Is she waiting for us to finish our drinks, or is she waiting for us to order another? It’s really hard to know. We finish them, nod, smile and head to the door. Signora follows us and locks it behind us. Was Da Candido closed when we arrived asking for drinks? Is it really closing time now? Is Signora making sure that nobody else comes in and interrupts her evening? Is she telling us not to come back? Impossible to know. There’s a lesson here – we need language.

A few weeks later, I’m passing La Vittoria with my son. It’s lunchtime. Da Candido looks busy. Perhaps we can slip in and blend with the crowd. The tables are filled with men in work-boots and overalls. Even in casual jeans and t shirts, we don’t blend in. We watch from the bar as a duo of Signore, both dressed in crisp yellow, button-up, belted, white-collared uniforms burst backwards through a swing door with steaming plates and reverse out again with stacks of empties. People don’t linger. When their plates are empty, they head out the door, lighting up smokes as they leave. Should we leave too? But Signora has seen us. She waves us over. We obey. She stands at the table holding our chairs. We sit. Glasses and bread basket appear. People give us quick, indifferent glances. I nod and smile. They look away.

“I feel out of place” I whisper

“Me too” mutters Gez

But  its contorni, primo, pasta, scallopine and  dolci. We’re just two people eating lunch, like everyone else, except that we eat slowly, savouring new tastes, like tourists, with no work to hurry back to. By the time we’ve finished, the tables are empty and the Signore are whipping table-cloths away and whisking a broom across the floor. The lunch costs a laughable few euros.

“Delicioso” I venture. Signora nods, “Gratie mille” I try. She nods again. She follows us to the door. Behind us we hear the lock turn. Did we just crash a private lunch? Is it really closing time? Impossible to know.

I really need language.

Later, when I do have language, I discover Cooperativa, La Vittoria is, traditionally, a neighbourhood and workers’ establishment. Da Candido still is. Foreigners like us rarely venture in. In fact, foreigners like us rarely venture into this area. It’s not on the tourist beat. It’s not in the guide books. It’s a neighbourhood of workers and families of workers. If I’m to understand it, fit in, make friends, or even survive, I need language.

 

A last word on Wellington

When you’ve explored Te Papa, tramped out the walkways, south, east and city to sea, descended into Middle Earth, soaked up the uber cool atmosphere of Cuba Street and the Aro Valley, studied the seals at Red Rocks and taken in the view of the Kaikouras from the south coast, ridden the cable car, shopped the fabulous NZ fashion houses down on Customhouse Quay, taken a taste adventure at Fusion Virtuoso in Manners Mall, strolled along Oriental Bay, eating a Kapiti ice-cream – in short, when you’ve worn yourself out trying to do everything there is to do in Wellington, head down to the waterfront.

Taking a dive down on the Wellington Waterfront
Taking a dive down on the Wellington Waterfront

Collapse into a bean-bag on the lawn outside the bar behind the old St John’s Ambulance HQ. It’s name? I can’t say and haven’t time right now to google it – but you can’t miss it. Order up a beer and people watch.

No spare bean bags. Don’t worry! Head around the corner to the big brick building – there’s an even bigger bar here, with indoor and outdoor spaces. If there’s no room at this inn, then pinch a chair and with that and your tipple of choice in hand, park yourself at the land’s edge. Start your own party and or just enjoy the view.

The view down here is fascinating. There are tugboats at anchor, birds wheeling, people walking and, despite all the signs prohibiting it, youths doing death-defying dives from the wharf.

This cavalier of behaviour, which flies in the face of rules, weather and convention yet emerges, wet, shivering but grinning in the teeth of discomfort, is a fitting last word on Wellington for me. Against impossible climatic and geographical odds, it not only survives but thrives, with a flourish!

Singapore nights; Chimes

In its last life Chimes was the Convent of the Sisters of the Infant Jesus, dedicated to the education of young Catholic ladies.

