I have a somewhat addictive personality. This has manifested itself in a number of ways over the years: juggling, girls, Jolt Cola, women, video games, babes, wine, Michelle Hunziker, travel and boobs. Thankfully, somehow, I’ve avoided drugs or the only people reading my missives now would be abnormal psychology researchers, increasingly regretful social work trainees and the letters editor at the New York Times. As if the above list of time consuming and expensive pursuits weren’t enough of a distraction, I’ve recently managed to accidentally acquire a new fixation: pizza.
But this isn’t just any pizza. After all I’m an American, I’ve been eating enormous amounts of pizza ever since I’ve been able to get down solid food, as is decreed in the Pledge of Allegiance (“… indivisible, with liberty and deep dish for all”). No, I’m talking about lovingly tended, precisely crafted, magically delicious traditional Italian pizza.
It started out innocently enough. When I returned from Romania two weeks ago, I had a food crisis. So as not to be wasteful, I had diligently consumed every morsel of food in the house before leaving for my trip, a heroic effort that required five meals per day for the final two days prior to departure. Now I was back home after 22 hours of solid travel, I was starving and the last bus of the night into the city had already departed. It was either get some terrible bar food at the one and only open café in the village or survive for 12 hours on two cloves of garlic, a dribble of olive oil and half a roll of Mentos. Needless to say, I trudged down to the café.
As I was dolefully choosing between a day-old glazed doughnut and a three ounce bag of potato chips, the café owner informed me that I could get an honest-to-god pizza at a restaurant about 300 meters down a dark street I hadn’t previously explored (because of monsters). I stood in silent disbelief. There was a restaurant still doing business in January in my abandoned vacation village? “Are you shitting me?” I wanted to say in Italian (they never teach you the truly important phrases in language classes). I surreptitiously sniffed his breath, determined that he was sober, then resolved to investigate this dubious claim.
I walked for 300 meters, arrived at a deserted street corner, cursed in Italian, spit in disgust (I’m all about total cultural immersion), almost turned around, but then decided to go for broke and give it another 100 meters. And boy am I glad that I did.
I came upon a restaurant, the only place with lights on for a quarter mile in any direction, doing a surprisingly brisk business. There were more people dining in this restaurant, on a Monday night no less, than lived in the entire village at the time. Walking off the deserted street into this buzzing place was a distinct Doctor Who Moment. Did all these people drive all the way out from the city just to eat at this obscure, far flung place? Did they make pizza to go? Was that chick not wearing underwear? I boldly moved in to learn more.
It should have occurred to me then that this restaurant was special, but that concept didn’t fully crystallize until I’d hustled all the way home cradling my thin pizza with mozzarella, prosciutto and fresh tomatoes. Keep in mind, I was starving and when you’re starving even Norwegian food can taste pretty damn succulent (but it goes without saying that you have to be wicked starving). Also, my expectations were low after the brief glimpse I’d gotten of my dinner while it was being boxed up. I’m guilty of the American obsession of wanting as many ingredients as are allowed by physics in things like pizzas, omelets and burritos. My view was that any pizza with less than four toppings was gastronomic lethargy, plain and simple. But this pizza changed my outlook on life like falling 17 stories out of a hotel window and living. Despite being so simple, it was inexplicably more savory than most any other pizzas I’d ever had.
Pictured above is a pizza, half with sea urchins (my new least favorite sea food) and half with mozzarella, baby tomatoes and some green crap.
So, what I wanna know is, how exactly does this happen? I’d say that the laws of nature were being broken here, if I had any idea what the laws were (stupid attention span). How do the Italians take the most basic, seemingly uninspired ingredients and tweak them in such a way that the end result is more than the logical sum of its parts? And, apart from a select few exceptional pizza joints, why hasn’t anyone else figured out how to accomplish this outside of Italy? And if they can figuratively take shit and turn it into gravy with such style, why do I have to lean out my front door on one foot, with a metal spatula in my teeth in order to get a cellular internet connection? I’ve only begun researching these quandaries, but I have a hunch it has something to do with Area 51 and the Lindberg baby. Mark my words.
