The Sirenuse Journal told the story of the hotel’s foundation here, and delved here into the ‘scandalous’ affair that ended happily in 1959 with the marriage of Paolo Sersale and Anne Mary Dent-Brocklehurst. As the public face of both Positano and Le Sirenuse, Paolo was often in the news, so it’s fairly easy to document his life and times, at least in these early years. Painting a portrait of Paolo’s two elder siblings Anna and Aldo is more difficult. Both refused to pursue what you might call a “career”, and as neither ever married, there were no direct heirs to tell their tales and conserve their memorabilia.
However, Paolo and Anne Mary’s youngest daughter, Marina Sersale, still has very clear childhood memories of her uncle and aunt. “Aldo was a great bon viveur”, she recalls, “always surrounded by a crowd of adoring women – although he wasn’t particularly handsome”. She also remembers him as “a lovely, kind, fun and charming man, and also extremely generous. He would tip everyone profusely, and was known far and wide as O’ Marchese”. (That’s ‘The Marquis’ in Neapolitan dialect). Above, Aldo is seen in 1957 with a ladyfriend called Isa at the wheel of his Alfa Romeo.
As for Anna, Marina remembers her as “quite a character, but also quite forbidding to us as children”. The eldest of the three Neapolitan siblings who threw in their lot with Positano (later to be joined by younger brother Franco), Anna was, in Marina’s words, “quite religious, highly social, always beautifullly dressed and with a huge network of friends – aristocrats preferably – of all nationalities. Her English was perfect, just like Franco’s, and she was a great traveller well into her eighties”. She was also, at least in her youth, a skilled horsewoman and showjumper, and later became a great adventurer. A few years before Anna died, her niece tells us, she travelled to Ethiopia and camped on the ground in a sleeping bag – “although her preferred accommodation”, Marina adds, “was much more in the style of Le Sirenuse”.
It was Anna and Aldo’s friendship with the younger sister of Queen Elizabeth II that brought Princess Margaret to Positano in 1973 and again in 1975. An article in Neapolitan newspaper Il Mattino from 18 August 1975 recounts ‘Meg’s’ day in the town, below a photo in which, flanked by the two Sersale siblings, she is shown meeting the mayor and other Positano notables. “On arrival”, wrote the paper’s anonymous correspondent, “Meg gave herself up to shopping, acquiring some coral items and a gold necklace or two. Later, she was guest of honour at a dinner organized by the marchesi Sersale, after which she descended to the hotel nightclub where she listened to popular music records, showing particular appreciation for our immortal Neapolitan melodies”. Aldo had lent the princess and her entourage his restored traditional fishing gozzo, the Sant’Antonio, to take her to and from her base in Conca dei Marmi – the same boat that takes Le Sirenuse’s guests on morning and sunset cruises today.
Marina Sersale is able to throw a curious sidelight on one of ‘Meg’s’ shopping expeditions in Positano. “I recollect a story told by my father Paolo”, she tells the Sirenuse Journal, “of Princess Margaret coming once to visit Positano, and being welcomed by my father and uncle Aldo. As they walked up Via dei Mulini, they stopped at a jeweller’s right next to Palazzo Murat. They went in, and the jeweller of course wanted to show off his wares to the important royal personage. So he gave a sapphire collier to Aldo, who immediately put it around Margaret's neck to see the effect. At which she turned round and said “Thank you, Aldo!” and walked off wearing the necklace”. Aldo, Paolo and the jeweller were left to share the cost. It’s a story that puts a whole new spin on the phrase “noblesse oblige”…
When it wasn’t being used to ferry princesses around, the Sant’Antonio was Aldo’s personal floating fiefdom, where he would entertain guests, flirt with a seemingly endless succession of ladyfriends, tell long stories and throw together impromptu lunches. “He would cook the most delicious pasta on board”, Marina recalls, “having previously dug up telline – delicious little clams – from somewhere along the coast”.
A long article written in 1985 for daily newspaper La Repubblica by leading Italian journalist Paolo Guzzanti (who would later be elected to the Italian Senate) immortalizes Zio Aldo in this role of gourmet ferryman, philosopher and raconteur.
“Who would have thought”, Guzzanti wrote, “that this gentleman in his seventies, who still dives into the sea like a pro, could conjure up from one moment to the next an amazing, simple, unrepeatable feast on his boat? Thick slices of mozzarella di bufala oozing milk, firm red tomatoes with their seeds scooped out, basil leaves so big they might have come from the tropics… and that volatile, deliciously dry spumante that flowed like life, like memory…”
Today, Aldo’s Cocktail Bar & Seafood Grill pays homage to the larger than life Zio Aldo. But we like to think that there’s something of Zia Anna too in what Le Sirenuse has become today – discreetly glamorous, in love with cultured ease, yet open to adventure.
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