52nd City Magazine

Online Edition


30 Foreign Exchange Students | Lindsey Durway

By Siem Reap's Ruins, a New Night Scene | Stefene Russell

Party of 17 | Giacomo Volante

Print Edition

Firecracker Press

Caroline Huth

Andrea (Avery) Decker, Brett Beckemeyer, Thomas Crone, Arpad Ikuma Czismazia, Jay David, Thom Fletcher, Dave Gray, Angela Hamilton, Devin Johnston, Chris King, Nicole Rainey, Emily Randall, Geoff Story, Eduardo Vigil

Party of 17 | by Giacomo Volante

From left to right: Vince, Luca, Fortunata and Ann.
Photo by Jim or Julie Klenn (they drank a lot of wine that night)

I liked Luca the moment I met him.

As we crossed the street in front of La Taverna del Leone (owned by Luca’s friends Fortunata and Cristofaro) just outside of Praiano on Italy’s Amalfi Coast, he walked out into the middle of the road to greet us – his friend (my brother-in-law) Vince; my sisters-in-law Susan, Ann and Barb; and my wife Julie and me.

Luca’s infectious smile foreshadowed the evening to come.

Although in his early 50’s, Luca looks much younger than his age. He has an easy manner, a quiet charisma and a certain “joie de vivre.” (Is it okay to use a French phrase to describe a native of Italy who lives in England?)

We six Americans joined this native Italian on a long, narrow balcony where we drank superb white wine and kept the edge off of our appetites with potato chips and the best olives I’ve ever tasted in my life.

After a little while Luca’s three adult sons arrived. (Vincenzo, Pasquale and Thomas had traveled with Luca from London to meet their father’s friend Vince and his traveling companions.) By the time we sat down to have dinner at an enormously long table, three of Luca’s sisters, one brother, a nephew and two brothers-in-law had joined us.

While Luca and his three sons all speak English and Italian, six of our party of 17 spoke virtually no Italian and five spoke virtually no English. But we somehow managed to communicate – at times with a little difficulty – as we passed delicious appetizers around the table and poured wine for each other.

When I asked Luca which pasta I should order he rolled his eyes and told me to order the seafood plate. (His suggestion probably had something to do with the fact that the sea was practically right outside the door.) So I did, and it was fantastic.

I was enjoying Luca’s company so much that I actually found myself doing more listening than talking for a change. It was easy to do because he’s a gifted storyteller with a great sense of humor. He told us of his life, from his childhood in Praiano and first restaurant job at age 12, to his succession of restaurant jobs, up until the day he was able to buy a partner’s share of a trattoria in London.

We had begun the evening as strangers, but ended it as amici. To top it off, Luca picked up the check for our party of 17 – which included five of us he had never met before.

I’m sorry to say that I might never see Luca again – after all, he lives in London and I live in Belleville, Illinois. But I’ll always remember the night he and his family shared such a marvelous meal with us.

So for the splendid appetizers, entrées and desserts prepared by the artists in the kitchen of La Taverna del Leone, I’d like to say, “Molto bene, Fortunata.”

And for the wonderful food, the superb wine and his warm friendship, “Mille grazie, Luca.”


Giacomo Volante is a pseudonym Jim Klenn sometimes uses with family and friends…and when he’s trying to impress Italians.