Letters & Opinion

Ode to Renato! He did it His Way, all the way, until his final day…

By Earl Bousquet
Image of Renato Venturi

LAST Saturday, the tenth day of the tenth month, as I usually do when numbers, days and months clash, I got-up in the mood to do something special.

I decided to reorganize my bookshelves while soothing my mind with some Blues.

I was in fine spirits on the last shelf in my COVID-converted bedroom, when something interrupted my morning’s happiness, albeit briefly.

Out of the blue, in the middle of the Blues, my hands landed on a book a dear friend lent me a long time ago — and just seeing the cover rendered me instantly deaf-and-dumb, with a little lump in my throat…

I’d been listening to ‘The thrill is gone’ performed by B.B. King, Muddy Waters, Eric Clapton and Carlos Santana.

But as soon as I touched the book, it was like if someone invisible pressed the pause button while I listened in my wheelchair, lip-syncing, playing an imagined piano and blowing my invisible harmonica.

It was a biography of a legendary American singer and actor of Italian descent, long gone but whose memory still lives on.

The everlasting star, my friend and I had some things in common: good love for good food with good wine and good company at a good restaurant, with personal service unavailable elsewhere — and we exchanged related snippets every time I dined at his homely northern emporium.

Our light conversations with loud laughter about ‘Frank’ at the quaint Rodney Bay Italian restaurant would only be interrupted if a key game was being played on the ‘Sports-only’ TV on the counter.

Or, if the prime minister’s mother, or a prominent former prime minister, or another former prime minister’s nephews, or the patriarch of the island’s best-known Tourism Family, or the owner of the local franchise for a global pizza brand, or the island’s best-known entertainment radio announcer from next door – or anyone else, for that matter – walked in.

His regular clients were not always of the ordinary – and he knew my every favorite on his long menu of specialized dishes with names I pronounced well, but never tasted.

And he personally placed my orders…

Customer satisfaction his eternal quest, he’d prepare ahead for my very special orders, like: French Fries (fried with garlic), meats (very well-done but with sauces apart), pasta (with an extra Parmesan serving), salads (together, but totally apart), toast (already buttered), local juice (with no ice), chocolate-chip ice cream (with nuts and raisins) — and/or a banana flambe (with white Martinique agricultural rum).

And he’d always ask: ‘Which international news channel would you like with your meal?’

As I flipped the pages, I promised myself to complete reading the book by December and return it ‘for Christmas’.

(Not that I would ‘give’ him something that’s his, but I knew he would treat it like an unexpected but most welcome surprise…)

I placed ‘Frank’ in the ‘To Do’ basket on my main desk – and my ears started hearing my slow Saturday Morning Blues again, this time Muddy Waters singing ‘Boom, Boom, Boom, Boom…’

I continued rearranging my boudoir office until late evening. But little did I know how that Saturday evening would haunt me forever…

Early next morning, a friend who monitors Death Announcements daily called and asked me: ‘You heard who was killed at his home last night?’

As per usual, I was waiting to hear him name someone we grew-up with.

But when he said ‘Renato’, my jaw dropped — and a long chill ran up my spine.

I pressed my open right hand tightly on my chest, as if my heart had skipped a beat.

I shut my eyes tight and it all started making sense in the dark – Tenth Day of Tenth Month, The Book named ‘Frank’ and The Conscience Call on Saturday.

That Sunday morning I’d also read, out-of-the-blue, in bed, an entire six weeks of missed daily Bible.com quotations posted to my phone by a well-wisher in Jamaica.

Renato waving me goodbye?

I won’t know, but I will never forget the last time we spoke (before COVID and my terrible accident).

He’d accompanied me to the gate with my extra takeaway order and I promised that ‘next time’ I’d bring a music CD of Frank Sinatra to play inside while I smoked a Cohiba (Cuban cigar) outside.

‘That’ll be the day,’ he responded, in his typically pleasant but always careful, non-committal way.

As soon as my friend hung up, I downloaded and played all the You-Tube versions I could find of Frank Sinatra’s everlasting hit ‘My Way’ — and heartily sang-along the best I could, in tribute to how Renato also did it: His way, all the way, until his final day.

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