Sunday, May 30, 2010

Stromboli

Escaped for a couple of days to the magical islands of Stromboli, my favourite of the Aeolians. May is the perfect time to go as it is not too hot. As soon as you get off the hydrofoil you start to feel the Stromboli effect. No cars, just motorini, api (the three wheel moto-truck) and bicycles. The sounds of birds flitting among olive groves and lemon trees, and the low boom of the volcano when it erupts. Stromboli is a live volcano and you can walk to an observatory to watch it and have pizza by candlelight – which we did a couple of years ago when the volcano was particularly active, erupting every ten minutes or so, sending sparks of lava high into the air and molten rock tumbling down its dark silhouette. There are also guided tours which start in daylight and finish in darkness at the top with a picnic while you look down from a height into the crater before sliding and jumping down through the black sandy slopes.

This time we were staying in a secret garden – hidden from the outside by cypress trees, eucalyptus and pine trees, tucked away among rose bushes and olive groves this B&B nestles at the foot of the volcano, allowing unhampered views of the mountain and out to Strombolicchio, a huge rock looming out of the sea from its fragrant terrace. Our long cabin was so well hidden with sprays of greenery that we were convinced it was ‘abusivo’, built without planning permission, but it was the perfect accommodation to enjoy the full Stromboli experience. One of the benefits of having Mondays and Tuesdays off is that we have the whole place to ourselves. The only sounds up here are birdcalls and owl duets.

We head off to the Grotto di Eolo, our favourite bay with a huge cave providing me with much-needed shade. Plenty of walking on Stromboli but the fresh breeze and the pretty cobbled streets perfumed with jasmine and coloured with bougainvillea spray make it enjoyable. Our bay though, is packed with a large group of East Europeans, possibly vulcanology students of varying ages, and our peace is disturbed by their heavy drinking and Frisbee games with beer bottle tops. Also, the rough winter tides have rolled up masses of stones on to the beach, so now, where once there was soft black sand, there are uncomfortable spikey stones. Very hard to walk into the sea. The foreigners have the bright idea fo trying to rid their part of the beach of the stones and line up in a row of ten or so, flinging handfuls or stones at a time out to sea.

We head up the main piazza around 5pm for icecream at Ingrid’s bar (so called becaused Ingrid Bergman stayed on the island while filming and romancing ‘Stromboli’ with Rossellini). When I get to our table with my icecream I find my husband has been assailed by a little girl who seems to want money or food, or both. She flashes her toothless grin and I wonder just how often she plays this trick. Where’s your mother, we ask her. How come you are allowed to roam the streets so freely? Her older sister (Margherita, 12) soon comes along and it turns out she was getting the bread for dinner when her young sibling ran off. ‘You’re not to accept food from strangers,’ she scolds her. ‘You weren’t asking for food again, were you?’ Part of the double act or not? We’re not sure.

We’re back out before it’s dark to enjoy the sundown. The light at this time is magical on Stromboli. There is a sense of winding down, a smell of freshly cut hay on the air since our host is out tending to his nearby field. The volcano is bathed yellow in the last rays of the sun, creating shadows in its crevices. Seagulls and sparrows wheel overhead as we get nearer the piazza. We stop again for an aperitivo at the bar and this time Bartolo regales us with his mad wisdom. The wild fennel paste is best, he rants, about the bruschetta toppings.

Coincidentally, some friends from Rome have hired a sailing boat and we meet them after our delicious breakfast just for two on the magnificent terrace of our B&B. They take us out to bay where the old sciara is – where the former mouth of the volcano was- since it is too windy to be able to swim around Strombolicchio and the anchor would drag. My first swim of the season on Stromboli’s waters, not bad. ‘You have the life of Riley,’ say our friends. ‘Think of us in Rome, an hour to get to work, an hour and a half to get to the beaches outside Rome, when you have this paradise on your doorstep.’ It’s true: people come from all over the world to see these islands, in fact we see various groups of French, Swiss and German trekkers all geared up for the hike up the volcano.

