ITALIA GO HOME:
This week was another private reservation, but instead of being a fun, outgoing, friendly group of American lesbians who didn't need too much G.O. involvement, it was a snobby, uptight bunch of Italian bankers who didn't speak a word of English, Spanish or French but somehow still wanted us sitting uncomfortably through meals with them.
We got off to a rough start at The Big Arrival when Abdel said to us, as the first of sixteen buses was pulling in, "okay – from now on, everything is in Italian; it's important to make them feel comfortable right away." This would obviously have been a good time to refer to the crib sheet of Italian phrases we were promised, except that no one ever made one. Which means there were six G.O.s who spoke Italian and two hundred who vaguely knew how to say "hello" and count to five.
There were hardly any guests at the show that night, as most had succummed to their jet lag (or were off somewhere chain-smoking cigars, which is all I ever saw – or smelled – them do), and those who did show up slowly wandered out throughout the performance until there were exactly four people sitting in the theatre. Meghan and I, who, as restaurant hostesses for the week, worked bizarre hours and were generally out of the G.O. loop, were the only ones who showed up for Crazy Signs – and they still made us do it! Henri the Chef de Loisirs, Meghan, me and four Italian bankers who obviously wanted to leave but felt guilty about sneaking out right in front of us. Yukking it up to "Hands up, baby, hands up." Henri went all out on the microphone – “are all the G.O.s in the house?!" and the two of us had to go "whoop!"
**I don't have any pictures of that awful night, but these ones are just to show what Crazy Signs are usually like, with lots of people and general laughter and fun.
**I think I look nice in that beige-and-white-dress-code outfit, too, so here's a chance for me to be vain and sneak some pictures in!
One of our audience members decided that this was the best possible way to spend his first evening at Punta Cana and came with us to the bar, where the G.O.s had gathered for more Crazy Signs. The whole thing pooped out fairly quickly, what with there being only a handful of guests and their only speaking Italian, so Henri put on the salsa music and left us to our own devices – which meant that I was stuck with this guy from Milano. He must have taken a salsa class somewhere and now had a hugely undeserved confidence in his dancing ability as he whipped me around the dance floor with zero sense of rhythm or grace and refused to loosen his grip around my waist. (I had bruises the next day! Bruises!) I finally got out of there after three more dances ("ooh, merengue, my favourite!") and limped home, my toes throbbing from being crushed under his fancy Italian shoes, and avoided the bar the rest of the week.
We were all especially disappointed at the level of frumpiness that this group brought with them. When you hear Roma, Milano, Venezia, you think the women are going to be elegant and fashionable with beautiful curly hair and nice perfume. Well. I haven't seen so many one-piece sequined leotards since – well, ever. Black dresses with white satin bows all over them. Giant poof things and boas and weird hats. It was upsetting, to say the least. And bitchy! These women were awful! Can you actually give me cut-eye when you're wearing a cat suit with neon do-it-yourself paint on the front? Apparently you can. It may be because their husbands came in and went straight for our chests – maybe that was the problem – but when we're standing there as restaurant hostesses for three hours at a time, saying "ciao, ciao, bon appetito" ad nauseum and smiling for all we're worth, can't you at least be civil?
And here's why it was so hard to stay standing for three hours at a time: I caught the stomach bug (which the French call "un gastro," possibly my favourite expression) that was going around and my system was pretty much empty for five days. The first day I had it was the worst, as I was throwing up and unable to leave my bed, but the nurse couldn't come to see me because she had it too. I had to just suck it up. (Or spit it out, more like.) When you're super sick like that you really want some sympathy from someone – anyone! – but it's hard to find when everyone around you is sick and people can't keep track of who has what and you're all working different jobs because of the stupid bankers so nobody even knows where to look for you and find you gone. "Hey, I haven't seen you around these past few days," all casual, when you thought that the whole world had surely ground to a halt in your absence, G.O.s and G.M.s alike wandering around aimlessly, head in hands, wondering what to do without you. "Hey, Katy, you weren't at the meeting." That's the best they could do.
Here's what I discovered: when you're still sick but you need to eat something because or else you're going to pass out, don't go for peanut butter. (That unfortunate choice may have been what gave me the distinction of being the only person to stay sick for five days instead of twenty-four hours.) And if you do the soda-with-lime thing that all the Dominicans insist is like magic, stay close to the bathroom.
My friend Manuel Ali brought me this homemade concoction that is like mamajuana with medicinal herbs, said to clean out a sick stomach within hours. He said I should have some right away but didn't warn me about its potency; I took one chug, surrounded by all the camareros on their dinner break, and literally crumbled to the ground, unable to move. It's supposed to be rum and honey and whatever herbs are brewing in there but it tastes essentially like lighter fluid and let me tell you, it burns. How could it not clean out my system? It was like being fumigated. And I had literally no food in my stomach and was dehydrated and you know what? Maybe it wasn't the best time to try a ninety-six-per-cent-alcohol mix in a public place. These are the lessons one has to learn oneself.
One of the guys started to give me a foot rub because he was worried that I was going to pass out and foot rubs are apparently the way to go. Another one took my head on his lap and massaged my temples. The other thirty of them stood around and watched, comparing stories of the worst pass-outs they had seen and the biggest throw-ups and all sorts of fun things, and I had so little strength that all I could do was lie there and focus on the strange sensation of fire spreading slowly along my limbs.
And then I was better the next day. From the antibiotics, the mamajuana or just the end of the virus? Hard to say. Either way, I needed a system clean-out, as I was in an eat-my-face-out phase that once saw me consume nine puddings in two hours – AFTER eating a full breakfast. (And before getting in the pool and jumping around with babies and their pudding-free parents.) White chocolate bread, raspberry tart, pear flan, you name it. I think this "virus" was actually my body staging a revolution against itself, and it didn't come a minute too soon.
