Sunday, July 17, 2011

Scene: Dining room, Grand Hotel Victoria, Menaggio, Lake Como

I'm upstairs and have just transcribed what transpired at dinner earlier this drama, yet full of sounds, smells, and moments which lent lovely texture to my experience.

The old but gorgeous and very grand hotel, with walls over two feet thick, is currently host to a small but loud wedding, which I find odd since this is a Wednesday. The wedding vehicle is, surprisingly, a tiny Ford Fiesta, adorned with nothing but a small white bouquet on its modest nose. I follow the hostess through the elegant bar—it really should be featured in a movieback to the far dining room, hoping the quality of the karaoke emanating from the adjoining terrace quickly improves.

I barely sit before I am brought a piece of bread—not a basket but a single roll, so as not to spoil my dinner—and sweet butter. I summon my most polite and proper tables manners and look around discreetly as I break open my bread and ready it for butter. To my left, there’s a squat, silent couple in their 50s who throughout their meal fail to say even ten words to one another; I eventually discern they are British country folk, she desperate for them to fit into the posh scene. Their discomfort, especially his, seems to cause physical pain, and their silence contrasts sharply with the two German couples to my right, running through bottles of rosé.

Ahead are an Italian threesome who seem to be having a business meeting, though there seems to be too little talking for much to be accomplished. Behind me is a table with an unknown number of people of unknown origin—so softly do they speak I’m barely conscious of their presence, though my dinner is delicious enough to distract me from many things. A young, gorgeous, monied couple fight in the corner: She is sleek and angry and silent, and he in his mustard-colored linen suit is doing his best to make her laugh.

In the corner, nearest the terrace and dreadful singing, is an old man, probably 85, slowly making his way, alone, through a three-course meal. After dessert, he begins to check his watch every thirty seconds or so, compulsively. His bright pumpkin sweater contrasts with the lemony yellow dining room walls. He finally arises. He wears a thin gold band, and I wonder about his wife as he walks, not as steady as I sense he used to but with the same air of confidence, past me and out with the server, who banters with him in playful familiarity.

At this point, I've run out of excuses to stay and watch the German couples and the fighting young couple and rise, reminding myself to move quickly before the nearly gelato stand, serving a dark chocolate flavor so creamy a cone cannot contain it, closes for the evening. That texture is a fine one on which to end my evening. I fear my hotel room upstairs will seem dull and flat when I return.

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