We then head to one of the bays next to the Grotto di Eole and find one with lots more sand, rather than pebbles, and no one on it. Such luxury. Sail boats drift past. Not a sound, only the whoosh of the sea. Later we dine in a lovely restaurant with a terrace overlooking the sea and Strombolicchio disappearing into the nightfall till it becomes a beacon flashing three times from its lighthouse. One tasty occhiata later and we head back up to our secret garden, guided by the almost full moon casting our shadows onto the whitewashed walls.

Up at 6.30am for breakfast we see Stromboli at its best; the early morning light gives the clearest view of the volcano while Strombolicchio is just emerging from morning mists on the sea. A dawn chorus of owls and birds accompanies our caffè lattes and then we’re off to the hydrofoil.

A perfect break before the summer season kicks in.

Election fever

Election fever dominates the sound waves here since voting takes place finally on Sunday. Just like in South America, cars go around all day blasting their candidate’s names and jingles from huge speakers. 660 people have candidated themselves for the council – il consiglio. They hope to get some financial gain out of it apparently, network in high places; but I still haven’t worked out what the requirements and parameters for candidacy are. Even the young girl in my favourite clothes shop asked me for a vote; so many of her friends were candidates too that she couldn’t count on friends’ and family’s votes alone. So what will you propose be done for women, I asked her. But she hadn’t a clue. She said much was needed for children here, more sports facilities, more playing fields and swimming pools. If anything is needed for children here, it is something of a more educational nature; cultural exchanges, international opportunities, better use of the grants available from the European Union. I am preparing 14 year olds in a local secondary school for the KET Cambridge English exam as part of a well-funded EU scheme for extra-curricular activities; but out of 100 in the year group – ten showed up for the course. Parents obviously not aware how important English will be for their future, and head teachers unable to sufficiently promote it. The standard to English teaching here in schools is not good, by the teachers’ own admission – and from what I have seen; the children were slow to respond to my communicative, interactive techniques, and it is still, after 4 months, difficult to get them to speak in English in pairs, or to me! They are taught by rote, and can parrot off to me the past participle and simple past if I give them the infinitive, but that’s about the height of it. Constructing sentences is a mammoth task for them. Another example of ill-used resources – the internactive whiteboards in a room upstairs in the school complete with overhead projector, but useless because the keyboard to the computer is missing … and there is no internet in the school anyway. Meanwhile I have to use chalk on the blackboard. Reminds me of the wonderful windmills on a hilltop outside the lovely mountain village of Montalbano; these wind energy stations seem to frame the belltower of the town’s duomo, but do little else; they don’t work!

I am disappointed, though, that the shopgirl has no ideas for women; statisics gathered by the donne libere, the women’s group formed here by friends of mine, reveal that the unemployment rate for women in Sicily is 70%, and that thousands of women are violently assaulted, and even killed, in Italy every year; in Sicily only 2% of these women will go to the police about it; but the police, and the doctors who treat their wounds, are likely to tell them to go home nad be a good wife to try and avoid any more trouble. Women are too afraid to report here, and even if they do, have no support system to look after them. Police and doctors need training, the women need free access to counselling and psychologists. This was part of the aim of donne libere; they have already applied for funding and three paid positions within a local structure here where these services would be provided, along with an improvement in child-minding facilities to enable women to work or get to the gym instead of having to rely on family, as is the only option here. But since the reality of this ‘sportello donne’ came onto the horizon, my founder-friend tells me, the come of the women who have been flimsy frequenters of the meetings have now become strident in claiming their right to the paid positions in the sportello donne. Since my friend is now leaving, I fear it will all fall apart, sicne it was her vision and energy which drove the initiative. This would be a great pity since she is doing one of the most useful things for women this town has ever seen. Her networking skills and diplomacy have given the donne libere a visibility and standing which could finally guarantee some positive changes for women here.

