Davide Ha Cinquant'anni
Davide Pugliese's Fiftieth Birthday
January 23-26, 2004

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Friday, January 23
Today is Davide's fiftieth birthday. Cele, along with Ed and Barbara Pascoe, and Carolyn and Bill Chaney, are having a surprise birthday party for him tonight at Brandywine Bay Restaurant. Nancy and I have been planning this trip for months, even before there was a plan for the surprise party. Originally, we were just going to surprise Davide by making reservations with a fictitious name and showing up at Brandywine Bay. We picked up his first birthday present last November on our Thanksgiving trip to San Francisco: an apron that says on the front "I Keep The Best Snacks Under My Apron", and have been adding to that since. As it turns out, many other people also wanted to surprise Davide, so tonight's party is going to be a mega-surprise for Davide. The invitations that Cele mailed out had a darling photograph of a much younger Davide in his full chef's garb, taken in Davide's early chef days in New York City.

We are really excited about this trip, which will be the first of four trips that we have planned to the BVI this year. I finalized the plans for our June bareboat charter yesterday. We will have a Moorings 3800 catamaran June 5-15. It will be just Nancy and I on the charter, and we set those dates so that Davide and Cele will be able to get away and join us over two weekends in that time span. In making plans for the year, it has been very difficult to not slip and mention this trip or give any hints about it to Davide. To keep up the secrecy, we even mailed Davide a birthday card last week saying that we wish that we could be with him to celebrate.

TTOL PostFinally, the day has arrived. Nancy and I are up at 3:00AM to make the 6:30AM flight to Miami. I made a post on TTOL last night announcing "Davide Ha Cinquant'anni!" (Italian for "Davide is fifty years old"). There are already about a half dozen additional replies wishing Davide a happy fiftieth. At 5:00AM, Houston's Bush Intercontinental Airport is virtually empty. One of the TSA agents at the security checkpoint is in a good morning mood and tells me that he really likes the "Got Rum?" T-shirt that I am wearing.

Leaving Houston early in the morningThe flight to Miami is nearly empty. I have my "Ultimate Italian" book with me and have the accompanying CDs loaded on my Web MD player. I spend the flight to Miami reading and listening to l'italiano. I have been trying to learn Italian for a couple of months now, but most likely all I will be able to do is make a fool of myself when I attempt to speak it. We will be meeting Davide's mother and father tonight, and I hope that I will be able to make it through the evening without contorting a word so that it comes out as something offensive.

While we are on the way to Miami, Nancy expresses concern that Davide might try to call me on the telephone today and someone at my office might let slip that we are gone to the BVI. I tell her no fear -- my phone is set for direct phone mail.

When we land in Miami, I ask Nancy what she thinks the chances are that American Airlines flight 1305 to San Juan will make it in time for our connecting flight to Tortola. She answers that she has been afraid to even bring the subject up, for fear of bringing on bad luck. Flight 1305 from Miami to San Juan is a crap shoot, but it was the only flight that we could get today that would get us to San Juan in time to make Davide's party tonight. To increase our chances of making it all the way through to Tortola on time, we are not checking any baggage, which is a first for us on our trips to the islands. We only have two carry-on bags and our trusty old backpack. The backpack must have 100,000 miles on it by now. Along with our clothes, we have packed Davide's birthday gifts. In addition to the apron, we have a couple of pair of chef's pants, a bottle of Jacopo Poli Merlot grappa (the best grappa!), and a bottle of Tuaca (Davide has never had Tuaca).

We board 1305 on time and, at 11:00AM (our scheduled departure time) I say to Nancy, "It is time for the captain to make an announcement." Less than fifteen seconds later, the captain turns the intercom on and gives us the news: some electrical connectors in the belly of the Airbus A300 were knocked loose by the baggage handlers when they were unloading cargo from the previous flight, and some of the airplane's avionics are not working. Maintenance is working on it now, and they anticipate that we should be underway within another fifteen minutes or so.

