Darkness Descends

Darkness Descends novel cover

Darkness Descends novel cover (Photo credit: Wikipedia)



Chez Black, Positano

An event that changed our view of the world forever; it happened outside Chez Black, one of the town’s oldest restaurants, adjacant the harbour. We were sitting in the blazing heat, sipping iced lemoncello, and gazing at the tourist boats coming in from Amalfi.
Waiters flitted around the tables, dressed in Merchant Navy uniforms, schmoozing the clientele. The place was done out like an 1940’s cruise ship, with lacquered wood, and brass fittings.
It was popular with Americans, the sort of place you might expect to bump into a well-known actor or a rock star.  There was a guy who looked like Van Halen sitting behind us. He had one of those spoiled rotten little dogs, so he must have been somebody. As usual, the cafe was packed to the rafters, but not especially due to the food coming from the kitchen.
Tina grabbed our attention coming off the boat. We recognised her right away. The night before we had seen her coming out of a wine bar, looking tiddly.  She was some kind of mix, but we took her to be Japanese because of the small, cat like face.

The celebrity spotters glanced up eagerly as she sashayed over to the tables, wearing the same wide brimmed hat as she had worn the night before.

She sat down at a table next to ours. “Buona dia,” she said, “Americani?”
We nodded “Si ” It was too hot to go into detail.
One of the waiters ran up.  He whipped off her hat, wore it, and began larking about in a high voice.  We were surprised to see the short blonde hair revealed underneath the hat.

She said something in Italian, and the waiter went off again, laughing.

We watched her replace the hat, very delicately.  Then, for some unknown reason, she dipped into her bag and pulled out a passport; she handed it to me.

“Irish.” She said, proudly.

I looked at the passport.  It said EU Republic of Ireland. I checked the photo, she wasn’t kidding. I said to Jo, “I told you, everywhere I go, a curse.”

“So you were born in Ireland?” Jo asked.

Tina snatched the passport and stuffed it back in her bag.  “No, Philipines.  My husband is County Leetrngg.”

Jo frowned, “Where?”

“She means ‘Leitrim’. ” I explained. “Back home they call it the arsehole of Ireland.”

Tina burst out laughing. “The asshole of Ireland!!! Very funny!!”

I was mortified. Jesus Christ her English is good.

“So what’s a nice Irish lady from the Phillipines doing in Positano?” asked Jo.

“Learn Italian,” said Tina.

It was a good answer.

“I’m Irish too,” I said.

“You from asshole too?”  She burst out laughing again.

“We all are,” I said.

Walking in Positano

The March 1944 eruption of Vesuvius, by Jack R...

The March 1944 eruption of Vesuvius, by Jack Reinhardt, B24 tailgunner in the USAAF during World War II (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

Vesuvius from plane

Vesuvius from plane (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Happy Birthday To You Señora

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.

These devoted expressions reminded me of my childhood, a soothing balm on the troubled landscape of memory.
Is it faith, or art that heals? Or a combination of the two?