Meanwhile, fears that the current mayor will be re-elected prevail. Despite the fact that he and other members of the commune (town council) are implicated in mafia-related extortion concerning the development plans for the waterfront area. The lungomare, generally a scruffy and pretty-much abandoned area all year round except for July and August, was undergoing extensive regenerating, including a walking and cycle path (since the area behind the pebbled beach is rough scree and dirt), and the planting of palm trees. But the work was interrupted because of the ‘regola del 3%’ the rule whereby the mafia get 3% of any funds directed at public works, and another €500 000 requested under threats by these certain members of the commune and the mayor. The investigating judge requested the arrest of these people, but it was refused. So the mayor continues to stand for election. And in the eyes of the populace, who look admiringly at the numerous palm trees he has planted along the restructured concrete piazzas (palm trees also go well with grass, Mr Mayor), the hastily reopened castle despite the many safety hazards (I saw it last Sunday – the mayor even put on a free lunch aperitivo which mio marito and I stumbled on, to our delight – massive walled city and castle, but yes indeed, keep your eyes open and kids on by your side), and the outlandish fireworks displays for local saints’ days – he’s probably doing a great job. A comprehensive, functioning health system with adequate resources? Higher standards of education? Job opportunities? Support for women? Who cares, as long as we’ve got out palm trees.

The new cook arrives

Finally the cook has arrived from Germany. After weeks of anticipation, procrastination and speculation as to whether he would actually come at all, he showed up en famille with wife, son and sister, for dinner last Saturday night. We were a little taken aback at his relaxed attitude after keeping s waiting so long; perhaps we would have preferred to see an example of his eagerness to work at this stage! But he dodged in and out of the kitchen between courses, commenting on potential changes and offering advice on presentation and cooking methods as if he was already in charge! Crucial to his performance in the kitchen, he explained, was his outfit; he didn’t dress all in white, but rather in the shirt and black trousers he was wearing at the moment, since he felt more himself. His wife nodded, strongly backing him up. I noted that the tiny 8year old son was dressed identically; was he going to be his father’s accomplice in the cucina?

In fact, on Wednesday, his first night at work, father and his replica, were in the kitchen together, since the wife had gone off to see her family in her mountain paesino. I wasn’t too happy to see him in the kitchen, fearing he would get in the way, or at worst, get us in trouble for child labour! But he made himself useful writing down the shopping list, though he had to ask the spelling of almost everything, since he is more used to talking in Sicilian dialect, than Italian. Halfway through the evening he went off to sleep in some cushions in the store room.

The aiuto-cuoco started on Wednesday too, on trial. He made a great impression on all of us. Only 20, he is doing the scuola alberghiera, the catering course here, and is keen to get all the experience he can get. Meticulous presentation of dishes, immaculate order and cleanliness in his work area and intensely focussed during the rush of orders on Friday and Saturday night, he was always courteous and speedy. His effeminacy gifts him with his presentation skills; he even made the Panini look good. He made me an exquisite fruit platter; the pears cut in identical pieces, the strawberries neatly sliced, the pineapple in homogenous triangles, the finished dish an eyecatching landscape.

Meanwhile, our cuoco made favourable impressions on all too, after his circus stage entrance on Saturday night. Excited about the orders coming in, energetic and quick at work and endlessly enthusiastic, nothing phased him and everything was beautifully presented. No troubled tables this weekend, no botched orders, not a single delay. This man is professional and knows we are counting on him. Mio marito brought him paccheri – large cannelloni-like pasta tubes, and he suggested paccheri all’ortalano, with a sautĂ© of fresh seasonal vegetables and topped with shavings of ricotta di Ragusa, a salty sheeps cheese which works well with the sauce, since our cook is not as heavy on the salt as Sicilian cooks are. We brought him maccheroncini alla chitarra, tiny curved pasta tubes with grooved on the side like guitar strings and he rustled up a special of the night with fresh prawns and calamari with baby tomatoes. Very tasty and light. I thought the touch of chopped garlic enhanced the dish, but some customers who tried it found it too garlicky – Italians are terrified of garlic and its effects on the breath! So mio marito suggested flavouring the oil with a large garlic clove and then lifting it out to toss the pasta in it. I’m on his side where the garlic is concerned though, good to have it back!

