Magazine article The Spectator

Real Life

Magazine article The Spectator

Real Life

Article excerpt

'Piccolo problemo.' Luigi, the hotel manager, delivered the fateful news as he served me my first lemon soda of the holiday on his sundrenched terrace. Francesco, an old flame, had discovered that my mother and I were booked in at the hotel this week and had rung to inquire about the date of our arrival.

'I say maybe you come this week, maybe next, I don't know, ' said Luigi, smiling enigmatically. He never approved of my liaison with a local. It was several years ago now.

My family had been regular visitors to the small Italian resort for a long time when, one summer, after calling off my wedding and other rushes of blood to the head, I started dating Francesco, a waiter from a nearby town with no very astonishing prospects.

Luigi locked me out of the hotel when I was late back after my first night out with him. He was right, of course.

A few weeks later, Francesco pitched up in London and demanded all the usual stuff that young, penniless southern Italian boys from the sticks demand in these circumstances, which is to say accommodation in my flat, introductions to all the influential people I might know, a crammer course in English, and a generous weekly allowance so that he wouldn't have to keep asking me for money every time he went to the shop to buy cigarettes, as this was tiresome - to him.

This went on for a few months until yours truly got her act together and packed the Italian stallion back to Naples on a one-way ticket.

The first summer after that, my mother and I were unable to come to our little retreat on the Cilento coast because I was understandably terrified I would run into him.

The year after that, when we did come back, Luigi was in a very strange mood and kept looking me up and down as if to say, 'You're dead to me now.'

I should explain, Luigi is rather capricious.

When he is in a good mood, he is as affable as Silvio Berlusconi at a bunga bunga party.

In a bad mood, he is Italy's answer to Basil Fawlty.

His hotel is idyllic, perching in the hills above a bay. But my mother and I have been going there for more years than can be explained by the commodiousness of the rooms, or the tranquillity of the location. We go there for the entertainment. …

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