The door to the restaurant was open and I started up the stairs. I had walked the length of the malecon and this was the only Italian restaurant. But it was not the name I had been given by Hugo, the hotel owner in Santo Domingo.
A man with an Italian accent greeted me from behind the bar and explained the restaurant was closed and would open at 5 pm. I asked to look at a menu and as I looked at all the spaghettis and fettucinis and lasagnas and was becoming even more hungry, he offered to make me a spaghetti Bolognese.
I took a seat at a table looking out over the beach and the ocean and I ordered a glass of red wine. With the wine he brought a small loaf of freshly baked bread and a bowl of olive oil. The bread dipped in the olive oil was delicious. I had forgotten what good bread tasted like.
“Is there another Italian restaurant in the town?” I asked him.
“Your name is Domenico?
“I am Fiore.”
“Do you know Domenico?”
“There is no Domenico.”
I frowned. “No importa. It doesn’t matter.”
Then I said, “Do you know Hugo?”
“There is no Hugo.” He looked confused.
I explained that Hugo was the owner of the Hotel Azteca in Santo Domingo and that his good friend Domenico was supposed to own an Italian restaurant in Crucita. It seemed another instance of my being sent off somewhere wrongly by an Ecuadorian. And Hugo had seemed so knowledgeable too.
“I am here 17 years. There is no Domenico. There is no Hugo.”
“Was there ever an other Italian restaurant?”
Fiore shook his head. “There is never an other Italian restaurant. Where do you come from?”
I told him the most recent places. New York and Miami and Chicago.
“New York is the capital of the world,” said Fiore brightly.
I nodded and smiled. I could see he was happy to stop talking about Domenico and Hugo and the rival Italian restaurant.
“Paris is the capital of light and Rio is the capital of fun, but Roma is the capital of everything,” he laughed.
“You are from Roma?”
“I am from Napoli.”
“Of what is Napoli the capital?”
“Nothing. Would you like some more bread?”
Later Fiore brought out the Bolognese and it was very good and the pasta was homemade and al dente. It changed my whole outlook to know I could avoid rice and plantains when I wanted to.
I thanked Fiore and told him I would return and then I went looking for a bank. Each person I asked sent me to a street where there was no evidence of any bank. I walked around awhile longer and then gave up and returned to the Hostal Voladores. The owner said there hadn’t been any banks in Crucita since the crisis in 2003.