In the midst of all, my mother-in-law is there, finally able to do her kitchen justice with its two new recruits, helping out wherever she can, guiding them as to where to find implements or store comestibles. She’s having a ball between these two playboys, flattered by the aiuto cuoco’s attentive courtesy and entertained by the cuoco’s stories and schemes. Much better than sitting in watching TV, says my sister-in-law, sure this is like having a reality show in your own kitchen. The cuoco already is coming up with ideas of running a kebab caravan from the garden, and she is all for it. ‘let’s make money,’ he cries, ‘who ever said Sicilians were lazy and didn’t want to work?’ He has been influenced by the large Turkish population in Germany, and also warns us that the Russians will soon be descending on Sicily to buy up property, as they did in the small tourist town where he was based in Germany. ‘They bring money,’ he assures us, with a confident, entrepreneurial air. God knows what he will be proposing to mio marito next. He already has suggested opening in the summer during the day, to make the most of the fact that the castle has finally been opened, after years of renovation. I don’t know where he gets his energy.

So, could things finally be looking up for us?

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Glass-nickers, flower-waterers, receipt-cheaters

Who was it that came by on Sunday night asking for the Irish woman who wrote the blog about Pachamama? What a pity they didn’t come back! Mio father-in-law, who can perform well in English when required, was interviewed by some English speakers around 7pm. No doubt they were up visiting the castle and were hungry and then went back down to their hotel by the port and ate somewhere nearby and couldn’t face the trek back up to our place. They asked him was his wife Irish. How funny. Pity he didn’t find out where they were from. And how they got news of my blog!

On Friday night I was heading home around 2.30am, going out through the terrazzo which was closed at this stage, all the chairs up on the tables. I was surprised to hear male voices: two of the men came walking towards me to go back into the restaurant – but the third guy was left doing his business with his back to me by the gate. Yes, there he was watering the beautiful flowering plants tended to carefully by my father-in-law. “That’s disgusting,” I said, “this is my garden. There are two toilets in the restaurant, both of them free.” Three of our regulars, whom we treat very well. I had to walk right by him to go out the gate, but that didn’t stop him. Charming.

No one showed up on Friday until about 1am. We had a good group on too, from Palermo and Catania, they play a mix of Paolo Conte and Vinicio Capossela, and the singer is spot on. He heard my Django Reinhardt on upstairs in the restaurant and gave me a bit of Minor Swing. But the drummer, who would appear to be the band leader, quite the circus master with his twitching moustache and dapper waistcoat and his blond groupie partner got on our nerves in the end. He was a bit too pushy. They played here a month ago and we asked them back straight away because we thought they were really good. They had an excellent sax and double bass player. But this time they had different session musicians - the sax wasn’t as impressive and the double bass player didn’t seem very familiar with the music. I could hardly hear him and wondered had they turned him down on purpose; his eyes were glued to the sheet music and his hands left hand didn’t move much … They brought four friends along, and as usual we were expected to provide, gratis, food and drink for all. On Friday night we have two waiters, two cooks, the dishwasher and the barman to feed as well. Which goes without saying. But with the most expensive group to date playing, we needed a good Friday night to cover the costs. The drummer grabs me as if he’s about to tell me something hugely important – ‘Scusa, scusa, but I always forget your name…’ He gets the pronunciation wrong of course, and then takes a deep breath and tells me that he’ll need to eat again when they finish playing. That’s fine I tell him, but at two your choice will be limited to panini or piadine. He’s happy with that, but the cameriera then tells me that he complained to her that the pasta portions were very small. I saw the pasta go past, and thought they were very much in keeping with my mother-in-law’s generous hand with the pasta. A normal portion is 70-80 grams, but with the staff she always gives 100-120g. And fair play to the cameriera, who told him, “ My mother put in a kilo of pasta for 7 people, so I think you must be mistaken.”

The night is slow to begin with; people come in, get a drink and leave again, making us question ourselves for bothering to get a really good group. The locals just want a name or face they know, the same oul stuff they have been listening to for decades, and don’t particularly care about the quality. It’s possible most of them are not familiar with Vinicio Capossela’s work either; an Italian singer/songwriter and pianist, he is strongly influenced by Tom Waits, with a touch of the melancholy of Manu Chao and Eastern klezmir and gypsy music. Much too cultured for the local ears. But after 1am they all arrive in hordes, and some do appear to appreciate the music. No one dances, sadly. It is so hard to get an Italian to dance. I’d have thought the Sicilians would be less self-conscious, more party animals, but not in this town. They are all too busy watching each other and sipping that one cocktail they got to make it last all night, to let their hair down.