Half an hour later, the captain comes back on the intercom and announces that the connectors have now been fixed, but that the flight's baggage could not yet be loaded because the maintenance crew has been working in the baggage space of the aircraft, so we will have to wait a bit longer while they finish loading the flight's baggage.

We finally push back at 11:50, and are in the air shortly after noon. The connection in San Juan will be close, but we should make it safely. The story could be different if we had checked any baggage.

After we take off, the flight crew announces that headsets for the in-flight entertainment can be purchased for $2.00 for those who wish to watch "the sitcom". (On American Airlines, the "sitcom" is the CBS "Everybody Loves Raymond" show).  Shortly thereafter, they announce that the airplane's video system is not working, so there will not be "a sitcom". I am guessing that whatever was disconnected down below caused the failure of the video system, and I wonder what other avionics systems are also still dead. The A300 is a "fly-by-wire" airplane...

But, there is a bright side to this misfortune. For once, we get to make the trip to the islands sans the whining Ray Romano family!

The flight to San Juan is very pleasant today. The air is very clear and the surface winds on the Atlantic are very light, so the colors of the water across the Bahamas are extraordinarily vibrant today.

Tiffany House from the airThe American Eagle connection in San Juan is the last hurdle to making it to Davide's party. When we get to the departure gate, the counter agent tells us that the flight is on hold because there is currently no aircraft available for it. Eventually, we are called to board the shuttle bus that takes us out to a waiting ATR-42. We arrive in Tortola at 4:45, only a half hour past the scheduled arrival time. As we approach Beef Island, Nancy snaps some pictures through the filthy window of the ATR-42. All in all, pretty good for the day's travel: all that matters is that we are here.

We don't have to wait for our baggage this time, so we are the first people through BVI Customs. There is a new wrinkle, though. The BVI government now has a green form for customs declarations (in addition to the white immigration form). The new form is quirky in that it has a couple of questions on it that are somewhat ambiguous. At the end of the form is a section that asks if you are importing anything or bringing in any gifts and, if so, what is the value. I check yes and declare $100 as the value for Davide's gifts.

When the customs agent reads the form, she asks what we are declaring and I tell her that the $100 declaration is for birthday gifts. She says that the duty will be $10. We pay her in cash and she places the $10 under her counter without giving us any receipt.

A short taxi ride later, we are at the Hodges Creek Hotel, where Cele has made reservations for us. Originally, we were to stay with her and Davide. However, since Davide's mother and father are now staying in the guest room at Tiffany House, we are staying right next door at Hodges Creek.

We check in and are in room #203. The rooms here all have names -- ours is "Little Thatch". The rooms here are very nice -- very clean and comfortable with nice bathrooms. "Little Thatch" is a waterfront room with a nice balcony out over the marina. The marina is full of Sunsail boats. There are numerous Sunsail bareboats in slips or on the bulkhead with charterers aboard that have elected to spend their night before their charter actually begins sleeping aboard their boat.

We drop off our bags and walk down to the bar for some rum refreshments. The bar is area is at the east end of the Calamaya Restaurant. The restaurant's design is very striking -- Euro-modern with classic touches. No surprise -- Davide designed the restaurant when the hotel was built and was the executive chef at Calamaya before he and Cele opened Brandywine Bay.

As we take our seats in the bar, Nancy looks at her watch and says, "Only another hour and forty-five minutes!" The party at Brandywine Bay is set to begin at 7:00PM.

Walker, Sharon, and David at the Calamaya barAs we are enjoying our drinks, David Lowery and Sharon Zamojski walk up and join us. They arrived from Florida a few hours earlier. We met Sharon and David last August when they sailed with us and the Puglieses on the COCO charter. It is good to see our friends again. They tell us that they have been chilling just down the road at Fat Hog Bob's -- a very short walk from the Hodges Creek Hotel. They are in room #211: "Dead Man's Chest".

A couple of rum drinks later, it is time to get dressed for Davide's party. Nancy and I change into matching black and white Jams World. Tropical, but definitely in the fiftieth birthday party motif.

