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Un Altra Volta

Un Altra Volta

Renata Conte (June 1, 2010)
Renata Conte
Saying "Salve" Doesn't Make One Italian

We started out the day as Italians


Sometimes I get so frustrated I have to write this blog in the hope that someone out there can commiserate with me. I have many recollections of my childhood in Queens and the experiences and manifestations of Italian-Americanism; they were for the most part very poignant, happy and identifying experiences.

It seems though lately I choose to write about more current events that have almost always evolved into gran disappointments for me. These instances are not only disappointments but enlightenments as well. They make me see, ever more forcibly just how displaced I am from Italy, Italian New York, and Italian-American New York. I’m so glad I picked “Mezza Via” for my blog title, that description of myself never disappoints me. I was excited this past weekend. I had the long weekend off and I was determined to do something unique, adventurous and fun, just my husband and I. Always wanting to support all things Italian in NY, especially i-italy invitations, we set out for the East Village and the 3rd annual Documentary Film Festival, “Festival dei Popoli” on Saturday. Of course as with all our excursions, our plans included a meal as well. I decided that I had heard enough about this pizza “veramente Napolitana” so we headed to Keste’ in Greenwich Village first. I had read quite a few favorable reviews, and had learned that the owner was the head of the Assoc. of Neopolitan Pizza Chefs, and adhered to all the explicit ingredient and cooking rules and regulations therein. So off we went.    
     The pizzeria was aesthetically pleasing, as were the two Italian gentlemen seating the patrons and taking orders. I must add here that I am no stranger to true pizza. Rubbery dough with motor oil dripping from the “cheese” semi melted on top of garlic infested tomato sauce does not cut it for me. Of course, I was aware instantly that this place was in no danger of serving me anything remotely resembling that. I knew it would be good, but how good? I always judge foods by sampling them in their simplest form, thus I ordered a Margherita and my husband a Margherita with prosciutto di parma,(his philosophy is if it really is imported “di Parma” how can it not be good.) Suffice to say that the best pizza I had ever had up until this point was at the “Festival del’Unita’ under a tent in the colline outside Bologna. Alas, it still is the best pizza I’ve ever had, but this is not a restaurant review.

      The point of it all was that I felt so non-Italian in this place, almost unwelcome. The managers were amicable with effort; they were in their own Italian world with each other and their handful of Italian ex-patriot patrons. I was a little upset and my husband detected it. He knows how I love Italian interaction, but there were no takers. I even asked for another Moretti in Italian; “mi porta’ un altra birra per piacere” with an ever so slight American accent…nothing, oh well I should know by now I’m not one of them. It was a pleasant walk to the film archives on the east side. When we entered there was a group (who later turned out to be the coordinator of the event as well as the director of the documentary that was playing, along with support staff) talking and laughing among themselves in the lobby. We smiled, heard that beautiful Italian language discourse and knew we were in the right place. We bought our tickets, smiled at the gathering and sat down to in the lobby with them, waiting for admission to the theater. Again that feeling of not belonging washed over me. I made eye contact, smiled, even said “Salve”………..nothing. My husband and I talked to each other and pretended to peruse the brochures, while we waited. The film was excellent, and there was a lovely table of spumanti and Panini laid out between films, so Italian in style, but I could not find the warmth. I admit, I’m not very outgoing but after the smile and the “Salve” I expected someone to initiate with me.

      Now finally to the true disappointment of it all. I’m back at work; everyone is talking about their long weekends. I finally had something interesting under my belt, so I started describing this pizzeria in the village. I told them that it was the closest thing to Italian pizza I’ve had in a long time…veramente Napolitana. To that, one of my fellow Italian-Americans asks me how many SLICES I had, what the hell is bufala, and is prosciutto the one with the pistachio nuts in it. I debated whether to bring up the documentary I had seen, which I had found intriguing. I gave in. I explained that it followed 4 inmates sentenced to life imprisonment at Porto Azzuro on the Island of Elba. I got “Is Elba in Italy?” “Were they mafia guys?” and “I saw the Godfather 17 times”!! All I can say is Aiuto!!!!!

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