On Saturday night the restaurant is full; everyone wants paella. Apparently they saw our advert in the local magazine. Most gratifying. And not a single complaint, all compliments. The kitchen performs well – thanks to the vigilance of mio marito on organizing the orders as they come in, and the waiters do a good job too. Then the dj begins; he has good sound on the speakers and a nice selection of music, even managing a Florence and the Machine track. I assume he must had spent time abroad and hear that he is based in Genova. He and his posse also looks good and are pleasant and courteous to deal with. But then after midnight, it all deteriorates into house. Sicilians can’t move beyond house, it is the only music they know for night entertainment. Soul, hip hop, reggae, R&B, world, 70s… might as well not exist. He did have a good selection of dance music; he was a good mixer and good at sequencing but that kind of music makes everyone more aggressive. Customers at the till were impatient as they waited for me to serve beers, wine and tonic waters to keep the pressure off the barman and mio marito. Then, with their scontrino in hand they jostled and sighed at the size of the queue to get their cocktails. We ran out of wine glasses because of the many paella eaters, and I had to go next door and request some ice and some wine glasses – only to discover that the glasses they gave me were in reality OURS … my barman sighed. “Yes, this problem of glass-nicking goes way back,” he says. One of the partners next door does nothing but collect glasses all night, so he picks up ours with the rest of them. Once the previous managers here paid a young guy to collect glasses all night, and they were furious next door!’ he complains that our waiters don’t do enough giri outside collecting glasses. But with the restaurant being so big now that the terraces are open, it is difficult. Several of our customers have told us that they have seen staff the manager next door nick our glasses – we have black straws, and they use grey – so it is quite clear …

After I leave, a petty Mafioso type tries his luck. My sister-in-law is on the till and he pays for two glasses of prosecco. But he asks mio marito for “tri”, three, in dialect. Mio marito advises him that the scontrino says he paid for two, so he gets out two glasses. Mafiosi insists, “Ah, come on, it says two but I wanted three, so give me tri.” Mio marito checks with his sister who confirms he asked for two. ‘Look, we’re all Italian, so let’s speak in Italian. It says here two, so you get two. You work, don’t you? And you expect to get paid for it? Well, so do I.” Fair play to mio marito for staying calm under the circumstances. He sensed the atmosphere getting a bit charged so asked the dj to stop the dance music. He said he wasn’t going to give in to the Mafioso who was just trying his luck. How sneaky.

Glass-nickers, flower-waterers, receipt-cheaters …what lovely company we’re keeping these days.

On Sunday, maybe because we were all tired after the hectic Saturday night, there were a few hiccups. The major one was due to the new aiuto-cuoca on trial binning an order after having only sent out the first course. A table of 11 had come in around 9.15pm when the place was empty, and got their 4 portions of misto fritto straight away. But then other tables arrived, all at once, as usual, so our cameriera was on full tilt serving tables, while I was taking orders and getting their drinks at the bar. Meanwhile mio marito coordinated in the kitchen, but the aiuto cuoca – Joss Stone in disguise – assured him the tavolata was sorted and she ditched the paper without looking a the rest of the order. 11 piadine and panini. This table got upset when they saw food arriving at other tables and one of them came down to me at the till … I got the cameriera to investigate and the disaster unfolded. They were served almost immediately then, and I apologized and discounted etc and they became most charming again, but who knows what they will say around town. Another large table got set up downstairs but complained that their paella was lacking in salt – mio marito tasted it and had to agree … and they also complained that their steak wasn’t cooked enough, but this time he said it was, that it had been well and truly grilled on each side, short of burning it. But they were so happy with their discount that they stayed on for crepes afterwards. I was so busy setting up tables outside and in the side room (only upstairs is laid out for dinner), doing bills as tables left and clearing tables to give the waitress a hand, that we had to call upon my father-in-law to come over and give a hand. Which he did most generously, tackling the mountain of dishes in the kitchen. Last Sunday there was hardly a table, and indeed Sundays in general are manageable. So we don’t have the dishwasher in.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Life in an Italian democracy

