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[personal profile] alexpgp
I was told it was the kind of pizzeria – a ristorante-pizzeria, actually – where one calls ahead several days for a reservation. From the racket coming from inside, which sounded a little like the Three Stooges playing house while channeling the Keystone Kops, I didn’t know what to think.

I was in Italy to promote my company's newest software products, and had been invited by the folks at our office in Milan, Italy, to join them for dinner to celebrate the birthday of one of their number. Our group was standing around outside the place, enjoying an early June evening on the via Pacini while our table was being prepared, when I caught the eye of a man in his 50s, wearing coke bottle glasses, standing at his post in the restaurant's open doorway.

Recognizing me as an American, he motioned me over and straight-facedly told me, in heavily accented English, "I warn you, Italians have no sense of humor." This announcement would have carried more weight, I suppose, had he not been wearing an electric blue shirt and a red straw hat several sizes too small that was tied to his head by a cord that ran under his chin.

I had to chuckle. "You will pardon me if I don't believe you," I said, smiling. The man at the door raised his eyebrows and gave a little smile, too, then cocked his ear as if listening to something that had been said inside, made an announcement in Italian to our group, and stepped aside to let us in.

It became evident, soon after we were seated, that the doorman had three partners in crime (four, if you count the cook), and though I had the showbiz genre right, I had guessed the wrong act. The shortest of them looked way too much like Zeppo Marx, and was apparently in charge of the establishment's acoustic ambiance, because from time to time, he'd lean through the window between the dining room and the kitchen, grab an armload of aluminum pie trays, and then turn around and fling them into the air! He would then gauge his success of his artistry by observing the reactions of seated patrons when the trays landed on the floor with a crash.

Our waiter sported heavy eyebrows and a bushy moustache, and he reminded me of Groucho Marx. Even with my almost nonexistent Italian, it didn't take long for me to notice that he addressed all the men as 'Pasquale'. Nobody seemed to mind.

The third waiter was much younger than his confederates and seemed to be the odd man in the group, as he had perfectly ordinary features and didn't look like he was having much fun, although from time to time his determined demeanor would evaporate like a drop of water on a red-hot griddle. Once, he took the towel from under his belt and made a show of dusting the seats of the chairs of a party about to be seated, then vigorously polished the bald head of one of the newly seated customers. That earned a round of applause from the dining room.

If the atmosphere was irreverent and merry, the food was plentiful and excellent. After drinks were served, I ordered a "four seasons" pizza. It came garnished with ham, mushrooms, olives, and artichokes and was delicious (though I must admit, I wasn't prepared for the olives to be unpitted, or to eat pizza with a knife and fork). Then "Groucho" came by again to take our order for the next course, which surprised me a little, as the pizza had been rather filling. However, I was determined to fit in with the group as much as possible, so I ordered fried calamari with shrimp. This, too, was pretty good, except I was a little surprised to be served breaded shrimp that had been fried with their legs and shell! There was plenty of pasta to go around, and a very drinkable wine that, I was told, is bottled expressly for this restaurant.

The cook, who looked like Harpo (except with shorter hair), would come out of the kitchen from time to time to help keep things, uh, going. He particularly seemed to enjoy bringing small cups of espresso to the ladies at various tables and then, when they expressed surprise about the espresso (which they hadn't ordered), he'd get so upset, he'd eventually "spill" the (empty) cup in their lap.

At odd times during the evening, all conversation in the establishment was drowned out as the staff paraded out from the kitchen, singing with abandon and loudly playing a strange assortment of instruments. During each sortie, the procession would eventually stop at the table of a birthday celebrant to offer best wishes and a cake.

One of the instruments that struck my eye was a kind of clapper (a tricca ballaca, I was told later) in which two pivoting hammers strike a center board, which is fixed firmly between them in a frame. This seemed an awful lot of trouble to go to for a series of 'clack' sounds, but whatever the instrument lacked in tonal range, it made up for with spectacle (especially in "Zeppo's" hands). I had never seen anything of the kind, before or since.

All through the evening, sellers of various wares were welcomed by the management and allowed to circulate among the customers. One such woman, elderly and missing some teeth, offered individually wrapped roses that men bought for the ladies. Another street peddler sold cigarettes and spent about three-quarters of an hour haggling with a prospective customer over the price of a carton of Marlboros (that were almost certainly counterfeit, explained a young woman who sat opposite me).

For dessert, I ordered an affogato al caffè, which I was told is Italian for "drowned in coffee." The dish consisted of a scoop of vanilla gelato ice cream with espresso and Amaretto liqueur poured over it. When I ordered a cappuccino to go with it, "Groucho" raised his eyebrows and directed a short speech in my direction. From the way his hands were moving, I suspected he was suggesting I leave the restaurant and go down the street for some reason. I turned to Stefano, a colleague who had been helping me out with my nonexistent Italian, for an explanation.

"He says that, for cappuccino, maybe you could go outside and down the street to the, eh, ospedale – hospital? – where the old people live and ask for some there now, but this ristaurante does not serve cappuccino so late in the day."

"Oh," I said, and then, to "Groucho," "Mi scusi. My error." I ordered an espresso, which was noted down approvingly.

Our group sat and socialized long after the last espresso was served, and I felt completely at home, despite my inability to express myself. We finally rose from the table at around midnight, and after numerous hugs and handshakes, dispersed along our separate ways.

If I ever go back to Milan, I'll be sure to call ahead for a reservation.

* * *

Week 20 voting ends Saturday, April 3, at 3 pm EDT. In addition to voting check boxes, the poll also provides links to everyone's entries. Your support is appreciated.

