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Walking up Cedar tonight, with the rain splotting down.

Come by Pappalecco (1602 State Street, on the corner with Cedar, Little Italy, 619-238-4590). And guess what? Two elderly men sitting outside hunched over their espressos ($2.00 each), a bottle of Pelligrino...and a chess set. It’s cold, dark, damp, wet, but ain’t nuttin’ going to tear them away from their game.

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Filippo and Jesús. Focus? Shivering too much

“We struggle against each other,” says Filippo. “The problem is, we’re pretty evenly matched.”

And rain? The least of Filippo’s problems right now, if his white bishops and rooks piling up on Jesús’ side are any indication.

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Filippo's Italian, Jesús is Mexican, but they say chess styles are universal. This game unites them in a weekly struggle (actually 3-4 times a week, Jesús says).

Makes you think: Isn't this what cafes are supposed to be? Places where you can live half your life, if you want to? The two brothers who created Pappalecco, Francesco and Lorenzo Bucci, told me once they wanted this to be exactly like places in their hometown of Pisa, of Leaning Tower fame, to bring "the truth of Italy" here.

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And here it is, in front of me, at night, in the rain, these beautiful-crazy gents playing this Indian-Persian-Muslim game that their predecessors have been playing practically from the time of Christ.

Me, I try to watch. I'd love to hear one of them shout "Checkmate!" (from the Persian "Shah Mat!," "The King is Dead/Helpless!"), but I’m shivering too much.

“Come and have a game sometime,” Filippo says.

“A little humiliation would do me good,” I say.

“You’d be surprised how bad we are," Jesús says.

That I doubt. What I don't doubt is the power of friendship and a cup of coffee.

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