May 20, 2019

Simple and clean for about $50 per night

Master of the house, doling out the charm

Ready with a handshake and an open palm

— Les Mis

Upon our return from our last European trip, someone asked me if I’d met any interesting people. Carol stifled a laugh; I thought the question, asked of me, was rhetorical. While I do prefer to travel invisibly, and ask only that humankind for the most part act the same, some personalities strike you in a profound, if unobtrusive way, that you’re happy to deactivate your cloaking device and meet them openly on common ground.

The simple balcony offered a great view of Sicily

The three classes of people I meet (in order of ascending importance) are: train conductors, waiters and receptionists. Train conductors perform the minor but reassuring task of confirming that the train clearly marked “Milan” is indeed going to Milan. It’s just that I trust him or her rather than my own eyes. Waiters perform the vital work of keeping my wine glass filled, attentiveness to which seems to vary markedly from country to country. (German beer fraus believe serving you at all should be received with an esteem reserved for aristocracy. French waiters take your order for the sheer pleasure of ignoring it. Italian waiters, on the other hand, are unctuous to the point of you wanting to ask them to join you.)

Our hostess for a wonderful wood fire pizza

I’ve found hotel receptionists to be the most uniformly agreeable and helpful, exhibiting that rare patience required to explain for the third time which of the three keys open the main gate, building door and your room. (Even with this security, I still put our passports in the room safe if it has one,)

Cosimo Donato

The one receptionist that stood out  from all the rest was Cosimo, our host for our small, but pleasantly located B&B in Villa San Giovanni, a stone’s throw across the strait from Sicily. On his own initiative he met us at the train station in his van, saving us the ten-minute walk that I was about to turn into thirty minutes with my usual sense of misdirection. He pointed out a good pizza place nearby (and it wasn’t owned by a relative), advised a visit to nearby Scilla, which would have been a big miss on our part otherwise. He personally delivered breakfast to our room, which included the fattest creme filled croissants ever, presented us with a gift of locally made Chianti, and graciously corrected my Italian by telling me it was Spanish.

We extended our stay and charged us 40 euros, instead of the standard 45. (Yes, 45 euros for a room with a balcony looking out to Sicily, and those fat, creme filled croissants). On our final day, he drove us back to the train station, requesting only we give him a good review on Cosimo was young, but had run the B&B for six years. Of all the accommodations we enjoyed on our trip, Cosimo represented best what it means to be an innkeeper in the classic sense. It was a pleasure to regift to him a wedge of spreadable pecorino we had obtained in Tuscania. He’d made an ordinary room in a ordinary town into something extraordinary.

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