Maybe it’s the English-accented Italian, or our clothes. Maybe it’s that we’ve turned up somewhere between 9 and 9.30. Maybe it’s just the fact that they’ve never seen us before and put two and two together, but as soon as we walk in to the restaurant, we’re greeted with beaming smiles and, oh, you must be Alice! From every single waiter. It’s a little unnerving, but rather nice. Tonight, Matthew, I’m going to be (in)famous …
The Wife (flatmate) and I are testing out Bleu de Toi. It’s a fish restaurant in Scilla, which is a pretty little town to which I’ve never been before. In what’s fast becoming a common theme, we get lost on our way there, winding our way through ever narrower cobbled streets in our battered little car. After ten minutes of driving round in circles, Alice whoops loudly, causing me to swerve into a pothole. ‘Bleu de Toi – 500m!’ We pull in and climb out of the car, watched by a dog which is the absolute spit of Sam the Shapeshifter in True Blood. We walk towards him and he gazes beadily, but doesn’t move his position an inch. The restaurant isn’t up his road, though, so we turn back and try another one. Once again it’s clear that we’ve gone wrong so we decide to ask someone. ‘But not *those* guys’, mutters Alice. We pick up the pace a little as we walk past three black-leather-clad Calabrian men in their mid-20s, their stares boring into our backs as we go. There’s a pair of much friendlier-looking men outside the cafe further on, and we ask them instead. Why yes, of course we know where Bleu de Toi is! Just down there. You see that tunnel which looks like it goes nowhere? Go through it! It’s the port down there. Yes, we know it doesn’t look like that, but we promise it is. Park up on the right, and Bleu de Toi’s on the left. Honest! Do you fancy ice cream and aperitivi before you go …? We beat a hasty retreat to the car before we’re drawn into gelato gluttony. Frozen dairy is all very well, but tonight is meant to be all about the seafood.
True to their directions, the forbidding-looking tunnel at the end of the road does, in fact, lead to the port. There are men fishing off the quay, and cobbled streets wind up the hill from the car park. We follow the chattering group of Italians in front of us, who are heading home for the evening, laden with plastic bags of shopping. They peel off and into to their houses one by one, until it’s just Alice and me left walking along what seems to be a very residential street. Can this really be right? There’s nowhere else we could have gone from the port, so it must be, but it doesn’t look promising right at this moment. Every so often a set of steps takes a sharp drop down to the sea on our left, but they’re not for anyone but the people that live in the houses below. We round a corner and the alley opens up into a tiny little square, with a mermaid in a fountain to one side of it. She’s surrounded by ferns and seems to be glowing in the moonlight. Could this place possibly be any more gorgeous?
Just as we’re giving up hope of ever finding our destination, we spot a blue sign up ahead of us. The title isn’t visible from this distance, but, given the name of the restaurant, a blue sign on this street seems like an odds-on bet. Alice chuckles beside me, pointing out the white Vespa parked opposite the entrance, tucked into an ivy-clad nook, framed by cobbled streets and stone walls, and washed with light spilling out of the open door to the restaurant. Picture postcards be damned: this is real life, and it’s beautiful.
Ah, you must be Alice …!
We’re led to a table right next to the fish tank, which is crammed with three enormous rock lobsters, along with various fish. At the point we arrive, all is quiet in Tankville, but as the evening wears on there’s all kinds of intrigue. The biggest lobster makes a move from his end of the tank towards another, smaller, one, but is brusquely repelled. Shamefaced, he backs away, but his exit is marred as he trips over a hermit crab. Damn! Embarrassed, he curls his tail tightly beneath him and drops his (very impressive) antennae until he stops blushing. Meanwhile, a hitherto unnoticed European lobster, far smaller than the rock lobsters, but with claws almost as big as his body, crawls out from underneath the victorious rock lobster. He’s not a happy crustacean. His tightly-bound pincers seem to be weighing him down, and he’s got himself wedged into a corner behind the outflow. Every way he turns, he gets himself stuck. Curling into a miserable ball, he gives up and plays dead.
The rock lobsters, meanwhile, have decided to join forces up at the far end of the tank. Their own infighting forgotten, there appears to be a war of attrition going on between them and the sad one with big claws. There’s a large fish acting as an intermediary, flitting from one end of the tank to another. He’s playing a dangerous game, and keeps on getting himself trodden on. Right, the general says – OWWWWWW! No. Um. No, that’s not what he said. Um – would you mind awfully moving your leg, old bean? You’re standing on my tail. That’s better. Now, as I was saying …
Alice and I are so engrossed in the War of the Lobsters that we’re unaware that we ourselves are being watched. A man in his early 40s has passed by the table a few times, but as we’re near the exit to the smokers’ deck outside, we haven’t thought much of it. Until he comes over and starts talking to us. Sigh. His English isn’t too dreadful, but the crustaceans are far more interesting. He invites us out with him and his friends. I can’t see them, as I have my back to the room, but Alice rolls her eyes at me and indicates that they’re not much cop. We murmur vague platitudes and commit to nothing. He weaves back to his friends, wine glass in hand, and we breathe a sigh of relief. Five minutes later, however, he’s back. And this time, he’s got a note. ‘For you.’ He grins at Alice and hands it over. He’s clearly itching for her to open it up and read it, so she does, albeit somewhat reluctantly. In it is written the address of the place to where they’re going later, along with his phone number. Oh, and a little addendum at the bottom. ‘We are waiting for you! Take care of you.’ Is this is an invitation or a threat? Who knows. Again we smile and say maybe, and he disappears, apparently satisfied.
But no! He’s back again. This time he has a paper plane, which he flies around the table. Where will it end up? Oh, this one’s for me. Deep joy. On it is written ‘I would like to fly with you.’ It becomes apparent that this was written by Francesco (for this is his name) on behalf of his mate Emilio. Who is about 5 foot nothing and wears bottle-top glasses. Oh. Sweet. Lord. Can this get any more cringeworthy? Well, of course that’s a rhetorical question. The next note is in Italian. Something about raining on you, only so that I can dry you. Sounds a bit pervy to me. It turns out that it’s a song lyric, but it’s hilariously awful out of context. We’re running out of evasive tactics and it’s getting perilously close to us having to actually go out with these guys. We’ve already paid the bill – and they’re aware of this fact. There’s a moment of terror when they appear to be waiting for us to follow them, but we circumvent this by rifling around in handbags and talking loudly in English. They file up the stairs and out of the restaurant. We, however, are now left in indecision. Are they waiting to ambush us at the top of the stairs? To be on the safe side, we sit at the table for another ten minutes. There’s no accounting for Italian persistence, but surely that’s enough time for them to have got bored and moved on without us? We creep up the stairs and peek out of the door.
We giggle all the way home.
Image by Kate Bailward