Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Sicilian smoking laws 21/09/09

7.10pm and it is dark. The lights are winking at me across the water to the Refinery side and beyond. The old yellow church opposite our house is lit up. and separation. The only thing keeping me sane is the voice of Seamus Heaney I hear when I read his Stepping stones interviews about his life and poems. He is talking about where I come from and that keep me sane and lucid in this forgotten land.

‘Non ti esporre mai cosi’. That is what mio marito said: ‘never expose yourself’. I didn’t get it at first. I thought he meant only that I, the owner, shouldn’t get annoyed with the customers smoking. But he actually meant more than that: that I shouldn’t deal with the customers at all because they were Mafiosi. ‘That guy was in prison, for money laundering and arms trading,’ he said. I had been over once to the girl in the sideroom and said in surprise, ‘But you can’t smoke here.’ She had said sneakily, finding the excuse, as usual – that since there were ashtrays on the table she thought she could smoke. But I knew there were not. She had helped herself to the sideboard where we kept them for outside tables. Later the same group had been joined by a short dodgy man, and I discovered he was calmly smoking away when I came down about an hour later, the astray full of stubs. So I said, ‘But you can’t smoke here,’ really surprised again, because he was with the girls I had spoken to before. I lifted the remaining two clean ones and then lifted the one they had been using along with the peanut bowls, suspecting they would use them. I clattered them about so they could tell I was annoyed. Well, when I went to the kitchen to leave the bowls to be washed, apparently the squat guy went over to mio marito to complain, haughty and irate. ‘I’m 40 years of age and I will not be treated like that. That young girl (figliola he called me – probably thinking I am much younger than I am, and just a waitress – which may in the end, have been an advantage), That is no way to treat your customers, do you know who I am?’ He probably made some mean little Mafiosi threats. Mio marito said, I just hope he doesn’t get obsessed, because I said, well they wont be back and good riddance. But he is afraid they’ll come back and smoke again on purpose, or do worse … how there sickening evil mafia minds work...

I heard him say that the problem was that the anti-smoking law had to be followed, or we all coul get fined. But mafia-man will have been thinking, ‘no one’s going to fine me!’. ‘This isn’t Dublin or Arezzo or Bath,’ said mio marito. ‘These people are dangerous and expect to be respected and do what they want.’ God, like the restaurant the English School director was telling me about on the sea front where people brought their own food and drink and the place had to close down because it went bankrupt. So mio marito is actually afraid of mafia. I asked before coming here if there was any mafia activity around and he assured me there was not. What a lie. It is full of it. He even denied it the other day when the guy at the agriturismo asked us how it was going and I said the bureaucracy and the mafia society made everything difficult or impossible. Mio marito actually said no, what do you mean, they haven’t come near us for money. I said, no, not for money, but in other ways their presence is felt and our disadvantage in not knowing the right people.

He blew up in front of the waiters. ‘You can’t react like that, you can’t deal with the customers like that.’ I said, it is funny how I am always always, always the only one who notices the smoking; it is right under your nose and you never do anything about it. Later, when I was drying dishes with the cameriera while the cameriere was washing because our dishwasher had taken sick, I came down because mio marito had let more people in (it was 3am) and one was smoking, the tall guy I had told earlier not to smoke. They hold the cigarette away from their body when you say something, stretching their arm in the vague direction of the door as if that will help things. So pathetic. I said to mio marito, you better say something to that guy. Makes a complete mockery of me. He said he hadn’t noticed. How can he notice everything else but not that? He said to the waiters - what are you doing, you know the antismoking law, you have to tell the clients not to smoke. So now, not only can I not take in the tables at the end of the night because I basically throw people out, but now cannot tell them not to smoke apparently.

Our dishwasher is a complete liability. Since he got his contract he has been sick all the time … First he put the stem of a wineglass through his hand and we had to take him to casualty; then he poured boiling water over his foot and it swelled up like a balloon, both occasions meaning a good bit of time off for him and dire straits for us trying to find good dishwashers – people we tried were either too slow or too puny. Last night we had the dance of the dying swan. He sank down into the steps outside the kitchen complaining of a headache, asking the waitress and cuoca to touch his forehead to see if he had a temperature. In this heat we could all seem to have temperatures, the waitress smartly pointed out. Could it be a chemical in the cleaning products? Could it be the fact that he had skipped lunch? They had to give him fruit juice and salt and sugar concoctions to try and bring him round, but nothing was working and he suggested a cigarette might help. The waitress, sharp girl, told him to catch himself on. He then worked on the cuoco’s sympathy and had him help him walk around outside to get some air. Having that weight leaning on you would not be desirable, in fact the couco looked relieved to get back in. Go home, he said. But no, instead, having exhausted the kitchen staff he came and flopped around the bar! He leaned over the bar counter and cradled his head in his arms and sighed like it was his last hour. If you felt that bad you wouldn’t want people to see you and you would get yourself home. He wanted to wait until his ‘fidanzata’ came to get him. La cameriera said, I'll give him a good talking to tomorrow, since we had to stay on to do his job!


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