So I am standing today with my son outside the cathedral in Pisa, Italy staring at the famous tower and watching it do what it does best in the world. And my son, who understands hard-science, practical stuff better than I ever will, takes in the spectacle and says, more or less, “Woah, that is truly a mess. Amazing.”
And he smiles, glad to have seen such an oddity.
Me? I’m supposed to be the pessimist. I’m the guy who is reputedly drawn to a constant parsing of human failure. The Leaning Tower should be pretty much in my philsophical wheelhouse, right?
Instead, I’m standing there thinking of the taller belltower in Firenze, or the Great Fire Monument in London, or the Shot Tower in Baltimore, or the Space Needle in Seattle, or the Chrysler and Empire State Buildings in New York. I’m thinking to myself, “It’s a Homeric fucking triumph that every other one doesn’t just tilt on over. It’s a victory for all of humanity that this one Italian edifice is world famous for doing what other structures just don’t seem to do.
Maybe there’s cause for hope. I dunno. This bears some more thought, anyway.
* * *
And while we sit here in Tuscany, shoveling fresh cinghiale carpaccio and mozzarella into our gullets, then washing same down with chianti classico, and finishing with bacio gelati, we are informed by text messages from all over New Orleans that the Hubig’s bakery, home of the sacred pies of that same name, is burning. A five-alarm blaze.
As a family, we are of course overwhelmed by a guilt-sensation not unlike that of longtime lovers caught en flagrante with fresher, more exotic paramours. My wife’s immediate hyperbole: First Katrina, then BP. Now this.
I assume the Louisiana National Guard has been called out to provide an armed cordon sanitare around Angelo Brocato’s and Sucre. Damn.
As someone whose Mardi Gras costume a year ago was Savory Simon (!), the Hubig’s mascot, with my one-year-old daughter accessorized as a pillow-cased Sweet Potato pie, I sincerely hope, in all seriousness, that the bakery carries full fire and casualty insurance. And, indeed, that the policy is with a company that provides a more honorable response than those seen after the flood seven years ago.
Hubig’s is just one of those small, but resonant touchstones. Sad day in the Bywater, truly. I know a lot of people in New Orleans, along with many others elsewhere, are feeling down.
* * *
On a day in the Pompeii ruins, on the last summer vacation with my son before he heads to college, the eighteen-year-old scion saved the Pompeiian bordello, with its pornographic imagery carved above the stalls, for last. It was a seasoned touch on his part, something to let me know he has grown up and that the family dynamic is ever-changing.
He also went into town one morning and bought a bottle of wine.
Like it ain’t no thing.
* * *
Pies at Ancien Pizzeria de Michele in Napoli.
Been eating this stuff my whole life. Except I haven’t.
Marinara or Margherita. Those are the choices. And it is enough for a lifetime.
And by the way, Napoli is my Italian default. Tuscany is beautiful and gracious, but if I have to make my way in this country for any length of time, my inevitable retreat and redoubt will be decidedly Neapolitan. Lots of trash, rock ‘n’ roll graffitti, loud, raucous street life, old ladies leaning out second-floor windows, shirtless kids kicking soccer balls and breaking soda bottles. Crime stories on the front page. Complaints about ordinary corruption. And they know what to do with seafood. Outside of a news stand near the port, two guys in muscle shirts tried to sell me a hot iPad.
In short, Naples — bless her — is the Baltimore of the Mediterranean.