This is a series of posts about Italy, Malta, and Spain that starts here.
It was my last night on the Amalfi Coast, and I was determined to find some good seafood.
I had tried the places listed in guides and struck out. Then I turned a corner and saw what looked like a stage or movie set. It was a restaurant set on a crazy 45 degree angle street corner, and they had put about 10 little tables out on the sidewalk, which jutted way out into the street and dipped down at an angle. The maître de led me over to a table and when I sat down I felt like I should have memorized my lines. I was the only customer.
The tables were draped in shiny dark blue satin, the chairs and table were wobbly, and the menu was grimy. There was one of those big placards at the entrance that should have warned me to keep walking. It promoted daily “specials” like fish and chips, hamburgers with fries, and pork chop with sauerkraut—something for every nationality of western tourist.
The maître de, whose namebadge said Enrico, appeared to be in his 60s. He was dressed in worn dark blue trousers and a zip-up sweater that looked like what I wear at home when I’m not leaving the house all day. Yet despite his rather shabby dress, he acted as though he was working in a fine establishment. He had a napkin draped over his arm and snapped his fingers and yelled, “Waiter!” Maybe the food would surprise me and be astoundingly fresh and flavorful.
The waiter, a tall skinny blond kid in his twenties, sprang out of the door, trotted to my table, and filled my water glass. His name was Radu. “Bring-a the Limoncello,” Enrico ordered gruffly. Radu leaped back and forth, supplying my table with Limoncello, olives, and bread. I wondered if he was in love for the first time and just couldn’t contain his excitement. He brought my wine, then bounded across the street, grasped a light pole, and swung around it several times like Gene Kelly in “Singing in the Rain.”
He bounded over to my table. “Guess where I am from!”
“Uh … Slovakia? Poland? Ukraine?” Was Ukraine part of the EU?
“No—Romania!” he exclaimed delightedly, as though he had fooled me, then bounced away.
Enrico continued to stand by my table while I perused the menu, which did not give me hope for a great meal. “What do you have with seafood?” I asked optimistically. Enrico pointed out the only item on the menu that I had already passed on, seafood linguini. Maybe the photo just didn’t do it justice. “I’ll take that,” I said, trying to muster some enthusiasm.
Enrico told me his life story. He had worked in the “hospitality industry” in London for 13 years. That explained why he kept calling me “love.” It was so dead in Sorrento in the winter that even the cats went south. He would go to Orlando in a few weeks; he had a condo there. “I will sell if Trump is elected President,” he laughed.
My food came and it was as disappointing as I had expected, with obviously defrosted seafood mostly consisting of mussels the size of peas. But I was hungry, so I ate, and Enrico continued to stand next to me and talk. I began to wonder if he was hoping for some lady companionship later, but just then some tourists came walking along the street and he moved off to try to entice them in. They looked at my food and kept walking. Enrico circled back to my table.
“Say, do you know why there’s such a crowd in front of the Church of St. Antonino all the time?” I asked.
Enrico screwed his eyebrows together, thinking. “Ah, yes, it is the Virgin of Pompeii. She is a visiting for the month of November.” Just to be clear, we are talking about a plaster statue with magical properties, not a real virgin.
“Visiting, from where? From Pompeii?”
“I don’t know from a where. She came from far away.”