I’ve received a standing ovation in New York. True story.
It’s a girls’ night out. We’re all dressed up with no place to go – it’s only 9pm and the club we’re heading for doesn’t open until midnight. What to do? This is Italy: go out for a meal, of course. We hop into the car and head for a town in between ours and the club. It’s a little place on the coast, with restaurants along the seafront. Carly has a place in mind, but Megan has other ideas. She’s already had pizza four times this week, but announces that she *absolutely* needs another one. When we then spot a parking place right in front of the pizza restaurant, it seems that the decision is made. We park up and totter out of the car in our dresses and high heels.
The restaurant is heaving. At the far end there’s a large, noisy gathering of pre-teens. In contrast to our dressiness, they’re all in the Italian teenager’s uniform of converse hi-tops, blingy jeans and shiny, padded jackets. Similar to us, however, they’re having a great night and are yelling gleefully across the table at each other at top volume. The only available table is right next to them, which means walking the metaphorical green mile of judgment. In a minidress and black, suede, over-the-knee platform boots. The things I do for pizza.
Having made it safely to the table without attracting any actual comment (although the stares spoke volumes), we get on with the serious business of ordering food. Or we attempt to. Try as we might we can’t get the waitresses to come to talk to us. Finally, the solitary waiter swaggers over with a cheeky wink and takes a seat at the head of our table. What can I get you, ladies? We order pizzas and then move on to the serious business of alcohol. I’m the designated driver for the evening, so order Fanta, but the girls want wine. Problem: they only sell beer here. The girls are crestfallen. Our waiter pipes up. I might be able to get you some. Hold on … A quick phonecall later, he grins at us. I’ll be back in five minutes. Pulling on a coat over his uniform, he races off to another restaurant down the road to grab a bottle for us. For all the disadvantages of being a woman in southern Italy, there are some definite perks.
Our pizzas arrive. The pre-teens leave. There’s football on the telly and conversation around the table. I glance up at the TV, in idle curiosity about the football score, then grab Liv’s arm with a shriek of excitement. The football is being replaced by karaoke. KARAOKE. I may not be able to drink alcohol tonight, but the adrenaline rush of performing will be better than any wine. We still have an hour before we need to leave for the club, and it looks like we’ve just found the perfect way to kill time. The genial owner of the restaurant saunters over to us with a couple of microphones. We explain that we’re English and ask what they have on the system that we could actually sing, and he rustles up a booklet for us. It’s not quite what we expected: the English singers and bands are listed, but not which of their songs are on the discs. It’s a bit of a guessing game, but Liv and I kick off the proceedings with a rendition of Hotel California. This garners some polite applause, but doesn’t light any fires. We need to do better. Liv mutters in my ear, gesturing towards the table next to us. Is that a girl or a boy? I follow her eyes and snort with laughter. I actually have no idea … Five minutes later we realise that she’s a girl, and has a bloody good voice on her. She belts her way through a few Gianna Nannini numbers over the course of the evening. We whoop in appreciation, waking the restaurant up and really getting the party started. The microphones are now being passed around with alacrity, and people are becoming braver about singing. Nobody’s moved from their tables to do so yet, though: the microphones are wireless, so the singers stay seated.
Our host comes to our table, asking what we want to sing next. Well, actually, we need to go in about five minutes. He’s having none of it. OK, well sing something before you go. What do you want? Everyone looks at me and Carly grins. It has to be Whitney … The host heads back to the DJ desk to cue it up. A minute later, he starts waving frantically at me to join him. I head over and he gestures towards the screen, where all the Whitney tracks they have are listed. I scan the names and smile. That one. Definitely.He nods appreciatively and hands me the microphone. The music starts as I’m still heading back to the table. I start to sing as I walk.
For the next four minutes, I am again the singer that I once was, and who I still miss. I shimmy my way through the restaurant in an outfit which no longer feels inappropriate, belting out a song that 90% of the people in the audience don’t understand. It doesn’t matter, though. When I hit the high notes at the end, there’s a moment of silence and then the entire restaurant are on their feet, cheering. ‘Gianna’ comes over and shakes all of us by the hand, and the host can’t stop smiling as he elicits another round of applause. Brava!
We leave on cloud nine and, in a perfect icing-on-the-cake moment, as we cross the street I glance back and see the name of the restaurant, in glowing neon lights: New York.