Tales from Positano: Dinner with Susan

A few weeks ago I started writing and publishing Tales from Positano, a collection of personal experiences and reflections from my recent trip to the Amalfi Coast. Writing down these experiences, reflecting on them and rereading them has been an incredibly rewarding experience and I really think I’m going to start doing it more often.

For those of you who have been following my blog, you know that I normally don’t write stories and share such intimate experiences. I usually give advice for all us crazies that have decided to move to Italy or advice to those crazies who are thinking about moving to Italy. I have always been hesitant to share too much of my personal life. I used to think it was selfish and boring for my readers, but the more I read other bloggers and writers, I realize that sharing your life with others can sometimes be just as useful as sharing advice directly. We can learn a lot from the personal life stories of others.  

This is Tale #5 and will be the last tale of this series. When will the next Italy adventure be? I’m not sure yet but I’m dying to go to Puglia so perhaps it will be there!

Read previous tales:

Tale I: The Driver
Tale II: The Waiter
Tale III: The Path of the Gods
Tale IV: Marcello the Cat

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Tales from Positano
Part V: Dinner with Susan

That night was Patricia’s 54th birthday. A few days before she had met an American woman a just outside a bar in Positano. Patricia and David had been discussing over a glass of wine where David would like to live in the future. San Francisco or Chicago? He wasn’t sure.

“Chicago” said a voice said from behind them. “You should move to Chicago.”

This was Susan. Blonde and petite, not afraid to speak her mind. She was a successful lawyer living in Chicago and was her third time visiting the Amalfi Coast this year. She had apparently visited first with her niece the first time and fell in love with the area so much she decided to keep coming back.

Susan had invited us all to dinner that night to celebrate Patricia’s birthday. The restaurant was outside of Positano, somewhere in between Susan’s B&B in Nocelle and Positano. In fact when Patricia told me the name of the restaurant, Il Ritrovo, I thought I remembered passing it on our long hike earlier that day.

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After taking a curvy taxi ride up to the restaurant, we finally arrived around 8 o’clock.  It was way up high, above Positano, just off the side off the main highway. There was a full moon and the air was cool but not cold – it was just the kind of night you’d expect in a place like Positano and despite my pounding headache from all the hiking, I felt goosebumps as we entered the restaurant.

My goosebumps heightened when I saw something else: a little ball of orange fur. “MARCELLO?!”, I exclaimed. Patricia just looked at me and chortled. There he was. That darn cat.

In case you don’t remember, Marcello was the cat that appeared in the previous tale. He was this lonely little kitten we found during our hike earlier that day. He had followed me halfway down the mountain before I lost him after he hid under a car. Seeing him there again made me think that maybe Marcello and I were meant to be.

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After giving Marcello a few caresses and cheek scratches, we walked onto the covered patio. The restaurant was beautiful. Usually restaurants in Italy are either really old and look like they haven’t been updated since the 60’s (which is probably true) or are overly modern, decked out with cheap IKEA furniture. But this place was elegant and simple. Long wooden tables, white linen table cloths, dim lighting. You could tell that they recently renovated the place, but it wasn’t overly modern or tacky. It was tastefully done and still had that sort of rustic Italian decor that you’d expect but it wasn’t so old that you felt like the owners hadn’t taken care to keep up the place. No it was just right. Martha Stewart herself couldn’t have recreated the atmosphere.

Patricia and Susan immediately recognized one another. When I saw Susan, I felt like I knew her from somewhere. She had the face of a Meg Ryan although her accent was clearly from Chicago. As we greeted each other I immediately felt this sense of familiarity – maybe it was her Americanness or had we met each other before?

We sat down to dinner and I noticed that there were two extra place settings. Before I even had a chance to give it a second thought, a stout Italian man introduced himself to me. “Hi, Marco”, he said as he flashed a charming smile. He wasn’t strikingly handsome, but his charming personality made him seem more so. There was something sly and clever about him and his English was near perfect.

I hadn’t really worked out who he was or why he was dining with us until finally Susan explained that she had stayed at Marco’s B&B near Nocelle two or three times now. They seemed like really good friends but there was also something else between them. A special connection?

Sebastian, who I later learned was a good friend of Marco, joined us shortly after. He was a wine sommelier and had just returned from a trip to Northern Italy where he was picking out some new wines for the B&B.

As we were waiting to order I noticed Marcello. He was going around from table to table begging for food and attention, of course getting loads of it. When I retold the story of Marcello to everyone, Marco informed me that Marcello was well taken care of and that, in fact, he had already eaten a nice fish dinner earlier that night. “What a sneaky little cat!”, I thought to myself. There I was, thinking that Marcello was homeless and starving, when in fact, he’s living the dream here at Il Ritrovo every night. Although I still wanted to take him home with me…

We let Marco select the menu for us and Sebastian, being the wine expert, carefully chose the wines to go with each course. We gave our first toast to Patricia’s birthday, clinking our glasses of Prosecco together. Bubbly and fresh, it warmed me up immediately and I could start to feel my headache fading.

Shortly after, the antipasti arrived: grilled octopus salad, fried blue fish, and bruschetta with some of the freshest, sweet red cherry tomatoes I’ve ever had, particularly in November. The local white wine from Avellino was wonderfully easy to drink.

Already full, the main course arrived: Zuppa di Pesce – a giant pool of mixed fish including mussels, clams, prawns, and white fish swimming in a garlic tomato broth. This was good seafood. I was surprised at its simplicity but as Marco explained, it’s so fresh that it doesn’t need much. Just a few ingredients and fresh parsley.

The second wine, a local red arrived and by this time we were all deep into conversation: American politics, the difference between U.S. and Italian healthcare, Italian wines – the conversation flowed naturally. At one point David and I shared a deep conversation about his conversion to Catholicism. What was happening that allowed us to speak so openly and freely? Susan and Patricia chatted at the other end of the table but occasionally we exchanged a few words and I learned that Susan  was interested in moving to Positano – to set up a tourist business and to work with Marco and Sebastian to organize more food and wine tours in the area.

As we soaked up the flavorful fish broth with homemade croutons and fresh bread, the conversation waned and I could tell that something had disturbed Marco. He went away for a moment but when he returned, the lights suddenly dimmed and a giant sparkling candle was lit. The waiters brought over a cake for Patricia and we all chimed in singing Happy Birthday. At that moment I could see her face light up – getting a surprise birthday treat like that never gets old.

We laughed and suddenly the conversation was reignited. The waiters brought over a tray of homemade liqueurs – flavored with lemon, fennel, carob, licorice and several other flavors that I can’t remember. We tried a few of them as we ate our Torta Caprese – a typical chocolate almond cake from Naples.

positano night

It was just then that Marcello came over to pay us a visit. Susan began to feed him gelato from her fingers and Marcello complied, even though Marco scolded Susan for doing so, telling her that Marcello had already eaten fish from the restaurant earlier and that gelato was not good for him. But Susan just rolled her eyes and kept coddling Marcello.

I didn’t feel so bad for Marcello anymore. I laughed at the fact that only a few hours before Marcello had conned me, pretending to be this desperate lonely kitten while all along, he has been the prince of Il Ritrovo, visiting there everyday for his daily meals and snuggles from the guests.

The night ended with a few hugs and best wishes. We joked, saying “See you this time next year in Positano!”. Although we’ll probably never see each other again, it was nice to feel so connected, even with complete strangers.


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Read more from Tales from Positano:

Tale I: The Driver
Tale II: The Waiter
Tale III: The Path of the Gods
Tale IV: Marcello the Cat

 






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