About a week ago, I posted a story about my experience in Italy. For fun, I wrote it in the 3rd person. After reading it, a friend (thanks Jenn) suggested writing it in my own voice and see the difference it would make. So I did and made some changes along the way and guess what, I liked it better this way! How much did I prefer it? Well, I submitted it to Facts & Arguments of the Globe & Mail (thanks again Jenn), who knows, maybe it’ll get published. And if that’s the case, consider this the advance screening. Thanks for reading and hope you enjoy it.
Picture it… Napoli , Italy , Pizzeria Da Michele. Although Napoli was never on my original Italian itinerary, my love of food and the suggestion of a friend brought me fork-to-mouth with a pizza experience I’m unlikely to ever experience again.
I turned 30 back in January of 2008 and since 30 was one of those milestone birthdays where you’re supposed to evaluate life and your accomplishments, I did just that and it bothered me that I hadn’t yet traveled and specifically hadn’t been to Europe. I honestly could not envision myself starting anywhere but Italy.
My itinerary was set, two weeks in Italy, arriving in Roma, than hoping to figure out how to take the train to Venizia, Parma, Cinque Terre, Pisa, Firenze, Roma and if time permitted, Napoli. Napoli was always a possibility, but even more so after my friend Sandra gave me a copy of Eat, Pray, Love to read on the plane since the “Eat” part of the book takes place in Italy . Although, the book was now over two years old, I hadn’t really heard too much about the book, but with a six hour flight ahead of me, I had more than a few hours to spare. Sandra had raved about the book and thought the “Eat” part would be of particular interest to me, especially the orgasmic pizza encounter.
To make a long story short, I read the “Eat” part and there was no doubt about it, Napoli and that pizza were now on my to-do list. As a matter of fact, the “Pray” and “Love” parts were pretty inspiring as well and I enjoyed every page, more so than I probably realize even today. Here I was in Italy, back-packing by myself and to be totally honest, pretty sketched out and nervous about traveling in a country where I could sort of get out an awkward “grazie”. But as the days went on and as I got more comfortable in my surroundings, I had a strange sensation of feeling like I was able to conquer whatever was ahead of me, be it Italy , work, life, you name it.
With an address and hope, I trained it to Napoli early in the morning. The rumor was Pizzeria Da Michele often ran out of pizza dough! Nothing would get in my way, except maybe only one thing. I had done pretty well getting around Italy up to this point and I’d always considered myself an expert jaywalker, but this was a crossing the street thing was a problem. See, in Napoli , there appeared to be a lack of traffic lights and an over-abundance of cars driving really fast. After evaluating the situation and observing others, it seemed that pedestrians simply walk with purpose and the cars drive around them. I had come too far and was getting hungry to let this be a speed bump in my journey, so off I went and sure enough, some cars stopped and some swerved but I crossed the street just fine.
It was 11am and thankfully they hadn’t run out yet! I looked at the menu on the wall, but I knew what I wanted, the Pizza Margherita. As I was waiting, I looked around and took the place in. Everything just fit, the cook making the pizza had probably been doing it for 60 years, the wood fire oven probably had probably been there since the place opened and the pictures on the wall of Mr. and Mrs. Da Michele overseeing it all made it feel authentic and added to the experience.
Then came the moment of truth, I was presented the long-awaited pizza and if food can be art, this would be the David of pizza (which I also visited in Firenze), simple presentation, yet complex in its taste.
I savored that first bite, trying to taste the history of the pizza. I honestly did not think the pizza would live up to expectation after all the hype, but somehow it did and then some. The dough was fresh and aromatic and had the tear factor that is necessary in a good pizza. The tomato sauce was sweet and full of flavor. The presentation of the cheese surprised me since it was not grated, but rather it was slices or chunks (when they are that thick) and it was pure magic. And lastly, the basil, it was baked into the pizza and that single leaf managed to perfume the entire pizza with the scent of sweet basil. I did not even have to bite the basil to taste it within the pizza and to this day, anytime I smell basil, it brings me back to that pizzeria.
Leaving was bittersweet; I was euphoric in having found something that good and that memorable. I hope I’m wrong, but I realized this was probably the pinnacle of my pizza eating journey. Oh, I’ll eat more pizza, but I have my doubts it will measure up to my morning pizza Margherita in Napoli once all the factors are taken into account.
Now, how does Eat, Pray, Love factor into this? I will never know. But I do know the book was a part of my trip, so it’s likely it had an effect. I often look back at my trip in Italy with a smile. That trip sent me on a path that has since seen me quit a job many would and have viewed as a “dream” job working with the Montreal Canadiens. I moved to Vancouver only to take another “dream” job working for the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games (VANOC), I started a blog (https://tastesbetterwithfriends.wordpress.com) went back to Europe, vacationed in Hawaii, drove across Canada and the United States and realized, as clichéd as it sounds, can pretty much do whatever I set my mind to!
And yes, I ate the whole pizza and even considered ordering a second one, but everything had been perfect and I wanted it to stay that way.