It's been years since I worked in a restaurant. I did a brief stint in college, but was in constant fear that my clumsiness would result in serious wine spillage or a plate of something messy in somebody's lap. During my sojourn in Lucanella I was called out of waitress retirement to aid my friends.
Peppe and Giovanna, the owners of the agriturismo, had been booked up for weeks with First Communion parties. They were expecting two groups on the one Sunday afternoon, with a total of about 80 guests. Now, I have few memories of my own First Communion; I know I wore a white dress, and my nana gave me a rosary with crystal beads that looked like diamonds to my six-or seven-year old eyes. We went to lunch at my uncle's restaurant - my parents, siblings and grandparents- but that was about it. In Italy, it is just a little bit more of a Big-Deal event. We're talking six antipasti, two different pasta courses, a meat course and several vegetables, to be rounded off with several desserts and then a gigantic, decorated First Communion cake. We're talking sit-down-and-stay-down for four hours kind of meal. For about 80 guests in a small rural, family-owned restaurant.
They had it all carefully planned and ready to go, had called in the ragazzi that they normally hire for this type of special meal, and began setting up the tables the evening before. Then Peppe wrenched his back and went into painful spasms. Unable to move without serious pain, I jumped in and helped finish the set-up and decorating. The following morning he was no better; he was clearly unable to perform his normal functions and fretting about what to do, but declined my offers of help while Giovanna chirped adamantly that he would be fine.
He wouldn't be fine, that was evident, so I marched to my room, changed into "waitress attire" and showed up when the ragazzi did, and starting carrying out wine bottles, bread baskets and antipasti plates, without giving my friends a chance to object. Fortunately it was a set menu so no order-taking was involved and things hummed along sort of like clock-work. I ran miles between the kitchen and the dining room, rekindling those dim memories of previous waitress duty and how fatiguing it was.
Peppe, ever clever, played the excellent host, but took on a whale of a joke and told the party in my dining room that I was a famous American giornalista who was writing an article about Italian culinary habits. He had them completely convinced that I was studying their table manners and interactions and was analyzing what and how they ate. Every time I entered the room the whole party would turn and smile at me self-consciously. If I was scanning the table-top to see if wine bottles needed refreshing, they would look around them to see what I might be sizing up about their gluttony. Meanwhile, Peppe dead-panned his joke to the very end, and one of the patrons even asked if I would like him to send me the photos he had taken throughout the meal! The joke served to cover Peppe's fears that I would be a less-than-stellar waitress, and explained the two knives that I accidently dropped to clank heavily on the stone floors, "Mah, she's not bad for a giornalista who is not a real cameriera (waitress)" they said as they excused my clumsiness.
At the end of the meal they were very sweet, but more importantly I was able to pitch in and help my friends. They were grateful. The next morning in the village a woman came up to talk to me, saying, "Sei Valerie? I'm Rocco's mamma, he told me about your hard work with them yesterday!" Word spread from there and suddenly people were questioning, "She's a cameriera? But I thought she was a giornalista!" For a day at least, I was both.