Pictured above is a pizza, half shrimp, totatoes, mozzarella and mushrooms and half salmon, mozzarella and some weird paté along with some of Sardinia’s finest (read: cheapest) red wine.
Never mind that. What’s more pressing is that I’ve now been back to that pizza restaurant five times in less than two weeks. The good news is that unlike drugs, these pizzas give the same, sustained, toe-curling high each time I consume one, even if I have the same pizza twice in two days, which I’ve done strictly for posterity. Furthermore, they’ve got over 40 pizzas on the menu, so scrupulous journalistic integrity demands that I sample every variety, except the ones with yucky olives of course. The bad news is, this indulgence is costing me 7-10 euros (US$8-11) a pop. I don’t know if my meager budget can handle an additional 25-30 euro outlay each week. Perhaps I can convince my parents to put off retirement for one more year so their eldest and cutest son – who let’s not forget was essentially a model child after that whole emergency surgery at birth and colicky first year debacle – can indulge in some of the finer points of being a homeless, destitute travel writer for a while.
At what stage does treating yourself right for a little while turn into sustained, flat out gluttony? One could argue that you only live in Italy once, but this is me we’re talking about. With my rootless, careless, godless lifestyle, I could conceivably live in Italy twice or thrice, if only to drive untold ex-girlfriends into a jealous tizzy. Indeed, this could go on for years, particularly if Michelle Hunziker ever starts returning my calls.
While you chew on that, or more accurately, while I chew on that and you wish you were here with me, please allow me this rare random links and ranting moment. Contentious reader Mimi, knowing my strong connection with all things Romanian and perverse, sent me this link over the weekend: Angry Surgeon Chops Off Manhood.
Two things struck me here, beyond the obviously sickening visual, which try as I might, I haven’t been able to successfully un-watch yet. First they say that Romanian doctors don’t pull down a large salary. This is only marginally true. Compared to western doctors, yes Romanian doctors do indeed make squat, yet they still pocket more per year than five of their average compatriots put together, so it’s not like they’re living in poverty. More importantly, as is true with virtually everyone in Romania in a position of power, over the age of 40 and already rich, a large number of doctors demand a significant bribe before they will even look at a bee sting. So, in fact, at the end of the month these supposed poor doctors are actually raking in mountains of tax-free cash and to suggest otherwise is a laughable falsehood.
Second, this is a prime example of the lingering god-complex that the “elite”, Ceausescu-era people still cling to in Romania. That’s why guys are still walking off with EU funds like their entitled to it, people in even the most vaguely corruptible positions will freely abuse their power and a surgeon thinks it permissible to fillet a guy’s pee pee if he’s feeling a bit perturbed one day. The fact that his colleagues are defending him against being personally fined for his actions is proof of the mentality that arbitrary, horrific acts like this are simply within their privilege as doctors. They even suggest that if the insurance company doesn’t pay for it, they will have no choice but to refuse treatment in the future, saying “it will be entirely fair if they only accept cases where they cannot make mistakes.” Oh I see, this was a mistake? He didn’t mean to deliberately mutilate the guy? What if I didn’t mean to follow you home for two miles and stab you in the brain with an ice pick after you cut me off in traffic? Does that mean I don’t have to pay damages to you Dr. Jackhole?
Now I have no doubt that there’s a special kind of hell (or whatever) waiting for these halfwits, but why not get the torment going while the gettin’s good? I’ve long had a fantasy about opening up my own little Roman Coliseum, like they had back at the height of the Empire, but instead of gladiators and pitting hyenas against giraffes and other bizarre shit, I’d just keep an assembly of people on hand, like the pee pee doctor and his crew, and throw them in the ring covered in barbecue sauce with starving wolverines or dunk them in a pool with robot sharks with lobster pinchers and torpedoes or whatever and let them get a taste of what senseless retribution feels like. Screw baseball, that’s the common man’s spectator sport!