And then when I was feeling better I did some more trapeze and I am now officially a high flier. But it wasn't easy, and here's why:
There's a new circus guy, Fabrizio, who was the designated catcher, so after doing a couple of practice runs (and bruising the hell out of my legs), I went up to be the first catch of the day. Kevin was doing the ropes, Mona was on the platform, and they were both calling out instructions, which is usually the catcher's job – they said it was because he wasn't used to their system and it was easier if they were in charge. Wrong! The first time he swung me back crooked and the bar was nowhere in my vicinity – a harmless free-fall down to the net. The second time he threw me so hard and so far that the ropes got tangled with the bar and Kevin almost dislocated his shoulder pulling my ropes so I wouldn't crash into the side pole. The third time he sent me flying up so high that I smashed my hand onto the bar, which was beneath me, which I couldn't hold onto, and so which smacked me on the head on my way down. I decided to call it quits after that one.
Wrapping my hands up after, putting my shoes back on, and what do I discover? Sure, Fabrizio knows how to catch, but he hasn't done it for four years! I was his guinea pig! He wasn't sure if he would be able to do it, but now that he had a few practice runs he feels much better about it... Meanwhile, my hands are bunged up, my forehead has a big bar-size lump on it – wow, I'm so pleased that you feel better about yourself now. Thanks, team.
(I did it again with Kevin and made every catch, so the problem was clearly not me and my trapeze skill. I think I'm this close to becoming an acrobat once and for all.)
There are snakes all over the place, usually little skinny black ones, really pretty and shiny and quick to get out of your way. Just a nice little addition to the tropical flavour of this place. Then, recently, everyone started talking about the big snake in the vine tree near behind my housing complex and I figured they were exaggerating, as the locals are terrified of snakes and it was probably a little garden guy blending in with big branches.
Okay. This snake is, like, three metres long and about as thick as a Kevin the circus guy – who is about as thick as Mister T. It is huge, it slithers around the tree and just kind of watches us through the day. And now it has disappeared. Which makes me think that it's better to have a huge and scary snake in a tree than a huge and scary snake at large behind my bedroom. Am I right? I think you should be calling my room from time to time to check in on me, because I might be dead by snake within the month.
Then there's the shark, which I am convinced I see out the window of the sea-side restaurant. Just when I convince myself that I'm imagining things and it must be a trick of the waves, I look again and I'm sure it's a shark. The camareros are divided – mostly against me, but there are a few solid votes on the shark team. And Bayram, the executive chef and also a total nutbar, goes out and fishes big and scary sea creatures for dinner – baracudas and such – including the occasional shark. Small-ish, not like my champion shark out there, but a shark nonetheless. I'm just saying. Room number 718.
And what does he do with the fish he catches? He hangs them up or lays them over the table at the entrance to the restaurant so that everyone can admire them before they're hacked up and served as sushi. They are often longer than I am – I am not exaggerating; we did a test, with me lying beside the table, and the shark won by a good half a foot. And they smell like: giant dead fish. I stand there every night for minimum two hours, don't forget, waiting for the babies to arrive, and I have to actively focus on not throwing up as the waves of fish-and-fish-blood stench wash over me. ("Ciao, bon appetito, ciao, bon appetito...")
(It's hard to have your camera around when you're working, so I have to use the pictures I have rather than the ones I want. The shark in this picture is definitely one of the small ones.)
The big restaurant is being renovated (read: they're fixing the bajillion holes in the thatch ceiling so that our esteemed guests will no longer be drenched during rainy dinners) and we only have 250 G.M.s this week, so every meal is in the sea-side restaurant and the whole team is back together. (Except for all the people who were laid off until more G.M.s come, but I'm trying to focus on the positive.) This means that we're having breakfast there for the first time, which is a pain in the ass for the restaurant team – far from the bakery, crazy heavy blinds to put up and down – but glorious for the rest of us because it's blue sky, sun on the water, everything shimmery and lovely and dreamy while you eat your croissant and papaya.
The problem is that the bacon and eggs counter is right beside my Baby Welcome. The bacon smell comes straight out to where I'm standing and I'm suddenly craving this food that I normally find categorically revolting – I even snuck a piece this morning and went out to eat it in the bushes like a desperate woman. My plan is to go in early tomorrow and eat a hearty bowl of oatmeal in the hope that it will dull my bacon lust. Can I count on a full stomach outweighing a craving? Hard to say. Hard. To. Say.
I also stand in front of the orange juice station. This morning a woman came up to the table, where Victor and Nelson were standing and squeezing oranges into pitchers, and she asked "is this fresh?" They said "yes, it's fresh" – where they should have said "can you not see us squeezing oranges in front of you for your Hotel Fun pleasure, dumb-ass?" – and she asked "what is it, mango juice?" Crates of oranges all around the table. Crates. Oranges on the floor, on the cutting board. Yes, it's mango juice. Thanks for coming out.
My most touching moment since I've been here: I'm in the restaurant, waiting for babies. A little boy walking in with his mother stops dead in his tracks and points at me in wonder: "look, mommy, a princess!" He comes up and touches my arm, gazes at me until she pulls him away to find a table, and says "bye, princess, bye..."
Now, possibly there's some kind of good lighting effect, maybe something shimmery happening in my hair or making my eyes twinkle. And he obviously has a storybook at home with a princess who's wearing a similar skirt so he thinks I'm the same girl. But I don't care: it's magic and I feel like a princess. Best night of my life.
Keep it real.