We share a taxi with David and Sharon and arrive at Brandywine Bay Restaurant at 7:00PM sharp. We walk in and I catch Cele by surprise, asking her if she thinks that they can make room for dinner for us, even though we don't have a reservation. We both get big hugs and kisses from Cele. She looks very excited, and we sense that she must be about to explode with the pressure and tension of getting this party off without Davide knowing about it. She tells us that Davide has been called to Capriccio di Mare to keep him away while the guests are arriving.

There are already quite a few guests. We see a couple of people that we already know -- cohosts Ed and Barbara Pascoe, who we met during festival at Malcolm's party over in Carrot Bay.

We go out on the terrace where we met Val and her husband Mike. We talk to them for a couple of minutes before we realize that they are TTOL'ers. Val is "island_girl_123" and Mike is "chef_mike". They are a delightful couple and have accumulated some fantastic experiences over the thirty years that they have been married. The two of them have lived in just about every imaginable part of the world except Antarctica.  They have been living on Tortola for the past two years. Mike is the head chef at the New England Culinary Institute at the H. Lavity Stoutt Community College on Tortola.

The Brandywine Bay staff is busy serving champagne and hors d'ouvres:
        Mushrooms Caps with Fontina and Mushrooms Duxelles
White Creamer Potato with Sour Cream and American Sturgeon Caviar
Shrimp Wanton with Ginger dip

While we are waiting for Davide to arrive, I go into his office to see how the TTOL "Davide Ha Cinquant'anni" thread is going. There are now about 20 very nice replies in the thread wishing Davide a happy birthday.

At 7:50, we see Davide drive up. We know that he will be coming up the back way into the restaurant, through the back door into the kitchen. I move to position myself and get my camera ready to get good shots of Davide as he enters the restaurant.

What the f....????As he enters, it is obvious that the surprise is total, and I get a great photo if the "WHAT THE F....???" look on his face. I keep the camera over my face long enough to get several more photos of him entering with his mother and father without him knowing who I am.

Before I lower the camera, Davide spots me, and I get a photo of THAT facial expression! Davide is speechless as Nancy comes forward. After another couple of moments, Davide spots Sharon and David. He simply cannot believe that we are here. He tells me that now he knows why I did not return his telephone call when he called me at my office this morning...

Before being absorbed into the crowd, Davide introduces us to his mother Cecelia and his father Orazio. I tell Orazio "Mi chiamo Walker e Davide č il mio fratello." Orazio is ecstatic to learn that he has a fifth son.

Over The Hill Society rocking chairBill Chaney brings out the black rocking chair that is adorned with name plates of the members of the Tortola "Over The Hill Society". It now has a plate with Davide's name on it. Davide sits a bit tentatively in the chair...

The bar at Brandywine Bay has everyone well lubricated with champagne, wine, and mixed drinks. By the time we sit to eat, this group is in full-swing party mode.

Dr. Orlando Smith gives a toast for DavideDr. Orlando Smith, the Chief Minister of the BVI government, stands and gives a very nice birthday salute to Davide.

The dinner, which Davide and staff have prepared for the faux Rotary dinner, is exquisite: a nice sampling from across the Brandywine Bay menu.

Tonight's dinner:
        Bib lettuce, String Beans and Main Lobster Salad with Parmesan shavings and Lemon Vinaigrette
Roasted Stuffed Poussin with Italian Sausages, Chicken Glaze
Brasato (Eye of Round braised with Cabernet wine)
Roasted Salmon with Basil Crust, Basil Aļoli
New England Culinary Institute Chocolate Birthday Cake
La Dolce Vita Hazelnut Ice Cream

We sit with Val and Mike and have a great time with them. They are really entertaining and definitely have our type of humor.

Orazio having funAfter dinner, we all go out onto the terrace where the DJ has set up a large sound system, and we dance, dance, dance. Dr. Smith is not the least bit shy about taking to the dance floor, and all the women want to dance with Davide and with Orazio. Orazio really has a good time! The question of the night is "Why does Davide's father look younger than Davide?" Orazio is a very young 76, full of fun and frolic, and is very sharp. He reads about 20,000 pages a year and knows literature, music, theater, and movies inside out. Nancy says she thinks that Orazio is the Italian Paul Newman.

