Hotel des Alpes, Airolo, Switzerland
by G. Gregory Wright.
Wednesday, July 5, 1972
It's been a week and I'm finally getting the hang of working at the cafe. Mornings are pretty slow. I fill the beer and soda drawers and the wine shelves and also make coffee for some of the regular customers. It's not like coffee at home. You have to grind the beans for each cup!
An older guy who sits at the bar every morning and rambles on, even though he knows I don't speak Italian, says, "Hey, Nebraska (that's what he calls me) , coffee grappa." It's strong coffee in a small mug (an espresso) and a shot of grappa, which is this sweet, sickly syrupy wine. No drinking age here, so I'm sampling most of the bar.
I work with my roommate, Juan, a boy from Spain who knows Italian but no English. He's our age, maybe only 17, but he's a pretty funny guy. He showed me the routine. The other waiter and my boss, Francesco, are from Italy and don't speak English. So I'm learning some Italian. ("Subito!" means "Hurry!")
The hotel is nice (I'll be sending a postcard). It has two other dining rooms besides the cafe. There is also a discotheque, which has a huge stereo. I know you'd really like this place. Wish you were here....
Tuesday, July 11
Got your letter today! Great to hear from you. Glad you're having a good summer.
To answer some of your questions:
First, there are no other Americans from Young World in Airolo. But many here do speak English. Mrs. C, the owner, speaks English, and her two daughters, who are 16 and 18, both speak English (and French, German and Italian - of course.) The younger one, Simona, doesn't speak great English, but she can say "Go to hell" very well! A Norwegian girl, Anlaugh, speaks excellent English. She works in the discotheque.
Second, the food is good, same as we serve customers. But breakfast isn't much, just a hard roll and jam, which I eat in the kitchen with Juan and the hotel maids -- an old woman and girl, both from Yugoslavia. The old Yugoslavian woman is always talking to me in Italian, but I haven't got a clue what she's saying.
I'm learning to drink coffee every morning -- it's that or hot milk for breakfast. The cooks put big kettles of each on the stove. I brought in some hot chocolate powder a couple of times to mix in the milk, but the old Yugoslavian woman saw me and laughed so hard she about cried. Don't know what she said....
Sunday, August 6
Congratulations on your scholarship to NU! That's wonderful.
I've decided to work here through September, travel around a few months, and start college in January. My folks are sending my ski coat as it is snowing in the mountains on Gotthard Pass. Friday, my day off, was a hot, beautiful day, so Anlaugh and I sat outside on the patio. Juan, who was working, brought us cappuccinos (for free). I'm getting to be an expert at making cappuccinos myself! Especially when tour buses come through. They take some time to make as we have to grind the coffee beans, brew each cup and then steam the milk (it's not pasteurized). I make one every day for myself on break.
Anyway, Anlaugh and I sat watching smoke come from the mountains. There is a military post here in Airolo and they were setting off explosives high up in the Alps. There are always lots of soldiers in town in their field uniforms. Everyone has to serve for six weeks each year in the army. They leave their rifles leaning in the corner by the front door of the cafe.
Sunday, Aug. 27
... (Back again.) Was interrupted last night when Juan came in and asked me to go watch TV at the bar down the street. Caught the last five minutes of a movie and then watched (in color) the opening ceremony of the Olympics from Munich. Drank a beer and watched a soccer match.
Yesterday a group of older Americans (another tour bus) filled all the cafe's outside tables. I took their orders, and they said I spoke very good English. They wanted to know where I learned it! I told them I was from Nebraska and they all cracked up -- they were from Nebraska, too. I had to pose for a photo with them - kinda fun. Before they left an old lady took me aside and asked "Does your mother know where you are?" ....
Monday, Sept. 11
Sounds like college is off to a fun start. Don't party too much and forget to study!
Thursday night I drank too much myself. Anlaugh and I shared a bottle of wine, then went to the discotheque and had several beers. Thank goodness it was a slow day in the cafe Friday. It took a couple espressos and a coffee grappa to get through the day.
It's been so cold that they've finally turned the heat on in all the rooms. Anlaugh leaves Saturday. We've become real good friends and I plan to travel to Bergen and visit her. I'm leaving here the end of the month and will go to Rome and then travel through Germany on my way to Norway. Anlaugh said to take the day train from Oslo to Bergen because it is so beautiful.
Mon. Sept. 20
... I picked up my InterRail Pass today during my break. Not much happening. In fact, it snowed so bad yesterday that all the northern passes to Airolo were closed. But it was nice today. The Grappa Man came in this morning and Juan told him I was leaving next week. I made him his usual and he kept gesturing, pointing at me and holding an imaginary cup and pretending to drink from it. Juan said he wanted to buy me a coffee grappa ....