Friday, February 9, 2007

Totonno and Eduardo

There is a famous pizzeria in Brooklyn called Totonno's. It's in Coney Island and is one of the rare brick oven pizzerias. The place opens at lunchtime and closes when they run out of dough. I went there once with some Brooklyn friends and a friend from Minneapolis (who, on the same visit to NYC, walked into the now defunct Mrs. Stahl's knishes and said, "What's a NISH?" and the lady behind the counter said, "Yaw not from around heeyah, awr ya?"). We were the only customers, so the pizzaiolo came and sat with us, an older guy all in white: white t-shirt stretched tightly across big belly, white pants, white apron, white hair. At one point in the conversation he asked us, "You know where Yiddish comes from?" It thought we were headed toward an anti-semitic conversation (paranoid? me?), but, instead, pizza guy explained the actual history of Yiddish (from middle high German, Ashkenaz, Europe, blah blah). Turns out, most Italianist pizza man macho Broccolino is Jewish. He married the daughter of Totonno and took over when his father-in-law retired (or died...I don't know what happened). One of my friends said, "We could have seder at Totonno's!" Imagine: a real my daughter.

I remembered this story today because my parents, La Bimba and I were in a pizzeria here in la bella Napoli, and on the way out, the owner asked if La Bimba was a napoletana. I said she was half-Neapolitan, half-American. Then the typical conversation ensued...and then turned...

Owner: Your mother looks like a real Neapolitan.
O: But you're Italian American.
Me: No, we have no Italian blood.
O: So you're American American?
Me: (Attempting to side-step the whole, What is a real American, what happened to the Native Americans, what is a Jew discourse) Our roots are in Russia, Poland, Eastern Europe generally.
O: Oh, so you're Ashkenazim.
Me: Exsqueeze me? Baking Powder?

Yeah, the owner of Eduardo's pizzeria on Corso Vittorio Emanuele knows all about the history of both the Ashkenazim and the Sephardim. When I asked him how he knew all this he said, "Sometimes I read."

We start studying the Talmud next week.


Delina said...

Well look at that... Between the margherita and frittura it's amazing what conversation you can get :)

Nice to hear that your parents are to visit.

Doug said...

After years of psychoanalysis and psychotherapy, and after the always-strange transition to "friends" (but never simply friends -- what a strange and unique relationship therapist-patient is!)-- even after he had emigrated with his family to New Zealand (having made the right call, I think, on the direction of American society) -- I found myself at the end of a run-on sentence with at least one dangling modifier.

No, no...I found out that ex-shrink/ now-friend had been Jewish all along, and Sephardic to boot. Slightly embarrassing, having said many times, "If you were Jewish, you'd understand this." How do those people do their jobs well (those that do), since keeping as straight a face as possible is critical (when facing the patient)?

Not that anyone who hasn't been in relatively Freudian analysis should find this even vaguely interesting -- and if you've read this far, you're probably dying for a simple declarative sentence -- but it was a shock. He was quite the "blank screen" -- didn't even know he was married and had kids till he told me he was heading for Middle Earth to avoid Dubya's Apocalypse, apparently choosing to take his chances amongst marauding orcs and Sauron rather than amidst the neo/theocon axis.

On a slightly more relevant note, last night, Italian-American wife and I accompanied some friends to the Rhode Island Shrine to Pizza, the aptly named Caserta . (Most of the Cranston-Providence Italian-American crowd is, reportedly, Greater-Neapolitan/ Campanian.)

Eh. Not as good as Brooklyn pizza. But not bad, not bad.

Doug said...

Oh, and a big hello to your parents, too. I'm sure they'll agree that the "years of psychoanalysis and psychotherapy" was a necessary investment. I sure do. :)