Davide opening giftsWe take a break from dancing while Davide opens some of his gifts. He received many very nice things; it is obvious that a lot of people love him.

Cele drops us off at Hodges Creek about 1:30AM, telling us that he will pick us up round 8:00AM for breakfast. We wisely take a couple of ibuprofen before collapsing for the night.

Saturday, January 24
The rooms at Hodges Creek are very comfortable for sleeping. They are quiet, and even though our room faces southeast, the room has good drapes and remains very dark after sunrise. I finally crack my eyes open to look at my watch, thinking that it must be somewhere around 7:00AM. It is 8:30! Oh, my! Have we kept Cele waiting while we slept? I throw on a pair of shorts and run downstairs to the parking lot. No one is around. I think the chances are pretty good that Cele is still asleep also.

When I get back to the room, I take a quick shower to freshen up. Just as I get out, the phone rings. It is Davide; he is out front, but needs to run back down to Brandywine Bay. He will be back to pick the four of us up around 9:00. We have time to dress and get a cup of coffee at Calamaya.

Davide cooks a breakfast omeletteWhen Davide arrives, he tells the four of us again that he really cannot believe that we are all actually here. We make the short trip next door to Tiffany House, where Cele has a nice big pot of espresso waiting. Davide cooks up a tasty omelette, and we have some delicious pecorino cheese that Cecelia brought from Italy. The cheese is served drizzled with honey, and is very good.

Davide opening cardsAfter breakfast, we have a second mini-birthday party as Davide opens the cards and gifts from last night. Along with the wonderful gifts, Davide received some very, very good cards. We determine that there were probably forty eight guests in addition to Cecelia, Cele, Orazio, and Davide last night.

Nancy on beach at Tiffany HouseDavide, Cele, Sharon, Davide, Nancy, and I go down to the private beach below Tiffany House and relax. Carolyn Chaney's 8-month old border collie "Bear" comes down and entertains us. The dog is a bundle of energy. Today, we are not. Davide plays with Bear while Cele rests. Last night was the first time that Cele has had any alcohol since figuring out that she had ciguatera about five months ago. Cele broke the fast with lots of champagne last night, and is definitely feeling the effects today.

The beach is nice, and I find some mahoe seed pods that I gather to take home with us. Maybe we will be able to add mahoe trees to the bits of the BVI that we have in Houston.

More party at Fat Hog Bob'sSoon, it is time for Davide and Cele to get ready for work. There is a fairly large number expected at Brandywine Bay tonight. They drop us off at Fat Hog Bob's on their way to the restaurant. Davide and Cele may be working, but we are not! Sharon, Nancy, David and I have a "blooming onion" and hot wings along with some rum-things before walking back over to the hotel and cleaning up for dinner.

We have a taxi take us to Brandywine Bay for dinner. Instead of the normal five-minute trip, it takes over half an hour to get there. The Blackburn Highway is closed right at the college while the BVI Road Department installs a large drainage culvert, so we have to go back through East End and up over the Ridge Road, coming out at the Purcell Estate, then back east to Brandywine Bay. It is clear, and you can see the lights ashore on Anegada from the top of the Ridge Road.

We have another wonderful evening with Cecelia and Orazio. Orazio does not let the fact that he speaks no English stop him from telling us jokes that, of course, we do not understand. He particularly likes a joke that apparently involves birds. The joke is accompanied by hilarious gestures of wing-flapping, flying hands, and bird faces. We laugh and laugh: the telling is far funnier than the joke itself could possibly have been.

My study of Italian really does pay off, though. I can communicate with both Cecelia and Orazio. Sometimes it is painful, sometimes we reach a dead-end and have to take an alternative route, but we do have fun. The study was worth the effort, and I will continue. Orazio and Cecelia (who, by the way, have been divorced for 45 years) each offer earnest invitations for us to come and stay with them in Tuscany. We assure both of them that we will come and visit.

