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.

No comments:

Post a Comment