Friday, November 13, 2009

Too many cooks ... 3/05/09

Another week of all-day DIY. We have lots of callers coming to look in on the proceedings, give comments and advice (not always helpful)and generally nosy around so they can go around town telling people what it will look like.

We spent the entire morning with the falagname, the carpenter who is very good and obliging but insists we stay with him because otherwise he won't get round to doing it. So we had to stay with all the sawdust flying in the air and my husband's hayfever getting worse by the second. He kept taking handfuls of the mint and rosemary growing abundantly in boxes lining the railings of the carpenter’s garage if you don’t mind there was even a fruiting lemon tree in the midst of all the concrete. We are using the same planks that we've put along the front of the bar to frame a long mirror opposite the bar, also painted blue like the fishermen's boats. The falagname has the fattest fingers I have ever seen, they are like sausages on the end of his hand. His twinkling blue eyes nestle in his round little smiling face and the pot belly protrudes over the too-short trousers. He sawed and shaped and ‘smoussava’ the edges of the shelves and the planks searing the air with the noise of the saw while a dog barked on and on next door with a miserable keening kind of yelp. A joke a minute with the falagname and I struggle to keep up, bu he did listen to me when I expressed opinions on the shape and contours and checked I was happy. The usual joke – the wife must be happy …

Along came one of his friends from the appartment block across the road. He said he might as well keep Gigi company cos you could hear the din he makes from up there perectly. I said yeah we have the disco in the borgo, what can you do? He said, in his palazzo everyone has on average 4 dogs and two cars so the noise was awful. Nice to see that some Sicilians don't like loads of noise either. Vittorio is in his late 70s but was all delighted when I guessed he was around 70. He says, like the other peole in his palazzo, he is very refined, since he worked for many years in the huge oil refinery. Thirty or so years ago this town was given the choice of having a small international airport or the oil refinery ... The latter was chosen for various reasons, not least, no doubt, its ability to faciliate mafia money laundering. It employs thousands of people from the town and surrounding areas. Is it just a coincidence that the mortality rate for cancer is sky high here? Green scientific researchers prove the link while researchers for the council/mayor etc prove there is no link ... another curious Sicilian contradiction. But more regulations have been imposed so that there is less contamination. When the wind blows a certain way the fumes come across the large bay to the town. You feel like you would like a gasmask and you quickly go indoors.

While my husband loaded up the car with planks my suocero (father-in law) and I went to pick up the various paintings and batiks we were getting framed. Maria Giusseppina (Mary Joseph - full-on religious names abound in Sicily) had them all ready and I wondered whether to frame a few more prints I had for the toilets. but my suocero advised against it - don't put anything in the toilets! they'll only get nicked, he said! At lunch later the in-laws told me lively stories about all the things that had got nicked over the years - from the more obvious wineglasses, to driftwood sculptures my suocero makes and the signs or placks of the bar-restaurant from outside the door and even from the bar right under his nose. Some people fancy these things for their homes they said, laughing . Hmmm. The inlaws mused about how we were going to deal with the two cooks, they are quite a handful they reckon. The aiuto-cuoco talks non-stop and invades your personal space and these days has been calling at 9am to give us ahand in the morning and puncutally at 2.30pm right after lunch. What did he do before this, wonders my cugnata (sister-in-law). He's been trying out recipes for semi-freddi (a cold desert somewhere between a sorbet and an icecream)and today the doorbell rang at 2pm while we were having lunch - he had a whole box of semi-freddi for us to try. A funny situation - it is not correct to disturb Sicilians in the sacred act of eating. (at 2pm the streets are deserted and you an safely assume that everyone is at home with the family). So he handed over the desserts and went off to the restaurant to see what he could do in the meantime. He needs to be given specific tasks to do - and indeed has done a lot of the sandpapering and lifting jobs, giving me and my younger cugnata (sister-in-law) a break on the arms. But I wonder is it like this in the kitchen too, has he no iniciative? These forest fruit semi-freddi are no as good as the last ones he made, which were orange flavoured. There are too many seeds which make it difficult to eat them. As if they can read my thoughts, the suoceri tell us how important it is to be diplomatic in the restaurant trade, especially in this small town were people have nothing better to do but gossip about other people, and if you offend one customer, you have just lost all their family and friends too. I imagine my husband and I know how to be good with people, but my suocero scrunches up his eyes as if considering how to really drive this point home. They expect to be 'coccolati', he says, which translates as really well looked after, almost spoilt. Which really means discounts, antipastini and liquors on the house and a general humble attitude towards the customer. Sicilian diners are not as 'civil' or relaxed as Irish or Spanish diners; they are extremely fussy, come with a preconception that the food they get at home is better and that you are there to coccolare them as much as possible.

We can now get espressos from the bar next door, says the barista, popping his head round the door (just an excuse to have a good gawk). But our mate in the café down the road told us that he hopes we'll never open because he is doing better business! Some of my husband's friends never stop telling us how hard it is to live here and work here. How difficult the customers are, and how, no matter how hard you try, and how nice you make the place look, and how good the food is, if the locals decide it just isn't the place to be, well, then your business will fail, your restaurant beempty. I reckon half of his friends are all just waiting for us to fail.

Wow. My head is reeling.


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