Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Bella figura e brutta figura ... 20/09/09

We interviewed a potential cook today. He was recommended by a friend of the family who said he had a good reputation. He made comments about how he worked in a restaurant all summer on Salina and served many insalatone (big salads) there. We wondered if this was a little dig (because we had gone to check him out a few weeks before, and had eaten insalatone!) I hardly recognized him. Tiny little Sicilian man, about 60. Sicilian men all seem to shrink as they get older, apart from those whose gut expands. He had managed the kitchen by himself all summer every day. So he has the energy. He assured us that he feels a strong sense of responsibility. Maybe when you are a cook and have a reputation you feel differently than our two aiuto cuochi. But he became reluctant when I explained the tapas etc.; he withdrew a bit and said he didn’t know the dishes and that it would be like starting a whole different technique at his age. That he had a career and his dishes. Which is the problem with cooks of his age. They don’t really see it as an opportunity to do new things. But he said if he just had to do primi and secondi that was un altro discorso (a different matter). And he said he would help the under-cook if s/he were busy and he wasn’t doing anything, that he never sat about doing nothing. Which sounds totally different to the situation we have at the minute with our two aiuto cuochi - any chance they get they are outside smoking.

Then we saw il barman who had come to load up the fridges, and I remembered I had dreamt of him last night; he had put his hand on mine and said everything is going to be all right. So he said he had worked here since 2003 and that October was always a dead month, and in November and December things would pick up again (not so reassuring since it is still September!). Then he told a big story about how the previous manager had asked him to leave to save money, doing bar, kitchen and front of house all by himself. Our barman thought it was crazy because people always came up for his cocktails. He said the manager used to tell him off for offering too many shots. Afterwards mio marito and I thought he had gone on about it so much that he must think we are watching him too much. I was concerned last night because he offered the English architects shots, and the girl was already drunk and had to drive back to their house by the refinery. They had had a few mojitos but cocktails here are about triple the strength they are back home, never measured. I heard the barman tell the trainee to count to three when pouring the alcohol into the glass! Depends how fast - or how slow - you count! Also I think they aim to cover the ice in the glass as a gauge. And of course here it is common to drink and drive, there never seem to be any check points. The English pair were entertaining: they were wondering how come everyone is obsessed with la bella figura here? (looking good, making a good impression -fundamental tenet of every Italian's life)She was saying ‘I don’t know how they manage to be so dressed up all the time, the men must spend ages getting the hair just right, this greasy look - how do they get it so greasy? They must oil every curl to get it in place.’ And the boy kept saying all the men think they are gods, real studs! Where are the ugly ones? They’ve all been crushed. They are all bullies, kicking out the ugly ones from the public.’ Funny. They went on about how famous it appeared their tutor architect was and how he had friends everywhere and everyone knew him. They went up the castle at Santa Lucia and it was closed but when they saw their tutor they opened and said come in we will show you around and turned on all the lights and it was like magic they said, this would never happen in England. I like it here, she said. At first I thought, oh my god, it is awful; but the people are so happy, they just get excited about going into town, going for a walk at the marina and their drink up at the borgo, how simple their lives are. I said, you say that now because you know you are leaving and she laughed. They said their tutor brought them for coffee with famous national cyclist, and that everyone jumped up as he was leaving the cafĂ© to get their photo taken with him, but they couldn’t care less. He kept coming into the office as if he were someone important but they didn’t care. And I said yes there is a big celebrity culture here, and they said maybe there is in UK too, though people tend to respect your privacy a bit more. They said something about the prevalence of porn and how they all know the names of porn stars here. It isn’t really a taboo topic here, in fact some ‘good’ porn stars are viewed with respect and admiration almost. They laughed away and said so that is what they do at home.

Then along came very drunk Lucia wanting to practise her English. In her snobby English accent she confided that she didn’t like fat people pushing her,’ and looked down her nose at some large people near her. There is always a certain amount of jostling in front of the bar as people try to squeeze past. She reappeared later, livid and hissing like one of the Mafioso cats of the borgo at her boyfriend who was practising his English with the two architects. 'What are you waiting for? Do you want to stay con questa (with this one - sounds very derogatory in Italian), she indicated the poor English girl who was oblivious andwandered off to the toilet. HOw possessive they are, marvelled the boy! Later on, Lucia got in a catfight outsde. We could see it from our bedroom window. She shouted at another girl, 'You are from 1961 and you are still out here doing the rounds!' The other shouted back, 'You are a prostitute!' The next thing was, her boyfriend rushed to defend her honour, and pushed the other girl to the ground. Immediately two other men wanted to beat him up, and anoter bar manager had to ntevene with his booming voice; ' 'Hai alzato le mani a una donna, you pushed a woman to the ground shame on you!’ Che brutta figura! It was all show, such a performance.

Mio marito was so low today when we remembered the fight: ‘I can’t be doing with these lowlifes, working to serve these uncultured drunk drugged people.’ It is not the Pachamama we wanted, it is not what we dreamed of, the people are not open to our ideas, we’ll never get anywhere with our new ideas.’ He said there was no point; Sicily would never get out of this rut and it made him sick that he had come back. He says ten years ago when he and his family opened the restaurant there was a positive atmosphere; it was a new thing and nice people came up for a quiet evening with their families etc, but now it was drunk and drugged people coming for the last drink so we got the worst end of society. He says he doesn’t feel Sicilian at all, and needs to get out of here. But the Sicilian is in him. I can understand this rejection of the less than salubrious side of life though; the small-town mentality feels even more stiflng when you add the mafioso dimension. All that he left behind.

The news in the Giornale del Sud paper today was about a mafia guy getting 16 years only for 5 murders because he is a pentito and collaborating with the police. His worst kill was three women: mother, sister and aunt, as a vengeance kill against a man they had lost in the late 80s...


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