Monday, December 14, 2009

Siamo in Sicilia ... and Brazilian festa 15/07/09

It is so hot now the only place to be is the sea. It’s about a 15-minute walk down the cliff upon which the Moorish castle of the borgo is built. Yesterday there was no air, and at 12.30 the air was so still and thick and heavy with humidity I dreaded the rest of the afternoon. I went out into the blazing yellow sunlight just after 4pm and used an umbrella for shade. In two minutes my whole body was covered in sweat. There wasn’t a sound in the borgo. Everyone comatose in the heat. By the time I had made my way down the crumbly steps of the cliff and down the lane to the sea I was baked. The shingle was so hot it burned the soles of my feet through my flipflops. I got a spot right by the water’s edge, pulled off my dress and dived into the water immediately. The salt water is the only way to face the searing heat of Sicily in the summer. I don’t know how I am going to get through August at this rate. I read my book for a while when I got out of the water, watched by various men, since it is most unusual for a girl to go alone to the beach here; reading books is also unusual, and of course my white skin singled me out as a foreigner.

We had the Brazilian night last night. I had been dreading it because it was a collaboration with a Brazilian beach bar from the beach on the levante (east) side of the peninsula, and I wasn’t sure how organised we all were. Cirucco is a beautiful bay with lots of greenery and sprays of bougainvillea up into the cliffs behind it, and holiday bungalows to one side. A diving school operates out of the beach too. The couple who run the beach bar wanted to put on a churrascaria in our terrace and bring a band to play, as a way of launching their restaurant for the summer - and ours. I wasn’t convinced of the economics of the situation as it was a Tuesday night and not many people come up during the week days, plus we had to pay the band (the husband, Georgio, plus two amici from Roma) a large sum, though they insisted that the Georgio wasn’t taking any of it, just the two amici who were such great musicians from Rome. We also were expected to have our dishwasher and a waiter to work alongside their two waiters. I foresaw a lot of work and little gain.

The first part of the night went well. Samanta took orders and organised her waiters well. We had a few requests for caipirinhas and desserts. The two terraces looked lovely with the dim lighting reflecting off the whitewashed walls, looking like somewhere on the Aeolian islands. Our night blooming jasmine perfumed the air and the sand-yellow façade of the main building looked inviting with the stonework round the arches and the wrought iron balcony. The musicians had a good feed of churrascaria before taking to the stage just below the balcony. They started belting out some classic Italian romantic songs from the sixties, and then I did a few bossanova songs with the guitarist. We had a little practice on the beach the day before – I thought I had to, because after all the fuss about the great musicians from Rome, it turned out they weren’t even going to play Brazilian music, just the usual Italian piano bar and popular tunes! So I stopped taking orders and brought a paella to a table, and then took up the microphone! The guitarist played softly and gave me good lead-ins, since we had really only played through the few songs to get the key right the day before. Girl from Ipanema, Insensatez, Agua de beber, just a few simple songs. The atmosphere was nice with the two terraces full and the bossanova music. Lots of applause. Then the singer came back to do a loud duet of Mas que Nada, roaring out the chorus. Later they moved downstairs to the bar to entertain the drinking customers who were hanging out on the road in front of the restaurant, but no sooner had they taken up position than the carabinieri came by and told them to stop because it was 1.15am. The injustice. Not only was the music inside, and therefore not really audible outside, but it was early. The bar down the road has music on every night from Thursday to Sunday until 2.30am, and no one complains. We must have some nasty neighbours who called the police! At the sight of the police the crowd dispersed and we had to close early with the band only playing an hour or so. A good night for the Brazilian bar but not so good for us. The band got well paid for their brief appearance, and mio marito couldn’t even bring himself to charge them for their (many) drinks – they dealt with him for the money matters! Hmmm…

The cook was quick to tell me that the people who run the bar down the road are from Barcellona, the next big town,10 kilometres away, and that surely they will have ‘agganci’, contacts, and connections. He said the police are probably afraid to say anything to them because they are connected. Of course we have no agganci nor friends in the right places. I had thought that maybe the family would have a good system of protection and friends network built up over the years that they had the restaurant. But it turns out it was always a struggle against the powers that be for them too, possibly because of the huge success it had been under their management. Mia suocera said the neighbours up here in the borgo hated them because theirs was the first ‘locale’ in the borgo. Before, it was just a quiet place full of old retired people where nothing happened. Of course the sprouting of bars and restaurants brought wealth to the old quarter, and some of the elderly inhabitants even rented out their houses to bar managers. This was the case of the sworn enemy of mio suocero. This man Alvaro lived opposite the restaurant, and hated the noise of the diners so much that one day he stopped my father-in-law as he was walking down the street back home. ‘I’ll destroy you! I hate you!’ he roared into his face, hoping to provoke a fist fight so that he could then make a complaint to the police, with his wife there as witness. But mio suocero kept a cool head and walked on, avoiding any more conflict with Alvaro. Not long after Alvaro decided to cash in on the movement that my in-laws had begun, and let out a small apartment he had next to their restaurant to bar owners.

I heard this story because while I was setting up the table in the terrace yesterday with my sister-in-law, this old guy came over to me and said, ‘Signorina, would it be possible to have a little less noise at night, can you turn the music down.’ What, us?! I said. I said, ‘but you know, signore, it isn’t us. The loud music comes from the bars down the road , and on the other side of us. We are sandwiched in the middle and it annoys us too! We only have a cd on while the diners are eating until about 12.’ I sympathised with him about the loud music as it really annoys us too, especially when we get home after a hard night and their music is still pumping because you can’t sleep. This old man was completely charmed and I even told him that I would be singing that night if he wanted to come and listen. He smiled and fell over himself apologising and shook my hand, ‘signorina’ and away he went happy as larry. My cognata rolled her eyes and said , wow, you know who that is? And told me the story of his aggression towards her father. You’ve come to make peace in the borgo she said, laughing.

My mother-in-law, when she heard that he had come over, told me the story again about how he had hassled her husband. Worse still, she said, one day we had a complete raid by the carabinieri. They came bursting in on us from the front entrance and the back entrance into the kitchen with sniffer dogs and machine guns. They thought we were hiding a mafia boss! She said laughing at the ridiculousness of it. They checked in the staff toilet and under the cupboards, as if he would be in there, she laughed, her eyes wide at the anger the memory provoked. Can you imagine, she said, they had the police car at the front and the back, and we had customers dining! And, she added, it is obvious which are the mafia restaurants, everyone knows which ones there are, and ours clearly was not one of them. ‘Ma che vuoi?’ she sighed resignedly, with a shrug of the shoulders, ‘siamo in Sicilia.’ (What do you expect? This is Sicily for you.)

All these stories make me wonder just what we have got ourselves into … my Tuscan friends were amazed here at the things they saw. They went to the last night of the Summer theatre on in the piazza in town. There were various provincial style presentations for prizes for best actor or set etc, and then there was a little play to finish. Two little girls had to get up and pretend they were children of alcoholics; ‘How are you now, are your parents better?’ ‘Yes,’ said the other one, ‘they have a job and don’t go out any more.’ The audience was very appreciative, being no doubt made up of family members of the two actresses! Then on to serious matters, someone got up and talked about the mafia and its terrible power and how it blocked Milazzo; but then someone else got up and said it was slander and columnia and absolutely not true! At which point my friends decided to leave …


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