When the evening's restaurant work finally slows down, Cele and Davide join us for a while before we all crash. We are still fairly exhausted from last night.

Sunday, January 25
Our plan for today is to have the birthday party that Davide did know about - over on Scrub Island. Cele enclosed a "decoy" invitation when she sent out the invitations for the surprise party. The decoy invitations (which included an explanation of why they were enclosed) said that, should Davide ask, you should reply that you were looking forward to his party Sunday on Scrub Island. Of course, among the island group, any mention of a pretense or possibility of a party means that a party is going to happen. Today is no exception.

Future site of Wali NakitiCaptain DavideDavide's new boat is having some electrical problems, so Ed Pascoe gives us his boat for the day. Davide, David, and I pick up the boat at Nanny Cay and then pick up Cecelia, Cele, Sharon, Nancy, Orazio and the picnic/party supplies at the Hodges Creek Marina. We cruise over to Scrub Island. Before stopping, we cruise around to the north side of the island so that Davide can show his parents the property on which he and Cele will soon be building their home "Wali Nakiti".

We carefully tie Ed's boat up at the T-head pier at Donovan's Reef. The road over the top of Scrub Island to Cele and Davide's property is still impassible form the November rainstorm damage, so Pam has given us use of the facilities at Donovan's Reef for the day.

Davide shucking oystersParty food!Even this "non-party" turns into a real party: about 25 people show up. We start off with a crate if Prince Edward Island oysters that Davide has on ice, shipped in for the party. The oysters disappear as fast as Davide can shuck them. Then Davide cooks up a platter full of pork, beef, sausage, and chicken. We have ice cold champagne, wine, painkillers, Carib, ...  life is good!

The weather today is absolutely perfect for a picnic. The sky is completely cloudless and deep blue. The air is clear, the wind is light, and the water is smooth. It is one of the prettiest days that we have ever seen in the islands.

Cele takes Davide and me on a walk up the part of the road on Scrub that is now paved with concrete. The heavy rains of the past November have severely washed out the underlying soil, leaving the concrete badly undercut on both sides of the road. Serious repair work will have to be done before the road is usable for vehicle traffic over to Cele and Davide's property.

You put your right foot in....After lunch, we go in for a swim. Orazio doesn't sit on the sidelines: he joins in the water with everyone else. Eventually a circle of people forms and I hear singing: "You put your right foot in, you put your right foot out..." Yes, right here in the beautiful blue water off Scrub Island, we are doing the hokey-pokey. As Captain Jack Sparrow would say, "Welcome to the Caribbean, love!"

I spot some frangipani seed pods and ask Pam for permission to take them. She gives me her blessing and I pick four nice pods. Pam calls these plants "the wild one". For the past two years, we have taken cuttings of the wild frangipani back to Houston, but have been unsuccessful in getting them to root. I am confident that we can raise them from seed.

On the beach at Donovan's ReefLate in the afternoon, we load and return to Hodges Creek. Cele drives Cecelia and Orazio back over to Tiffany House. When she returns, the six of us cruise back to Nanny Cay, where we wash down Ed's boat before leaving.

Davide and Cele drop Sharon, David, Nancy, and me off at Hodges Creek, and we all agree to meet in half an hour at Fat Hog Bob's/

We shower and dress and walk to Fat Hog Bob's with David and Sharon. In no time at all, David manages to have the waitresses in stitches. He jokingly accuses them of sneaking up on him. You have to know David Lowery: he has and endless well of humor, and you never know what to expect next.

The four of us are seated at the west end of the outdoor dining area at a large table. Davide, Cele, Cecelia, and Orazio arrive and, not seeing us, sit at the far end of the outdoor dining area. We are so busy cutting up with the waitresses that we don't see them arrive.