Date: 2010-03-30 09:36 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] furzicle.livejournal.com
May I come too?

Date: 2010-03-31 01:13 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] alexpgp.livejournal.com
There is always room at the table!

Cheers...

Date: 2010-03-31 12:55 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] onda-bianca.livejournal.com
Well written, as always with a great last line.

On a somewhat unrelated note, I believe you may be one of the most legitimate writers in this competition.

Date: 2010-03-31 01:14 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] alexpgp.livejournal.com
Thank you for the compliment and high praise, but what is a "legitimate writer"?

Cheers...

Date: 2010-03-31 01:18 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] onda-bianca.livejournal.com
Legitimate writer = one who I expect to see things from outside of Idol/blogging. Perhaps I should have said developed and serious about it. But with abilities far beyond the world of Idol.

Date: 2010-03-31 03:45 am (UTC)
shadowwolf13: (Default)
From: [personal profile] shadowwolf13
That sounds like an awesome place! :)

Date: 2010-04-01 01:05 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] alexpgp.livejournal.com
It certainly was memorable!

Thanks for reading!

Cheers...

Date: 2010-03-31 04:48 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] baxaphobia.livejournal.com
What a fun experience! Smile.

Date: 2010-04-01 01:06 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] alexpgp.livejournal.com
It was a time well spent, that's for sure. Thanks for the comment!

Cheers...

Date: 2010-04-01 12:36 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lawchicky.livejournal.com
Oh my goodness! That sounds like an incredible meal and an even more incredible experience!

Date: 2010-04-01 01:31 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] alexpgp.livejournal.com
Well, it's stuck with me all these years, that's for sure!

Thanks for stopping by!

Cheers...

Date: 2010-04-01 03:02 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] roina-arwen.livejournal.com
I'm hoping to get to Italy one of these days - it sounds awesome!

Date: 2010-04-01 04:18 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] alexpgp.livejournal.com
Everyone should get to Italy one of these days. It is!

Thanks for reading!

Cheers...

Date: 2010-04-01 02:54 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] teaberryblue.livejournal.com
Oh my god, what an awesome place! I want to go there.

You have the best stories.

Date: 2010-04-01 04:19 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] alexpgp.livejournal.com
Thanks for the kind words.

Cheers...

Date: 2010-04-01 11:01 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] beautyofgrey.livejournal.com
Italy is the one place I've really wanted to visit, and now you've just made that desire expound tenfold. :)

Date: 2010-04-02 01:48 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] alexpgp.livejournal.com
Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa!

Cheers...

Date: 2010-04-02 04:51 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] crocotiger.livejournal.com
Alas, alas, I was mislead from the very beginning. Having seen the words 'racket' and 'crime', all the way through I was expecting scenes of graphic violence, but my expectations never came true. As I eventually understood, it was actually quite peaceful dinner with nice people. It's not your fault, of course, it's my attitude... Thank you for your efforts!

Date: 2010-04-02 05:32 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] alexpgp.livejournal.com
Oops! Yes, 'racket' has both the meaning of 'ongoing illegal enterprise' and 'loud chaotic noise." Too, the phrase "partner in crime" is probably most often used ironically to refer to a confederate in an enterprise that is not criminal, but questionable.

Thanks for stopping by!

Cheers...

Date: 2010-04-02 08:15 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mstrobel.livejournal.com
I loved reading this so much!! XD

Also, I love someone else who knows who Zeppo is! He seems so forgotten these days. Kudos :)

Date: 2010-04-03 12:08 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] alexpgp.livejournal.com
Thank you.

Cheers...

Date: 2010-04-02 09:07 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] agirlnamedluna.livejournal.com
To be completely honest, I dislike the 'Italian' way of restaurants LOL. Then again, we usually see the 'show' aspect of it, and I was 14 when I was in Italy, so perhaps my experience was tainted. I found the men creepy!

But I'd kill for a pizza. Yet I can't have any right now. That alone would keep me from ever going back there =)

Date: 2010-04-03 12:14 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] alexpgp.livejournal.com
Ah, well, à chaqun son goût!

I sort of had the same experience when I first saw Cabaret on Broadway during a school trip in junior high.

Cheers...

Date: 2010-04-03 04:14 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] hug-machine.livejournal.com
Hee! Heck to wanting to be there, I feel like I'm there with all your awesome description!

Date: 2010-04-03 04:15 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] alexpgp.livejournal.com
Thank you for the kind words.

Cheers...

Date: 2010-04-03 09:45 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] joeymichaels.livejournal.com
a kind of clapper

Ah! A "slap stick." You were in the middle of some sort of commedia dell'arte restaurant! How totally awesome.

Italy has one of the oldest and greatest theatrical comedic traditions in the world - the aforementioned commedia dell'arte - and I can't tell you how exciting it is to me to learn that some of its traditions are alive and well in the food industry.

I've had the pleasure of seeing, directing, and performing in commedia inspired shows in the past and nearly everything you described sounds like classic "lazzi" (comic bits of business) that would happen in a commedia. Wonderful! Wonderful!

Date: 2010-04-03 04:20 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] alexpgp.livejournal.com
I'm tickled to learn that what I experienced is most likely part of a great theatrical tradition!

Cheers...

Date: 2010-04-03 11:34 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] imafarmgirl.livejournal.com
Great entry. I love how you write stories.

Date: 2010-04-03 04:21 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] alexpgp.livejournal.com
Thank you for the compliment.

Cheers...

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