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Sitting alfresco at a piazza table is a continental privilege I’m never giving up | Hannah Jane Parkinson



I have favourite squares in Britain: Radcliffe Square in Oxford, dominated by its majestic camera; Millennium Square in Leeds; Trafalgar Square in London. Other favourites are much farther away: my breath was stolen by St Petersburg’s Palace Square; I was bowled over by Cairo’s Tahrir Square; charmed by Marrakech’s Jemaa el-Fnaa.

But who does town squares best? Continental Europeans, of course. That’s why we often describe squares by their Italian name: piazzas. I have special memories of Pariser Platz in Berlin and Livu Square in Riga. When those of us not from the continent think of our finest holiday moments, I would wager that tucking into lunch, sipping a coffee, nibbling ice-cream, people-watching or chatting with a companion, all while sitting alfresco at a piazza table, are up there with other delights such as lounging on a beach, going on long walks, and haggling in markets.

As with so many of the great things in life, we have the Greeks to thank for coming up with the idea of a central meeting place: the agora. (Hence agoraphobia, the fear of public places.) Back then, poets and philosophers would meet to entertain and share ideas – because public squares consist of people enjoying each other’s company. They serve as locations for municipal celebrations, the screening of sporting events and firework displays. (Of course they can also serve as places of protest.)

This is Europe

So we must look after them. The recent pictures of Venice’s Piazza San Marco underwater were devastating. I’ve visited San Marco three times, and each memory has a different flavour: family holiday; school trip; friends’ getaway. But there’s a balance between caregiving and overprotectiveness. I’m thinking of Rome, banning people from sitting on the Spanish Steps; this is a shame, especially for tourists, because watching the bustle of a community – and an unfamiliar one that speaks a different tongue – brings a special contentment and should never be banned.

I cannot wait, then, to be back sipping cool lemonade. Or watching a street performer, resoundingly applauded by a crowd. Admiring locals in high heels expertly traversing ancient cobbles. Chatting into the evening, shifting a chair to follow the last dapples of sun. Stopping for a nightcap on the leisurely walk back to the hotel, lights shining, like the EU stars, overhead.

Source: TheGuardian