Movie director Franco Zeffirelli, for whom I used to work, has a beautiful place in Positano: three separate villas connected by narrow winding natural stone steps that lead down to terraces dripping in orchids, bougainvillea, morning glories and palm trees. Look to the right and you'll see Positano spilling into the Bay of Naples like a handful of jewels.
There were usually fifteen to thirty for lunch and dinner at Tre Ville. I kept a diary and wrote at the time: "Today there were 28 at lunch; we ate eggplant pasta, grilled trout, yellow tomato salad with basil and mozzarella, camembert, crusty country bread, chocolate walnut torte, fruit, espresso." All the fruit and vegetables came from Maestro Zeffirelli's gardens which were planted down the mountainside. A constant parade of famous people came to visit: Gregory Peck, Rudolf Nureyev, Placido Domingo, too many to name here. And then there was the time Robert de Niro came to lunch. Oh, what a day.
Dressed to the teeth, everyone sat and waited anxiously to meet the great actor. He was very late and we were all terribly hungry. A chorus of stomach rumbles could be heard from every direction. When he finally arrived, De Niro didn't apologize for being so tardy. Suddenly we all felt foolishly over-dressed because "Bobby" wore only a simple, short-sleeved cotton shirt, denims and a turned-around baseball cap, all of which, to tell the truth, looked straight out of a discount store!
I was surprised at how much smaller he was in person than he seemed on the screen. Franco introduced him around and he just nodded to each person rather impersonally. But when I was introduced as an American from New York, De Niro's face cracked into a big beautiful smile.
Everyone immediately started filling their plates. The guest of honor put a couple of things on his plate, looked around the terrace and walked over to take the chair next to mine. He flashed another signature grin and asked, "So where'd you live in Noo Yawk?" "228 East 29th Street. You?" Another grin. "Hey, I had a place on East 28th once. So where else?" "How about West 76 near Riverside?" "Oh, wow, I lived on West 76th and Broadway!" And so it went...on and on.
Thirty pairs of Italian eyes were drilling into us. How could I explain to them that this is what New Yorkers do when they're out of town and meet other New Yorkers? I could feel the seething of bosoms, feel poison-tipped daggers sinking into my flesh as I "hogged" the famous movie star. Couldn't they see that it wasn't my fault? Time and time again I tried to include others, to steer him in other conversational directions...but the man simply refused to be steered. "How about some more salad," I tried. "No, thanks. Ever live in the Village?"
Zeffirelli finally came over, gave me a stern look, and firmly whisked De Niro into the house for a private talk. I turned to the others holding out my hands, beseeching them for understanding. It simply wasn't my fault! Unfortunately, it all started to seem funny to me and my lips began to twitch. "I couldn't help it!" I cried. "I swear I didn't do it on purpose! It was him...him!" Unable to contain myself any longer, I collapsed in laughter under a barrage of silk pillows hitting me from every direction as the Italians vented their rage on me. Then suddenly we were all laughing uncontrollably because it was just too silly for words.
Peace having been re-established, we all trooped down to take a dip. The water was simply wonderful, cold and refreshing. As we lay back in our chairs, idly gossiping the afternoon away, I dreamily stared at the three or four yachts bobbing up and down a short distance out, and gazed over at the sun-worshippers enjoying Positano's black sand beach. It's not really my kind of beach - I'm very partial to white sand - but the charm of Positano and its people more than make up for it.