- As Dark Descends At The Oval Is That A Light Ahead? (thearmchairselector.com)
- Words To Live By: “Darkness Cannot Drive Out Darkness …” (belowthesaltnews.com)
The trick with Chez Black is to look for the quiet table next to the kitchen, see what the chef and his son are eating; ask for the same.
Over a plate of fisherman’s risotto, a simmering feast of shrimp, crab, clams, mussels and lobster, caressed in garlic and basil sauce, we learned everything there was to know about Tina, everything she wanted us to know.
She said she came from a big landowning family in the Philippines, she was the only daughter. She had met and married her husband in Manila and they lived together in Ireland. Now they were intending to emigrate to Italy, so her husband had sent Tina to Naples to become fluent in Italian. She said she was vacationing with relatives up on the hill, just outside of the town
I put two and three together, “you mean the Glenmora.”
She looked at me suspiciously,”yeah, how you know ?”
We woke up early the next day and set out after breakfast, walking through the narrow streets. By 9am, the tourists were already out in force, snaking their way through the alleys. Out on the other side of the town, overlooking the cliffs, the sun had already slipped away, replaced by a cool mist. I thought of the vapourous matter overhanging Mount Vesuvius. Our cab driver had explained to us in great detail about the careful scientific monitoring that took place daily; men with sophisticated electromagnetic instruments. He said that Vesuvius was active, and therefore dangerous, she could blow at any moment. What could anyone do? Life must go on regardless.
We walked without without strain or effort, owing to the coolness. A few boats bobbed up and down upon the waves below. Along the narrow coastline, we were forced to squeeze against the barrier wall so as not to be squashed by passing trucks. At the top of the hill, overlooking the town, we saw a woman and her son. They appeared to be waiting for the red bus that passes along every hour or so. They were twitching with curiosity as we approached; we were the only strangers around, as if not many tourists ventured this far. The young man was silent, but his mother opened up. She was a bit merry, as if she’d been drinking. From afar, she looked like a skinny rock chick; but up close the roots of her hair told a different story.
She wore a humongous amount of jewellery; bracelets that clashed violently when she pointed at a villa nearby. She recommended it as a place to stay, swimming pool and all of that. I didn’t like the look of the place, it was overly guarded, hidden behind a small forest of trees, but I saw the benefit of staying somewhere private, with a pool.
‘Ten Americans arriving next week,’ she told us, ‘they rented it for a month.’
She told us she worked there, as a cook, and that she and son lived in another town, not far from Positano. They were waiting for the red bus to stop off.
I got the name wrong on the gate, thinking it said ‘Mauro’.
‘Not not ‘Mauro’, the woman said, ‘Maura, the villa belongs to an Irish woman called ‘Maura.’
I felt cheated; here I was on a remote hilltop in Southern Italy, and here they were too. Was there no cave I could crawl into? No corner of the earth to hide in? No; as soon as I am in the cave, they will crawl out from beneath the rocks.
“The Irish are everywhere “, I said, “my whole life I have been trying to escape, but the world won’t let me.”
“Oh yes ” she replied brightly “everywhere, Italy, America, Canada, everywhere!” Evidently, she didn’t regard this as a complaint. I looked again at the houses built into the cliffs. If those rocks tumbled, all of those houses would be gone too. This was the Positano way, one for all, all for one; not like me, detached, and broken off from my roots.
“My mother died two years ago,” I said, but the woman was already talking about something else.
The waiters came wheeling a trolly. We sang happy birthday in unison to ‘Giovanna’.
Joanne blew out the candle, and the older guy cut the cake. It was lemon cake, very succulent. We took our slice and they went off, wheeling the cake back to the kitchen, ‘for breakfast’.
They brought a couple of limoncellas on the house, we all said ‘salute’.
‘Have some cake’ we invited.
‘Si, si,’ they said, ‘graci.’
I felt like the spoilt French princess, Marie Antoinette, who, (when informed that the people had no bread, and were starving), said ‘let them eat cake’.
I turned to Joanne, ‘I always feel bloody uncomfortable when other people serve me.’
Joanne didn’t get this at all. ‘Why?’
‘Not sure,’ but I had an inkling that it was guilt. Back in the 1970’s, my father was forced out on strike. My mother became the breadwinner, supporting the family by working as a waitress at a lively downtown hotel. My mother loved working, she felt liberated, while my father, on the other hand, felt emasculated by her sudden independence.
I laid the memory aside, turning to Joanne, ‘my grandfather was a socialist,’ I said, as if that explained the feeling.
The Patron’s daughter glanced over now and then. She had a shock of black, curly hair, framing a Renaissance style face. I suppose we seemed odd in her eyes, two women quietly celebrating together. Everything seemed out of sync with reality. I felt like I was in a dream.
It became colder, sitting out on the restaurant terrace. We were dressed like summer tourists, naturally enough. In the end, we succumbed and requested to move inside.
Our waiter showed us a room, another dining space, which was empty, except for the patron and her daughter sitting at a table, with one of the men who worked at the hotel.
Other than this, we were by ourselves, sitting at a corner table in splendid isolation. The other diners seemed prepared to brave the chill.
I let my eyes wander around the room. To the right of us was a passageway leading to the kitchen, and a hutch area where the waiters prepared the wine, and cutlery. I saw an old, farmhouse style, Italian dresser, nicely carved, and on the walls surrounding us there was an exuberant fresco, spanning the length of the room, primitive browns and burgundies, men fishing with their boats and nets, a biblical resonance.
That evening we had dinner at the hotel. Diners were sparse, owing to the inclement weather. It was chilly sitting outdoors. The waiters were apologetic, stressing how unusual for the time of year. Even so, it was fun sitting on the balconied terrace, peering into the mystery of night. Our waiter was a young guy, very handsome and smooth, betrayed by a subtle hint of shyness. When I enquired, (sotto voice), about my friend’s ‘surprise’, he smiled and said, “don’t worry, we know everything”.
We ordered seafood, followed by pizza, and mineral water. The young guy brought still water, instead of sparkling; when he saw his mistake the smoothness faltered, and for an instant, we could see that he took his art very seriously, and was proud.
I felt a shade of nostalgia, he reminded me of someone long ago.
The seafood was naturally divine.
We woke late in the evening, maybe 8 o’clock. It had been raining, and the terrace was soaking wet. Rainwater poured from the roof but the sky was pierced through with light. I looked over the railings to where the fishing boats were tethered, nestling peacefully. Tinted clouds crossed the indigo sky.