Quiet weekday nights. The cook we are waiting for called on Wednesday night. ‘Sono Giorgio’ he says as if he were already part of the family. He babbles on for about 10 minutes, spouting the same stuff he has already discussed with mio marito. What is your kitchen based on, he wants to know. Ah, yes, just like mine, Sicilian pasta dishes, tuna, swordfish roulades, antipasti Siciliani … I tel him our paella is a big seller and he says he is not being into paella, because in his town in Germany the Chinese restaurants give you paella for €4 and who knows what would be in it. Hmmm. He assure me he will be with us next Saturday because he is just waiting for his son’s school to break up for holidays, sign his report card and hey presto he’ll be with his. ‘Sono dietro la porta’ he says – I’m just behind the door. Sure. I said well, I need to see you to believe it since we’ve been expecting you for the last month. How’s your car? Is it working? Did the spare part arrive? It is impossible to take this man seriously. He even tells me, in his familiar way, that he’ll show up for dinner like a customer, and let’s see if we recognise him. A regular prankster! I would write him off as a looper straight away, but my husband is still convinced he’s the man for us.

I catch my North European neighbour when I go home at 1am having a quiet cigarette under the stars. Thank God the scirocco wind has gone, it has wreaked havoc over the last few days: cars are covered in a dirty coat of sand, windows are stained with sandstreaks, rubbish has been blown up out of the smelly skips. We discuss the hazards of living in Sicily, but also the problem of the noisy weekend nightlife depriving us of sleep. The bar a couple of doors down has reopened after being closed all winter, bringing an undesirable druggy clientele back to the borgo. We can hear their music as loud as if we were in a nightclub, standing right next to the speakers. It seems to reverberate through the flimsy walls of our houses. On Saturday night she says the police came because a gang of them were beating a man to a pulp. They only come if there’s a fight, she says rolling her eyes. I know lots of the neighbours here – many of whom are anciani – call the police to complain at 1am and 2am when they can’t sleep because of the racket, but the police always says their car is being used elsewhere. The police station is hundred metres down the road … Basically the bar in question has put its Olympic size speakers outside – meaning we have a disco in the borgo, a residential historic area. Not the place at all for a disco. When you call the police, she says, they tell you to come down and make a denuncia, file a report against them; but who would expose themselves in that way here? And it is not necessary at all. Italian law states that the mere presence of speakers outside a bar in a residential area is an infraction of the law in itself. She tells me that various neighbours have gone down to the bar owners and complained, telling them they will file the report against them . and though bar owners say 'Go on then – if you don’t want to live. Just see what happens to you …’ Charming. The head of the police has even complained to us about this bar, and says they are well-known as trouble-makers. But nothing is done. And why not? Either these people are so well-connected the police are scared; or they are paying off the police with a huge bribe. I suspect it is the former, because our last cook was from the same town as them, and when her husband was knocked off his scooter by a local hooligan she said the didn’t dare even claim the insurance off him because they knew who he was and the kind of trouble he could cause for them. They say that the Barcellonese run Milazzo, that Milazzo is in their hands. Great. This democracy we are living in … or civilisation, Sicilian-style.

I went to the Sunday meeting of the Donne Libere – the Women’s Group which is trying to give support and representation to women in Milazzo. The subject was Sexuality and Identity and they had speakers from the Arci (cultural group) Gay and Lesbian. Several of them told their stories of ill-treatment at school and when growing up, of how long it took their families to accept them. But the thing that struck me as strange was that they kept repeating, ‘it is not an illness. We are not sick.’ Apparently their parents had taken them to the doctor’s when they were teenagers in the hope for a cure. That these days, in contrast to our Spanish neighbours, in Italy men can't walk hand in hand down the street, girls can't kiss in public; homosexuals are not free to live their sexuality in public in a country where heterosexuals can comfortably demonstrate affection. It is probably because of the heavy political weight of the Vatican in Italy that these outdated offensive attitudes prevailed (not that the Vatican can provide a good example ...). The Arci speakers said they tried to visit schools to do educational projects with the kids but many schools would not participate, saying it was encouraging homosexuality. No such things as PSHE (Personal, Social, Health Education) in Italian schools. No sex education. And they need it; there is little else to do all summer long – hot days on the beach hot nights under the olive trees ... A recent article by a psychologist said that teenage pregnancies were on the increase in Italy, but wondered why, with all the information teenagers get via the media and science lessons at school … : hardly the same as PSHE, and I don't know what lessons the media projects, with the bikini-clad women dancing and prancing on TV. Ah yes, equality and respect. The speakers said it was unacceptable, in a democracy, that taboos should still exist around this subject of sexuality and identity. What democracy?