Ava, our waitress, tells us that she has one other table of four that she is also serving. We tell her that we pity the people at the other table, because we are taking all of her attention. After about fifteen minutes, Davide spots us; their table is Ava's other table - the one that we are feeling sorry for! They have been sitting down there wondering where we are!

They come to our large table and we all have a very nice dinner. Orazio again tells us stories in Italian, and we smile and pretend to understand. Davide and Cele are able to fill in enough of what we cannot understand so that we actually to get most of his tales. Orazio is quite a raconteur.

It is early to bed for us tonight, as everyone is once again exhausted. Nancy and I are sound asleep by 10:00PM.

Monday, January 26
We are up a little after seven, and have just finished checking out of the hotel when Davide arrives to pick us up.

Cele and Sharon join a group down on the Tiffany House tennis court for a morning yoga class.

Davide is taking David and Orazio into Roadtown this morning. David and Sharon are buying property on Tortola, and have been waiting eight months for their license to buy property. David is meeting with their local agent today, hoping to get the process moving. David is also meeting with Cele and Davide's construction people today to try to resolve the impasse that currently has all work on Wali Nakiti stopped. Orazio is returning home on Thursday and wants to do some shopping before he leaves. Nancy and I say our good-byes to Davide, Orazio, and David before they leave. We promise Orazio that we will come visit.

Nancy and I have a very pleasant morning with Cecelia. Cecelia is very patient, and spends time helping me with my Italian. Learning from her is much easier than learning from the book.

Bougainvillea abound at Tiffany HouseAfter my Italian lessons, I gather seeds from the bougainvillea plants that abound around the property at Tiffany House. I also find some nice fresh seed pods from the big tamarind tree on the estate, and Nancy get a couple of limes that we will take the seeds from also. We are obviously trying to create as much of the island as we can environment back in Houston.

When Cele and Sharon finish their yoga, the four girls and I have a nice lunch. The pecorino cheese is delicious with the really nice salami that Cecelia also brought over from Italy. They go well with the baby spinach salad that Cele and Sharon put together.

At 12:15, we finally have to leave for our 1:30 American Eagle flight. We say our good-byes to Sharon and Cecelia, and we promise Cecelia that we will come over and spend a week with her in Florence. She really is a vice lady, and she never missed an opportunity to tell us how much she loves Cele.

We will be seeing Sharon again soon. We have made plans to spend a few days in late July lobstering in the Florida Keys with David and Sharon before the four of us come to Tortola on our August trip, when we will be sailing with Cele and Davide on the COCO 2004 bareboat charter.

We will be seeing Davide and Cele again real soon -- in only seven weeks we will be back to spend the week of Spring Break on Tortola. Cele has also promised that she and Davide will join us for their anniversary on Easter weekend in San Francisco. Davide loves to tell that he did a very wise thing: he got married on Easter. That way, he can never forget the date of their anniversary....

It must be that time....We will also be back in the islands for a couple of weeks in June on our annual summertime bareboat trip. Knowing that we will be seeing Cele again soon makes it a lot easier to part with her at the Beef Island airport. We don't say goodbye; we simply say "See you soon!". I part with her with "A presto!". We still have tears in our eyes as we leave Cele behind. She and Davide are very, very special friends and we love them both dearly.

The flights back through San Juan and Miami are relatively uneventful. However, imagine our surprise when we walk out of George Bush International Airport in Houston to wait for the parking shuttle, still dressed in T-shirt, shorts, and sandals as we left Tiffany House this morning. The temperature here is 45° and the wind is gusting over 30mph. Welcome home!

We delighted to have Mike and Val as new friends, and really look forward to seeing them on our future visits to the islands.

The expression "the apple did not fall from the tree" is certainly true regarding Davide and Orazio.

It wound up being one heck of a week of contrasts. We were enjoying the islands on Monday. On Tuesday, I found out that I was going to spend the rest of the week in Chicago, where the week ended with the coldest weather that Chicago had for five years. Single-digit highs, and -6° when I went into work on Friday morning.

Da Caribbean, Mon!

A Tribute to Lowell Wheatley


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