Chapel and cloisters at Chimes
Chapel and cloisters at Chimes

Some years ago the Convent closed and was reborn as a centre of pleasure and leisure. The former chapel is a now a chic reception centre. The cloisters are taken up with souvenir shops, restaurants and cafes. The courtyards and lawns are given over to outdoor dining areas. The classrooms have become clubs, discos and bars which boom with house music and bands.

This is the place to end a Singapore night, with a romantic dinner in one of those courtyard restaurants, then dancing out the demons until dawn in one of the discos or nightclubs.

 

Cuba Street, The coolest street in the capital of cool

If Wellingon is the world’s coolest capital, then Cuba Street is the capital’s coolest street.

Tiger Eye Beads
Tiger Eye Beads

During that time in the second half of the 20th century, when chunks of the city were being sacrificed to motorways, Cuba Street was ear-marked for a traffic by-pass. As it awaited the wrecking ball, businesses de-camped and any upkeep on buildings was more or less abandoned. This, as it transpired, was Cuba Streets salvation. Rents plummeted and along with those seeking low cost accommodation, came others seeking alternative lifestyles – hippies, artists, innovators, visionaries and creators. Buildings were rescued and businesses were reborn. Second hand shops, bargain stores and galleries opened. Bars, cafes and restaurants set up alongside them. Colourful graffiti art colonised blank walls and alleys. Cuba Street was alive again. Cool and rather chic, in shabby kind of way, it was a distinctive part of the cityscape. Cuba Street became Wellington’s Bohemian Precinct.

The by-pass plan was dumped. In 1969, Cuba Mall was established. Buskers and street performers moved in, the famous Bucket Fountain was built and Cuba Street became a playground, a favourite meeting spot and one of Wellington’s most visited and vibrant quarters.  Finally, in 1995, Cuba Street was preserved forever under the Historic Places Act, as a registered Historic Area.

In essence, Cuba Street is still the same as it was when those hippies, artists, innovators and creators moved in, back in the sixties.  Most of the buildings are as they were then – the narrow wooden houses, the shop-fronts with their recessed doors, ornate lead-light windows and tiles still remain. So does the grand old Salvation Army’s Peoples’ Palace, now a Quality Inn. Colourful street art weaves around them on walls and in alleys.  Second hand and bargain stores survive and thrive, many with a 21st century vintage or retro twist. Bars, cafes and restaurants still abound, but among them now are award winners, like Matterhorn and the fine dining house, Logan Brown. Buskers and street performers still hold the floor in Cuba Mall, at any hour of the day or night and crowds gather to watch them, while the Bucket Fountain splashes away in the background. Cuba Mall is still a great place to hang out and one of the city’s most lively areas. And most importantly, that Bohemian spirit not only endures but flourishes.

My Cuba street favourites

Events

Cuba Dupa, the Cuba Street Festival, at the end of March – for a fantastic end of summer celebration and an awesome street party  – food, bands, choirs, art, sculpture, performances, people and fun.

Cuba Dupa
Cuba Dupa

Cuba Street Friday Night Market – for all of the above, but on a Friday evening and on a smaller scale.

Clothes

Madame fancy Pants – for elegant vintage classics

Tiger Eye beads for a frivolous, fanciful treasure

Arc Apparel – for a rock-bottom bargain

Coffee

Midnight Espresso – for a midnight cofee and a vegan snack, also because it’s a Wellington icon.

Fidel’s – for a Cuban coffee with a Cubana (the ultimate toasted sandwich) and to re-live the revolution (Cuban, that is) through the posters and memorabilia on the walls

Breakfast, Lunch or dinner

Floridita’s Cafe and Restaurant – for good food, pleasant surroundings, quick service and leadlight windows overlooking a busy Cuba Street Corner – brilliant people-watching potential

Books

The Ferret Bookshop – to ferret out an old favourite, or a new discovery, among their amazing collection.

Music

Slow Boat Music – to browse their incredible merchandise, to bask in the glory reflected from illustrious international customers like Robert Plant and to maybe even catch an in-house performance?

Fish

Wellington Sea market – for fresh fish, a staggering variety of seafood and mouth-watering displays.

Fruit and flowers

Cuba Street Fruit Mart, for its abundance, its colour and its fragrance.