Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Michelin Rated Mandolin Rock!

When my wife and I visited Italy in 2012 we had lunch at a restaurant called L' Antica Trattoria in Sorrento. We loved it. My wife remembered her meal and I, well, the beer and wine. Upon revisiting Sorrento in 2014 we attempted to recapture the magic. But let me back up…

During the day we were commenting on how we'd met so many great people; both travelers as well as locals during our trip and that for both of us meeting new people is probably what we love most about traveling. My wife said, "I'd love to meet a fun couple this afternoon then go to dinner with them tonight at 'our' restaurant." I agreed and told her that I had a good feeling about that possibility becoming a reality.

As it turned out my psychic meter was a tad off; we didn't meet anyone as we strolled, browsed and ate gelato. C'est la vie, we were in Italy. We booked our reservation for Antica thus, all was good. We chose to dine inside the restaurant as the rain had been coming and going throughout the day. Ain't no way was I about to enjoy a fine Italian red only to have it watered down by Sorrento's sweet showers.

The interior reminded me of a British tea house but with Italian trimmings. The table cloths were white linen while the stemware, flatware, and cutlery appeared to be high end. The waiters all wore matching black suits differentiated only by chosen tie color. This place was swank if not posh…or swanky-posh as I call it. It's the kind of place that when I walk in I'm always ready for that gentle tap on the shoulder which will be followed by, "Ah, excuse me sir but how did you get in here?"

Happily, the shoulder tap never came. We sat not far from another couple and two tables over was a third couple. Each could not have whispered any more quietly if they tried. We selected our food, chose the wine and settled in for a nice QUIET evening. I'm not opposed to quiet dinners and believe me I'm not looking for a sports bar but this joint didn't even have Chopin or Bach sneaking through their speakers. A church mouse would have said, "Ha! call me a church mouse, are your hearts even beating?"
Vivere con passione

"Well this is slightly different from the night you described honey--the one where we meet the rocking couple and have a raucous time loaded with merriment," I said. She agreed. And then I heard it. Music. Distant music. Floating. A mandolin if I wasn't mistaken.

Then from another section of the restaurant popped a friendly little gent pluckin' and-a-strummin' on a mandolin. I smiled like a kid on christmas morning. Music! He caught my dumb grin and meandered over. After he finished out his tune my wife and I applauded at a volume that the British couple at table one and Spanish couple at table three no doubt thought 'Ah, Americans'. I also cheered and said bravo a half dozen times. Clearly I was brining the posh level down a notch...or two. Right away Vincenzo the mandolin player introduced himself and thanked us. He then said,  "So you are a musician what do you play?"

I guess we muzos just recognize each other that way. We chatted briefly before he launched into a Beatles song; name escapes me. He encouraged me to sing along (with the few lyrics I could remember) and at the close came over and chatted some more. With song 3 done he moved back into the depths of the restaurant. A few waiters came by with smiles and nods. One even complemented me on my singing…however he laughed as he said it. Fifteen minutes later Vincenzo returned and bee- lined for my wife and I. We sang, laughed, tipped Vincenzo heavily and somewhere in there the johnny-on-the-spot waiters managed to stealthily top up our wine glasses.

One part mandolin; one part percussion X parts wine=Good times!
By this time the other tables chuckled along and even applauded…sort of. The waiters loved it. No doubt this was a night far from the norm for the friendly camerieri (waiters). At one point the manager walked by and gave Vincenzo the thumbs down. Oh, oh! Party's over.  I felt like the high school student busted by the Principal for skipping class (to sing along with a mandolin player). Vincenzo laughed and assured us that his boss always gave him a hard time. Lucky for us this was true. The manager continued to walk by and yawn, toss the thumbs down, roll his eyes and throw out insults at Vincenzo. (And nothing sounds more musical than an Italian insult, baby). Different couples came and went. Vincenzo rocked the classics like: Ave Maria and The Godfather theme but also shredded through many western songs. An hour into the evening two twenty-something spanish lasses got out their phones and videotaped us. I say us because by this time the staff who discovered that I play drums brought me two pens for sticks and turned over our metal water chiller and instructed me to play.

Vincenzo stumbled into 'Something' by the Beatles which is a tune I love. He made me sing. Miraculously the majority of the lyrics came to mind. We took turns botching parts but forged ahead and made it through to the finish line. The big applause from the staff and patrons was a total shock. Perhaps the wine was flowing for everybody that night. I should mention that the food was absolutely out of this world. (I'd hate for you to think I was only there for the wine and mandolin melodies)

We carried on throughout the night in much the same way. It turned out that Vincenzo was from the same region as my wife's parents. He was truly one of the nicest guys you'd ever want to meet. And he's definitely the coolest mandolin player we've ever met. As we strolled back to our hotel we laughed at the memory. As Sorrento's crisp night air caressed our faces I said, "Well we didn't meet that rockin' couple but I'd say we kinda rocked the place."
My wife and I with the manager. We're dressed differently because we went back to the restaurant two days later

"What!?" My wife blasted. "Are you kidding me? Sweetie, that is a Michelin Star rated restaurant. You found a little mandolin player and completely rocked that place! I guarantee that place has never rocked like that!"

