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31.08.2017. Le Sirenuse
Born: Praiano, 22 November 1960
Job: Maître, La Sponda restaurant, Le Sirenuse
Languages: Italian, English, French, Spanish, some German
Family: Married for the last thirty years (his wife is Argentinian; they met in Mar de Plata). Has two sons, one at high school, the other a law student.
Hobbies: Writing poetry, fishing, and cultivating his orto or kitchen garden.
I started working in hotels when I was 13, in a little local guest house. I learnt the trade at places near home like the Tritone and the San Pietro, then in Montreux, Switzerland. I was still only 21 when I came back to the Amalfi Coast to work at Le Sirenuse. I got to know the previous generation, the four siblings who had turned their home into a hotel in the 1950s: Aldo, Paolo, Anna and Franco. They were like characters from an Edoardo De Filippo play, marvelous old-fashioned Neapolitan aristocrats. One thing I remember clearly about marchese Aldo: he was very superstitious. He used to ‘toccare ferro’ the whole time [editor’s note: Italians touch iron, not wood, when saying something that courts fate]. So I took my place in line and worked my way up. I was chef de rang, sommelier, second maître. When I became maître, Antonio Sersale had just taken over as hotel manager from his father, signor Franco. I’ve learned a lot from him.
I don’t have fixed hours, I keep an eye on the restaurant all through the day, at breakfast, lunch and dinner. I’ll answer letters and emails, help with bookings, serve wine if Cristian, the sommelier, is rushed off his feet, as I trained as a sommelier too. I’ll do whatever needs doing.
I’ve been writing poetry for quite a few years now. Most of them are in Neapolitan dialect. I’ll sometimes recite one when a guest asks; in the evening, I also get roped into singing traditional songs by our guitarist and mandolin player. Sometimes poems come to me at night. If my phone’s by my bed, I’ll write it down quickly on that, then tidy it up in the morning. I like to find photos to go with the poems when I post them on Facebook or Instagram (@upoeta). Maybe my poetic vein has something to do with where I live. It’s up 200 steps in the part of Praiano called Capo Vettica, but the view is unbelievable. Every day you wake up and see Positano, Li Galli, Capri, and it’s never the same, the light changes constantly. It’s good for the soul, living in a place like this. I went into my orto the other day to pull up some broccoli that had gone to seed, And there were seven or eight caterpillar couples making love on the plants. I wrote a poem about them there and then. It was only recently that an old resident of Praiano who had found out about my verses told me something I didn’t know: “You’re just like your great grandfather, he was a poet too”.
Passion, and spontaneity. Having a team behind you that you can rely on – sometimes it’s all about the right people in the right place, that’s what makes the difference. And paying attention. Even when I’m singing a Neapolitan song amidst the tables with Franco and Andrea, the musicians, I never stop observing what’s happening in the restaurant. You can see it in a guest’s eyes if something’s not right. Then, when you make someone’s day, it’s great. An American couple came here for lunch the other day by speedboat from Naples. They stayed for around four hours, and they were full of compliments on the food, the service, the view, the ambience. “It’s lovely now”, I told them, “but you should see it in the evening when all the candles are lit, it’s magical”. They went back to the Hotel Vesuvius in Naples, showered, changed, and got back in the boat again. At 9 o’clock they walked back in with a “Hi Vincenzo! We’re here”. I had no idea they were coming back. Just as well that one of the best tables had just freed up! It’s experiences like that that make it all worthwhile.
di Vincenzo Galani
Quante fantasie attorno a te
Parole grosse ed eleganti ppè te vulè
A me nun me importano tutt' sti cose
Frisco, tannico, o ch' sapè e rose
Io ti voglio comm' si fatto
Senza imbruoglio.. accumpagnan sto piatto
by Vincenzo Galani
How much embroidery surrounds you
How many big, fancy words
None of that matters to me
Fresh, tannic, or rose-scented
With this dish I want you without tricks
Just as you are
photos © Roberto Salomone