Alessandro had told me that he would not be in when I arrived for work in the morning. His wife was “with child” and he had to take her to the doctor’s office. When Alessandro is off, I help Roberto, the pastry chef. We usually start the day cutting up fruit for the breakfast buffet and then spend the rest of the time making desserts of one kind or another. Today we were making cookies. At Hotel Santa Caterina the guests receive a welcome cookie plate in their guest rooms when they arrive. Every few days Roberto would make several batches of different types of cookies and we arranged them on little china plates, covered them with saran wrap and tie each plate with a bow so they could be delivered to new guests.
“Roberto,” I asked, “have you always been a pastry chef?”
“When I was young, I was a champion at table tennis. Then I have my bakery, but business no good. So when I get married and have little girl, I get job at hotel. Do you want to see photos of my family?” Roberto got out his wallet and showed me pictures of a beautiful young woman and an adorable daughter about 4 years old.
“Che bella,” I commented. I got out the photos of my husband and children that I had in the pocket of my chef’s pants and shared them with Roberto.
“Mia familia,” I explained as I showed him pictures of Craig, Gretchen, and one of Brian and Eric in their military uniforms when Brian was still in the US Marine Corps and Eric was still a midshipman at the US Naval Academy. He smiled and nodded. Then I put the photos away and we got back to work.
After lunch, we made more cookies and a luscious almond cake.
Francesco, who is the assistant pastry chef and looks just like the actor Sean Penn, has always been polite, but cool towards me. The men in the kitchen are unaccustomed to working with a female chef. I try to ignore their stern expressions and focus on working hard. Francesco made pudding in the morning and was making Zeppolina after lunch – tiny, fried doughnut balls. I was surprised when he brought one to me to taste. It was delicious!
When I got off the bus at the top of the hill overlooking Positano, the narrow passageway that wound down to the beach front was crowded with tourists – stout Germans with walking sticks, Britons in sensible shoes, lovers walking hand-in-hand and Italian families.
“Scusi. Excuse me,” I said as I navigated down the stone steps toward the internet cafe and around them as they stopped to examine colorful merchandise displayed in open shop doorways.
When I got back to the apartment that afternoon, I was stunned to find it a mess. I recognized the book that Ben had been reading, his dirty socks, a t-shirt, alarm clock, crumpled papers, and dirty dishes spread out on the floor, sofa and table. I certainly didn’t feel like being the mom here and having to clean up after someone else when I got home from work. I gathered together the dirty dishes and placed them in the kitchen sink, picked up the trash and neatly stacked the books on the table in the living room. It didn’t bother me that his side of the bedroom that he shared with David looked as though a tornado had passed through it, but I wanted the main room to be tidy.
Seth had issued us all cell phones with instructions to call him if we needed anything. They were pre-paid phones, so we could add minutes to them if we wanted by paying a few Euros at the Tabacchi shop. Apparently, our family members could call us at no charge, but to call out of the country was very, very expensive. I carried mine with me all the time, but had never used it. I was surprised when it rang.
“Hello, Mom?” I recognized my son Eric’s voice immediately. He is a Naval Officer stationed in San Diego and was home in Maryland on leave. He asked how things were going and I told him what I’d been doing.
“I already thought you were a good cook,” Eric said. “I’ll bet you could teach them something.” Ahh, the confidence your children have in you.
“What are you and Dad doing?”
“He’s fixing lasagna for dinner. Well actually he’s heating it up in the microwave. By the way, I like the way you labeled everything in the house for him. You forgot to label the dishwasher, but he seems to be doing okay washing the dishes by hand.”
I spent the next few minutes catching up on news from home and then said good-bye. I wondered what Craig would do when he ran out of lasagna. Remember, he didn’t know how to cook?
I poured myself a glass of white wine and decided to spend the evening reading. We had two metal chairs that sat on our porch next to the plastic clothes drying rack which was always draped with wet towels and someone’s underwear. (You can’t be modest when you share an apartment with other people!) The porch was shaded by the lemon trees in the yard and was a very peaceful place to read for a couple of hours until the mosquitoes came out. I had managed to locate two bookstores—one on the way down the hill from the bus stop in Positano and another in the piazza in Amalfi—that sell English language novels. I know that I should be purchasing something in Italian to help improve my language skills, but can you imagine how long it would take me to complete Harry Potter or a Tom Clancy book in Italian? I stopped regularly at each bookstore to stock up on paperbacks. Before I went to bed that evening I penciled Ben a note:
“Ben, we all have to share the living room. Could you please clean up before you go to bed? Thanks, Marcia”
When I arose the next morning, the living room was straightened and although the dishes hadn’t been washed, they were in the sink. Guess Ben got the message. I headed out the door to work.