"Honey, when you put it in those terms I believe you have a point."I paused. "Say maybe we should get a mandolin for the house!"

Note: If ever you're in Sorrento go check this place. You'll be glad you did. See link below...

Monday, May 12, 2014

Good Morning Sorrento!

Corso Italia
My wife and I were 2/3 of the way through our Italian adventure and discovered without a doubt we
needed to do laundry. The day prior we found a laundromat, sussed it out and formed a plan. Our fast broken we hefted our two load laundry bag and hit the ground walking down Sorrento's Corso Italia. If not for our pathetic plastic bag from some unknown clothing store we'd have looked like locals. Alas, we looked like tourists that stay in a half decent hotel and are too cheap to use the hotel's laundry service.

Before leaving the hotel I attempted to break my 100 euro piece of paper at the front desk. The concierge broke it in half saying that was the best he could do being that it was so early in the morning. Fine, I thought, who can't break a 50…right?

When my wife and I arrived at the laundromat's front door we were near ecstatic to find we'd have the place to ourselves--no waiting. A second later we found the door was locked. Suddenly the laundry bag felt twenty pounds heavier. We did the dummy-toruist's stare for about thirty seconds before I found a button to the right of the door.

"What does this do?" I asked without waiting for my wife to answer and pushed. Voila! the door unlocked. After putting our heads together we decided that my wife would hang with the clothes and read while I hiked the streets in search of change. (Good times ahead as not even half of the businesses were open). I found a cafe and ordered an espresso and said a polite buon giorno to my espresso mates on either side of me. My plan was brilliant…until it came time to pay. I sheepishly slide my 50 euro piece across the bar. Not only did the Coffee-Keep refrain from touching the bill he practically recoiled as if it were a lethal snake.

"Non!," he said. "Espresso is only one euro!"

"Ok," I said and pretended to search my pockets for change (which I knew did not exist). After ten seconds I worked a distressed expression on my face.

"Mi dispiace (I'm sorry) solo (only) 50 euro," I said. (Yes, my Italian kicks ass).

"Ok, come back later when you have change," he said and dismissed me. He then spoke to my espresso mates in rapid Italian and they nodded in agreement. Geez, I wonder who they were talking about? I made my exit with all of the pride I could muster. Back on the street I found a souvenir shop. The store owner nearly talked me into a 30 euro kangol style hat. But I thought it too expensive a way to gain the 8 euros I needed to wash our clothes. The proprietor seemed genuinely sad to see me leave.

I was on a mission and so far had produced diddley. I needed a plan B. On the opposite side of the street an Irish bar's bright 'open' sign jumped out at me. I sighed heavily as it was only 10 am but I was running out of time.

The manager greeted me with a big smile. I considered my espresso trick but remembered my recent experience. Ah ha! I had it.

10 am baby!
"Could I have an espresso con (with) Sambuca per favore? (please). His english was excellent which is why I used limited Italian..that and my Italian was limited.

"Oh, you want to get drunk,ok!" he boomed in his Anthony Quinn like voice luckily nobody heard it but me as I was the sole patron. I should also point out that most of the chairs were still up on the tables. All I could do was smile and say 'heh heh' because I couldn't reveal my evil plot to rid him of 8 euros of laundry change. He flashed a big smile before turning around to fix my drink(s). The espresso smelled magnificent and the sambuca was 3 ounces. I repeat, the Barkeep fed me 3 massive ounces of the licorice liquor…at 10 am.

"Here you go my friend, now you can get drunk," he boomed, again.

"Grazie," I thanked him.

As he opened up the place he wanted to chat. Who was I to disappoint, the kind gentleman graciously over-served me after all. It was too early to work through the thick syrupy drink quickly plus I didn't want to appear rude. We talked about his business and my vacation for the next little while until the moment of truth arrived. I paid my bill.

"Oh buddy I don't know about this I've just opened."

No way could I take another hit of the sambuca, but if need be I was prepared to force a beer down. I seriously hoped it wouldn't come to that. The longer I stayed in the bar the longer my wife sat with our (still) dirty clothes and who wants to explain to one's wife that the reason they're running late is that they stopped by a bar for 10 am.

Luckily for me the friendly Barkeep made change. I tipped handsomely then high-tailed it to the laundromat.

"Hi honey I'm wired from espresso and  buzzed from sambuca, but…I'm home. Would you mind starting the laundry? I've got an errand to run."

"Where are you going?"

"To pay my debt. It's 10:14 am and I owe money in this town."

"Wow, it's not even noon yet."

I wasn't sure if my wife was referring to the fact that I owed money in town so early or that I was already buzzed before noon--perhaps it was both. Either way I returned to espresso number 1 and paid for my espresso. My former mates were still there. Everybody smiled once I laid down the appropriate euros plus tip. Somehow I think someone among them lost a bet. Regardless, the debt was paid and this tourist could still show his face in beautiful Sorrento.

As you read this you may be thinking that I'm a rummy or a wino but I disagree. I'm merely a guy that when given a task gets the job done. Even if it means tackling the job one painful yet delicious ounce at a time!