Saturday, May 1, 2010

the Brazilian Bartender

On Thursday night one of the local musicians pops in to ask if his group can play at ours one night in May or June. He plays the accordion, there is a drummer and then the singer on the guitar. Latin, reggae and ska mostly. Sounds good to me and a bit more laid back than our usual fare at the minute. But he wants to discuss the matter with mio marito. In fact he hesitates before even telling me what he has come in for – when to me it is perfectly obvious that he wants to ask us for a night. My husband is busy in the kitchen giving a hand to the cook – his mother at the moment! – because there are three tables all needing antipasti and second courses. So there’s no way I am going to disturb him when I can deal with the musician perfectly well. But the muso thinks I’m only good for giving him a drink. The hand shoots up to the mouth in a drinking gesture and he asks for a shot of rum. I remember the last –and only time – he came for a drink I gave him a very generous glass of rum by mistake, so that when mio marito gave him a second one he complained and ended up paying peanuts for the doubly generous dose. So I make no mistakes this time and get the tiny shot glass out.

I have to coax it out of him: ‘So are you wanting to play a night here then?’ He says yes, but he’ll wait to discuss it with mio marito. I let him wait and get back to chatting to my friend at the bar, a non-Italian who is watching this pantomime with amusement. Mio marito comes forth bearing three plates, greets the muso and whizzes on about his business not giving him as much as a second to get talking to him. SO I try again, ‘Look, tell me about your group, I’ll discuss it with mio marito and you can call us during the week for a date.’ I don’t have the music agenda as my husband books the groups, but at this stage all this muso needs is a date, which can be agreed over the phone. I know he probably wants to discuss the fee, and I know very well he won’t want to discuss it with me. So I don’t bother mentioning it. He still prevaricates, saying he can wait another two minutes. But in the end he has to go as there is no sign of my husband having a secondo for him. He asks for his number – which is on our business card, along with the restaurant number, as I point out, knowing well that my husband lost his mobile the day before. But I don’t tell him that either.

Well, what should I expect at this stage? Another couple who were dining that night put me in my place too: the guy declared loudly - 'So you're Irish! I was convinced you were Brazilian.' He beams drunkenly. Now how come, I ask, genuinely curious. I thought that myth was over. Is it the striking white Gaelic skin, or the blue eyes that convinced you? But his brain is addled with drink and he can't come up with a reason, much to my disappointment. His companion lingers a while chatting to me; she's on an extended holiday here in her home town because in Rome she hasn't been able to find work in her chosen field, art curation. We saw quite a lot of this girl over the summer as she hung around with the beach crowd who frequented Pachamama. 'So what would you like to have done with your life, if you didn't have this?' she asks, gesturing around the restaurant. Yep, that's me in the corner, the Brazilian Bartender, not a single title nor diploma to my name.

Last night was packed out with revellers who will be enjoying Labour Day today. But our temporary aiuto cuoco, who has been doing a great job, tells us he has been called to work in the refinery, which is better for his CV; and our temporary waiter, who was going to get us through May until he went over to Stromboli island to do the season there, also tells us that he can’t work from Monday on. Such a shame as both were excellent and fitted in with the whole team really well. So hard to find people like that. so we are back down to no cook – with my mother-in-law doing it single-handedly, and two waiters. Our Friday and Saturday nights are so busy now, especially since we have opened the two outside terraces, that we really need three. Our German-Sicilian cook has promised to be here on May 15th – but who believes him? And in the meantime there are no other contenders …