CONCHIGLIA THE DESTINATION, IL POSTINO THE CONSOLATION

The Conchiglia was a restaurant that was recommended to us on the island of Procida.

An island in the Bay of Naples, Procida is a small speck of land right next to Ischia that is down and out and poor. With buildings falling apart and even its pastel colors fading, the closest place that it would resemble would be a Sicilian town. But it’s precisely these characteristics that steal the show, drawing tourists all and sundry. Films are made here, and it’s as if everything is a theater prop.

I made reservations at the Conchiglia for 7.30 in the evening. I got someone to call one more time from the hotel before we headed out.

“Tonight we’re opening at 8!” they exclaimed.

Not to worry – we would find something to amuse ourselves with around there. The only issue is that the restaurant is some distance away from the Procida harbor, meaning reaching it is no easy task.

“Tell them not to worry – we’ll send a boat to pick them up,” the restaurant informed the hotel employee that called on our behalf. “But we won’t pick them up from the ferry dock but a fisherman’s cove. Make sure they’re there at 8.”

That sounded good to me. We boarded the 5 p.m. ferry from Ischia, arriving on Procida half-an-hour later. We moseyed about the harbor and its environs before heading to the designated fishermen’s cove to wait for the boat. But wait as we might, there was nothing doing. Worried that we’d come to the wrong spot, I queried one of the fishermen there.

Waning hopes

“No, you’re in the right place,” he reassured us. “Conchiglia’s boat is orange and it’ll pull up to the men you see talking over there in front of the Ristorante Il Postino.” As it was, the fishermen’s cove was really small, and we could comfortably survey all the boat traffic from our location. It would be impossible to miss the boat. I called our hotel in Ischia once more to find out what was going on.

After speaking with the restaurant, they informed us that the boat would be there in 20 minutes. Right, then, we would inhale our food to avoid missing the last ferry back, but we were denied even that pleasure!

No one came to pick us up or even provide news. Abandoning our hopes for the Conchiglia, we elected to grab a quick bite to eat at one of the fish restaurants close by in the hopes of avoiding any further delay so that we could catch the last ferry. Duly, we selected the one right in front of where we had been waiting for the boat: Ristorante Il Postino.

I knew that the film “Il Postino: The Postman” had been filmed on Procida. The restaurant appeared to have attempted to capitalize on the name of the emotional film by director Michael Radford about famous poet Pablo Neruda (Philippe Noiret), his postman, Mario (Massimo Troisi), and the latter’s lover, Beatrice (Maria Grazia Cucinotta), but it’s not something that I paid much attention to at first. But after eating out on the pier, what did I find when I went inside to use the facilities? Nothing but the postman’s bag front and center – as well as many pictures from the film. After all, wasn’t this the place where Mario’s love, Beatrice, worked? Wasn’t this the place where the film’s most emotional scenes were filmed? Standing there, the whole film flashed before my eyes once more. It was as if we saw ourselves looking on at the next table as Mario was trying to share his feelings to Beatrice.

The standing of the restaurant suddenly rose in our estimation… In actuality, we had given the fried sardines and grilled skewered calamari a high grade, but after pondering the fact that we had consumed this on the set of a wonderful film, we raised the grade even higher. Soon, there was nary a memory of Conchiglia’s disrespect toward us. On the contrary, we were more than happy that they hadn’t come to pick us up – after all, there’s a silver lining to everything.

As we were perusing the photographs from the film adorning the walls, jogging our memory of the movie in the process, we suddenly realized that we were going to be late for the ferry. We made it back to the harbor as quick as our legs would carry us – only to find the ticket booth closed. “We’re hooped now,” we lamented. Apart from the prospect of the money spent on our comfortable room in Ischia going to waste, I hadn’t even noticed a hotel decent enough to spend the night on Procida.

The bar where Mario tried to share his feelings with Beatrice

Getting the attention of busy people

We looked right and left and spied a young couple engaged in a passionate embrace on a bench. Reluctantly, I distracted them momentarily from their amorous affections. I explained the situation, and inquired as to our possible course of action. The lad, a not particularly bright one, could only offer, “Really, I have no clue.” The girl he was embracing was quieter (although I wouldn’t have expected the girl the idiotic boy was kissing to have been particularly excited about much of anything).

“Don’t worry,” she said. “There’s a tobacconist 100 meters away. They sell ferry tickets; you can get one there.”

“Are you sure?”

“Of course I am, I’m from here!” she announced triumphantly.

The only thing I didn’t do was kiss the girl. We set off at once for the place she indicated. Because I was a 100-meter runner in high school, I’m well acquainted with the distance. To tell the truth, I had no success of note, but at least I know how far 100 meters are! Scanning to the right, we saw that there was no tobacconist; scanning to the left, we saw that there was no tobacconist… We walked a bit further, and I realized the woman had certainly not measured the road in meters! After proceeding about 200 meters, I started to harbor doubts. I inquired in a shop about the tobacconist.

“It’s just a bit ahead to the right,” came the reply.

At least we were on the right path! We continued at pace, but despite keeping an eagle eye out, there was neither a tobacconist’s nor a liquor shop. After putting about 500 meters between ourselves and the pier, we asked another shopkeeper. An elderly man took pity on our plight and said, “Come, I’ll show you.” Leading us, he showed us the promised shop.

We entered, all in a fluster.

“Two tickets to Ischia, please!”

The man shot my face a glare. After indicating his shop’s sign, he pronounced: “We sell cigarettes, not ferry tickets.”

“But they told us you did!” we cried.

“Who did?”

“A girl.”

“Which girl?”

“A girl that was making out!”

“Mamma mia… Do they already know this much about making out?”

Anyways, the fatherly figure reassured us: “Don’t worry.” He held out a cigarette, offering a couple of drags to ease our worries.

The pastel colors of Procida

“No thanks, we don’t smoke,” we said.

He shot a condescending glance that suggested “What on earth are you doing in a tobacconist’s if you don’t smoke?” but then said the magic words.

“The ticket booth will open soon. They’re kind of slackers, but go back and you’ll see!”

I considered hugging and kissing the man, but with no time remaining, we ran back the 500 meters we had traversed and, lo and behold, the ticket booth really had opened. There were just a few minutes until the sailing, but we secured our tickets and boarded as the last passengers!

We finally relaxed when we got onto the deck and felt the breeze from the Bay of Naples on our faces.

I certainly wouldn’t have been able to turn down a smoke if someone had offered it though…