THIS IS US

On Slowness

Slowness — so rare, these days — can be an offering of love

Savala Nolan
Human Parts
Published in
5 min readMay 27, 2022

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photograph: Nadya Spetnitskaya

Many years ago I lived in Italy. A few blocks from my apartment, there was a tunnel closed to everything but foot traffic. The tunnel was short — ten yards from one end to another, and connected a quiet street with a cobblestoned piazza. Little local stores lined the inside of the tunnel. A grocer with expensive water, a neighborhood restaurant, a place that sold stationary. There was also a sandwich shop. It was tiny, only big enough to hold about four people, who could crowd toward the glass-covered counter and see what there was to eat.

A handsome middle-aged man with big brown eyes and a big apron-wrapped belly owned the store and made all the sandwiches. He took one order at a time, which he wrote on a little pad of white paper with a pencil he kept behind his ear. Everything you said, he repeated back to you immediately after. Then he turned his back to the customers and faced his workspace, pulled a baguette from the barrel of bread, sliced and hollowed it, and began filling it with meat, cheese, and whatever else you asked for. He put the sandwich onto a press made of two hot plates that came together, warming the bread and melting the cheese, then turned to take another order. When the new sandwich was ready to go into the press, the first was ready to come out. He carefully wrapped the first in a napkin and handed it to the customer, his smile warm. He then offered something to drink with the question da bere? Whatever the customer ordered he poured gently into a glass. Every order went exactly like this, no matter how crowded the shop became, no matter how long the line was, and he never, ever hurried. When I was seventh or eight in line, I watched frustrated and impatient as he lovingly layered sun-dried tomatoes, gently ground black pepper, slowly drizzled olive oil, tenderly folded the napkin around somebody else’s sandwich. Then, when it was my turn, my frustration evaporated, it was suddenly wonderful to watch, and I felt special.

Sometimes his wife appeared behind the counter, a zaftig Canadian who spoke perfect Italian. While the man spoke Italian to any foreigner who tried, and complimented me continually on my improvements, she insisted on speaking English to me (and anyone else) for whom it…

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Savala Nolan
Human Parts

uc berkeley law professor and essayist @ vogue, time, harper’s, NYT, NPR, and more | Simon & Schuster and HarperCollins | she/her | IG @notquitebeyonce