"Italy won by blocking England’s last attempt and the Pescatore exploded and its staff collapsed on us, smothering us in hugs and kisses."
Arriving in Napoli before noon, we were underway by two and anchored off the isle of Ischia, terraced and quaint, by four. The Mediterranean air a perfect 80. The water an equally perfect 75.
The bay fronting the small hillside town of Sant Angelo was alive with Italians curating perfect tans on million dollar motor yachts and house wide catamarans. Our 48 foot sailboat an outlier.
We dinghied into town before sunset, tried to get a table at the blue-awning’d restaurant Pescatore but were denied by a catlike Sri Lankan.
“No tables. Full.”
Not one table was full but we skulked off without making a scene to the nearby yellow-awning’d bar and ordered vodka sodas.
After a few, jet-lag spinning, hunger took hold and we wandered around the miniature streets looking for a better dining option but Pescatore was clearly the spot and I had to try once more.
This time an older Italian manager looked me in the eye. I looked in his. There was some odd frisson of understanding and he had table brought over and set up overlooking the patio with a perfect view of a movie screen that had just been hoisted. He explained the menu for the night was prix fixe and all of a sudden it made sense.
The Euro Cup Finals between Italy and England set to air at nine in the evening.
Waiters bustled around dressing the tables with finery, managers overseeing their work barking orders. The Sri Lankan pounced by prix fixing us with a playful sneer.
At eight, perfectly tanned and now coifed Italians began filling in. By eight-thirty the patio was packed. The waiters were now at a furious pace, the managers sweating rivulets and running to and from the kitchen.
Children dressed in team Italian blue, faces painted red, white and green, marched around blowing horns.
After we had landed in Rome, the people seemed listless, like they had lost their love of soccer. I even wondered if sport was officially dead but now I realized it was just too early in the morning to be excited about anything at all and also too hot.
Everything in Sant Angelo’s warm evening was alive and tense and alive.
The manager who had seated us came by right as the game was starting. We looked each other in the eye, again, and suddenly I knew what the odd frisson of understanding was.
As long as we stayed at this table, Italy would win.
Without a word he nodded then I nodded then a bottle of Beluga was brought to our table in a bucket of ice.
England scored almost right away and the crowd groaned a sick groan. Heads thrown back, hands gesticulating, tables pounded in frustration. It was a dominant goal and England, in white, looked proud and dominant but I knew it didn’t matter. Knew like I’ve never known anything that those proud hearts were on a collision course with disaster.
The manager knew too and said, “My wife told me Italy would win 2 -1.”
I responded, “I don’t know about the 2 – 1, but they will definitely win.”
He nodded while placing our first course, anchovy, octopus and tuna crudo, on the table.
Another manager brought me a sort of powered horn. “Press this when we do good,” he said pointing to some odd pump mechanism.”
The game continued, ball moving from side to side, up and down. Italy looked disorganized and frantic, missing clear opportunities, not passing crisply. England looked strong but could not put the ball into the back of the net again.
The crowd on extreme edge as halftime came with the second course, a stuffed pasta.
England still 1.
Italy still 0.
The manager stood near our table as analysts analyzed on the movie screen. Many slow motion clips of England’s goal but more of Italy’s blunders.
An Italian woman in a calf length Gucci wrap dress walked by and flared, stopping to say, “Where are you from? English?”
“California,” I answered but that was unsatisfactory too.
The Sri Lankan skipped by, elbowing me, whispering, “I’m for England”
I punched him in the shoulder.
The main, a white fish in lemon, was brought and I noticed ours arrived before anyone else’s with special care. More waiters were hovering around our table now, both managers too, all feeling that frisson of understanding for themselves. Knowing we were tied to the fate of their Italy.
And, like that, their Italy scored.
It was a messy ricochet but a score nevertheless and the patio exploded while I smashed my power horns pump
A bottle of Belvedere was brought to our table in a bucket of ice but this time the ice had glowing cubes in it.
The game, now knotted, had entered gridlock. Neither England nor Italy could gain the advantage and the crowd’s elation returned to pure tension.
Back and forth.
Back and forth.
Nothing and regulation time ended.
More analyzers analyzing on the movie screen but this time the slow motion clips were all Italy.
The first overtime began with the players looking exhausted. We were exhausted too having been awake for well over 30 hours now, traveling from home to Rome to Napoli, setting up the yacht and sailing to Ischia but had to hang on.
If we left, Italy would lose, our dinghy would get sunk and our anchor cut by the woman in the Gucci dress so we did the only thing we could and ordered double espressos.
Both managers, now in charge of us exclusively, snapped and yelled. They came within minutes.
The first overtime ended with no score.
Analyzers analyzed. The crowd restless and nervous and tense and gesticulating and swelled. A verge of tears everywhere.
The second overtime began with players looking crazed and us feeling crazed and the crowd near insanity.
It, too, ended with no score.
Penalty kicks to end a soccer game is one of the sweetest tortures in all sport. The entire universe resting on one foot and one goalie.
The crowd ready to implode and I wished that could hug them all and tell them it would be ok, that we had not left, mustering every ounce of our fortitude, and therefore Italy would win and therefore I would hug them all soon but that would also rob them of that sweetest torture.
Both managers, most waiters, the entire cooking crew, having abandoned the kitchen, surrounded our table. The Sri Lankan too looking positively giddy.
Every time Italy score, or blocked a score, the mangers, waiters, cooks could smash our backs, grab our hands, rub our shoulders. Every time England scored, or blocked a score, I would punch the Sri Lankan’s shoulder.
Italy won by blocking England’s last attempt and the Pescatore exploded and its staff collapsed on us, smothering us in hugs and kisses.
The owner was brought over, booming, “Show me the men who brought us the luck tonight!”
We shook his hand and dipped our heads accepting his thanks, complimenting him for hosting the best night on earth, then we slid out back to dinghy un-sunk out to boat with anchor firm feeling like magic.