Paolo and Paola are a couple in their late 60s that run a B and B on the Italian island of Sardegna. They greet their guests by waiting outside on the pavement to wave them in to a parking space, before Paolo announces:
“Ciao, sono Paolo…”
“E Paula.” Paola adds, as they erupt in to giggles at their matching names; clearly a joke that has never grown old through some 40 odd years of marriage. I stayed with them while living and working in Italy in 2011.
On our first afternoon staying at the B and B, Paola chased me around the house with a deep fried sprat. (I hate fish of most varieties, but more so the ones you’re expected to eat with eyes and tail still intact.) “Provare, provare!” She cried. I hid upstairs until one of my friends had eaten a sprat and Paola seemed content with that as a compromise, she disappeared in to the depths of the kitchen once more.
They both made their own liquors and were in some kind of conflict over whose was better. One night we’d drink Paolo’s (Basilico) and the next night Paola’s (Cioccolato). We’d huddle round their small kitchen table in the evenings, liquor in paper cups and, somehow, chat for hours. They spoke no English, and our Italian was limited, however (armed with our dictionaries) we had some great chats, and Paola’s Camilla Parker Bowles impression (whist wearing a colander on her head) crossed all language barriers. These were some of the happiest evenings of my time spent in Italy, and P and P were so kind to us. It was whilst staying here I got to grips with Italian for the first time, and left Sardegna with an army of new words marching through my brain (and occasionally off my tongue).
By the end of our time there we were almost a part of the family. One night some local teachers kindly took us for dinner and to some bars, and we missed Paola’s curfew. One of the teachers vowed he would take the rap for us (rather him than me). We watched from the car window as he strode up the driveway and knocked on the door. He needn’t have done, Paola was sitting at the front window waiting for us. We suddenly felt very guilty. She came out, he said something, she shouted, he said something else, she smacked his bottom, they both laughed and we didn’t get in to trouble. All was good.
The people in Sardegna were among some of the friendliest I have ever met, taking us for dinners and evenings out, opening up their homes and sharing their meals and stories with us; there was ALWAYS room for one more at the table (or in our case, four.) I’m not saying you should chase your guests around with deep fried sprats, or spank them if they’re late home one night, but share your home with friends, and strangers* and make them feel as though it is their home too, make the time and enjoy looking after them.
*Obviously not any old stranger, but from time to time I’ve looked after friends of friends in my house, I find it quite joyful!
Sono Paolo e Paula: I am Paolo and Paula