There are two other people (besides the Australians and the Welsh) at our table each night. Shirley and Marie are sisters from England. They tell stories of World War Two so they must be well into their seventies although they don’t look it.
They were both obviously very attractive young women and still look great. They are perfectly groomed and elegantly dressed. Shirley is the older, and is more conservative in her dress and has a great fondness for simple pieces of gold jewelery. But what these pieces lack in decoration they make up for in size. Marie is the younger, although she doesn’t look it ( I have discovered that neither has a computer so I feel safe in saying that). She dresses with great style but has an unfortunate fondness for embellishments. Marie is tiny so tries to conceal the fact by wearing a pair of gold lame trainers with huge platform soles.
They look like two classy broads until they open their mouths. They were brought up in East London and Essex and have the accents to prove it. They are fun and entertaining but education was not their strong point. Shirley never met a double negative she didn’t like, and Marie has a penchant for malapropisms.
They join in the dinner conversation but it isn’t until we invite them to dinner on their own that the stories start. They both tell long funny stories about their lives and keep us entertained for hours. There are four sisters and a brother. Their father worked in Denham Film Studios during and after the war. It was a time of great hardship for the English but their father proved to be a great provider. Much of it came in the form of household items “borrowed” from the studio. In this manner they gained a complete silver cutlery set, some stylish dinnerware and many rather exotic decorative items for their home. He also had a very profitable side line in black market goods and made sure that they had meat and vegetables on the table every night. Christmas was always a highlight of their year. Both sisters learned lessons from their upbringing.
Shirley learned to be a marketeer, perhaps not a black one, but she learned that it wasn’t always necessary to buy something before selling it. She had a consignment clothing store for most of her life and judging by her present lifestyle it was a great success. She still has a garage lined with racks of clothes which she opens to the public when she wants a bit of spending money, and likes nothing more than doing a car boot sale.
Marie learned a different lesson from her father. She watched her father’s movies and saw that there was a big wide world outside of Watford and that many of the people in it lead glamorous lives. Watford couldn’t contain Marie. She wanted the lifestyle she saw in the movies. And she got it. She can talk for hours, and often does, about her life. But Marie needs a little help with her stories. When she comes to words of more than two syllables the flow comes to an abrupt halt while she looks first at Shirley and then at us to provide the word that she is looking for.
She left home at twenty and moved to Rome where she found work as a house cleaner. She skips over her first marriage without too many details but she does reveal that it was to a very wealthy man who didn’t work. She continued to work throughout the marriage which is why we think there is more to this story. He wanted children. Marie most definitely did not, so the marriage ended. She got two things out of the marriage, her Italian residency (aaaah!) and a taste for a style of living that she had never dreamed of.
She set out on her own again to conquer Rome and was fortunate enough to meet another wealthy gentleman, and this time love was in the air. Husband number two was twenty years older than she, already had grown up children, didn’t want any more, and had lots of money. Perfect. His name was Marcello. Don Marcello. He was, she says, the controller of all engineering projects in Rome, and deputy controller of all engineering projects in Italy. We are not quite sure what this means, and I don’t think Marie is either. But it did make him a very powerful man indeed. Much to Marie’s delight Don Marcello could definitely keep her in the style to which she very much wished to become accustomed.
But he belonged to a powerful “family” from the south. How far south Marie doesn’t say, but Sicily sounds about right. They expected him to marry a woman of equal standing in another such “family”. A cleaning woman from Watford was not what they had in mind. She was never accepted by the family, which I think was an understatement, but despite that his mother came to live with them, moving in the day they returned from their honeymoon. They lived in what Marie describes as a “lovely apartment” in Rome.
When he died she decided the place was too big for her, so she rented it out to the American Embassy. I think “lovely apartment” might be an understatement. Meanwhile she moved upstairs in the building to the penthouse, which she says is much smaller. However we later learn it is on four floors. They had a yacht on which they did a lot of entertaining. It had four master en suite bedrooms , two speed boats and assorted toys.
The Boca Raton Mafia on our last cruise were great entertainment and very friendly. Marie is too, but I have the distinct impression things would be very different if Don Marcello was here. But when Marie talks about him, it is with a great fondness. Well if Gordon provided for me like that I would speak with a great fondness of him. (Ed: On this editor’s wage I can barely afford to feed myself!)
But life was not a bed of roses. We have all had difficulties to deal with in our lives, but when Marie tells us that she was expected to cook lunches and dinners every day for her husband and his mother, she makes it sound as if no one has had to suffer like she has. To make matters worse, he insisted that the same meat and vegetables were never repeated during a week. Cooking was not her strong point, she confides. It is not hard to imagine what her strong point was, and it clearly didn’t involve the kitchen. “If you had never cooked before, how did you manage?” I asked innocently “Well, naturally I had help. There was a cook and a waiter” “I don’t understand” I continued, “how was this such a hardship then?” Marie gave me a look that clearly said that I was just like all men, and didn’t understand the lot of a wife “ I had to come up with the menus for each day” she sighed, frustration oozing out of every pore.
There was however another drawback to marrying Don Marcello, and this one was a lot more serious. They lived under the constant dual threats of kidnapping and assassination. They had armed guards twenty four hours a day. They only traveled in an armour plated car, albeit a rather large Alfa Romeo, and Don Marcello was constantly on alert. He slept with a pistol under his pillow and a rifle next to his bed. It seems a little excessive for a town planner.
They traveled constantly for his work, but she was never quite sure why. They went to Argentina and Brazil a lot, so it was probably better she didn’t know.
At one point Don Marcello wanted to go to Scotland for a shooting holiday. Marie is not sure who he wanted to shoot, but he claimed it was grouse. He also wanted to stay in a castle, but when they arrived they discovered that the bedroom door did not have a lock on it. Don Marcello was not happy. Didn’t they know who he was, he asked. They didn’t, and they had no intention of ruining an original castle door by installing a lock on it. Marie had to help Don Marcello barricade the door with armoires and dressers before he would go to sleep.
Don Marcello died seventeen years ago and Marie has spent her widowhood traveling the world. She likes to cruise but hates to be alone, so she invites a sister to join her each time. She goes on four long cruises a year and invites a different sister each cruise.
She is indeed The Sister of Perpetual Indulgence.