Thursday, May 30, 2019

The Great Leon Redbone

The great Leon Redbone died today. He was even greater than you realize.

Leon Redbone was flawless. The fact that he was an Armenian refugee who entered the hemisphere at the late age of 16, yet managed to channel the essence of old-timey American music more beautifully and authentically than any other retro performer only magnifies his glimmer. I’m like Diogenes when it comes to insisting on genuineness in music (and other things) and Redbone was the realest of the real, even though his persona was the fakest of the fake.

He was flawless in his musical taste and performance, his singing and his strumming, but also in his witticisms and bon motts, many of which appear in this great profile which you absolutely must read, even if you've never heard of the guy. Every quote is a gem; every observation a pearl.

I apologize for my flatly superlative praise, but as with Mamma Grimaldi's lasagna, there's a level where there's not much to say.
The very best stuff has a shocking purity, a grace, an emptiness.
I think Redbone was at that high pure level, and remained there consistently throughout his long career. His output was so stripped down and unearthly relaxed that you might not notice your universe has been powerfully reframed - into a timeless space of elegance and intimacy. It's magic.
Pure water gently trickling. A soothing stream, at body temperature, scarcely vulgar enough to fill your gut or tickle your palate.
The following is a late Redbone performance on the "ALF" talk show, hosted by a puppet alien (the show lasted only seven episodes and is considered among the very worst things ever put on television). After performing one song solo, ALF, the obnoxious puppet character, insists on a duet, the very suggestion of which will leave you cringing. But dammit if Redbone doesn't make it music...and touching music, at that. Again: magic. Have a look:

The following are Redbone's two favorite recordings (as mentioned in the article linked above). Have a listen, and see if you don't come around to Redbone's it's-all-happening-now perspective. Both of these strongly evoke Redbone, who was more of a timeless wavelength than a man. Andy Kaufman, alas, is truly dead. But Leon Redbone? Never.

No accent. Not in his speech, nor his music, nor his taste. Never out of time or out of place in any respect; always the very essence of whatever he chose to evoke. Flawless!

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Must-See Film

"Long Day's Journey Into Night", an experimental Chinese film with nothing to do with the Eugene O'Neill play, is still in its limited run, and you shouldn't miss it (see local showtimes on Fandango's page for the film).

This is 75 minutes of confusing noir, as the lead character struggles to recover foggy memories and piece together incomplete information (a bit maddening, but exactly in the way such odysseys actually are) and then it's a 50 minute 3D single shot elegy; a letting go into non-linearity. Once one has accepted, after effort, that some story can never be resolved - the memories never fully restored, the facts never reassembled - one's nonverbal, intuitive brain frames it as melancholy poetry - beautiful shards drifting out of reach. It settles into a dream, making its limited sense within the non-analytical realm of dream logic.

There have been a great many films centering on foggy memory and incomplete facts, and cinematic efforts to portray the dream state. These have been two of the main preoccupations of the form. But Chinese director Bi Gan has finally done it. This is what your mind feels like - first, when it's fragmented (and it always is to some degree) and woozily tries to preserve foothold amid the tantalizing spottiness of it all. And then we put on our 3D glasses, and, for the first time, behold the dream state convincingly captured on film. Gan has resorted to none of the usual cinematic tropes used to telegraph to audiences that this is the dream part. I guess that's why no reviewer fully understood the movie.

This section is not just representative of dreams, or reminiscent of them. It truly registers as a dream - the first one you've ever dreamt that was created by someone else. I saw the film two weeks ago, and the fading memory has become entwined in my own dreamscape. I fully recall it as something I dreamed. I wouldn't be surprised if I returned there some night.

LDJIN is not trying to be linear or logical, nor to tell a story. Quite the contrary. If you view it with your left, analytical brain, it feels like pushing a noodle. Don't view it as a movie with a plot; just let it wash over you. As you sit with it over subsequent hours/days/weeks, I think you'll agree it captures the state of foggy memory and patchy comprehension, and offers a direct experience of the sensation of letting go; of allowing incomplete pieces to simply hover in the unconscious.

It’s a breakthrough and a masterpiece, but movie reviewers have confused it, for better or for worse, with a novel means of storytelling. It's not that. The film is not about its own story...which never condenses into a story, anyway. That's the point! Rather, it's the meta-story of how we gather and process our stories.

Real life is never pat. We never have all the information, and we spend our lives struggling to make sense of fragments. Sometimes the result feels satisfying, and sometimes we must resign ourselves to letting the remaining shards simply be, reframed as poetry and drifting, of their own accord, into unconsciousness.

Screening schedule

Hating and Loving Correction

Good point from a reader re: yesterday's posting, "The Nightmare Fuel of Naomi Wolf's Hilariously Ruined Book", which included this:
I live in terror of hitting the "publish" button, because I know I'm capable of putting something obviously, flagrantly stooooopid out there. I'm always waiting for someone to kindly tap my shoulder and say "Um, Jim, I'm really sorry but that's just absolutely flat wrong". It hasn't happened more than a few times here, but the potential's always present.
The reader presented it very politely, but, for clarity's sake, I'll fire the guns all the way:
Hold on. I thought you're the guy who's always saying how you love being shown you're wrong; how you find correction preferable to operating under false assumptions.
I do love being shown I’m wrong...because I want desperately to be as annoyingly right as possible. Most people would much rather feel right than be right, which shows that they don't want it badly enough. The really super vain approach isn't to stick bandaids over one's gaps and pose as flawless, but to thirst for constant correction in order to eventually enjoy life as an unbearable preening know-it-all (of course, it's asymptotic - you never actually arrive - but, after a while, the sandblasting feels cleansing and welcome in its own right).

But not like this! To have it happen live on the radio in front of everyone, days before your book publishes and invalidating years of effort...that's my worst nightmare. I want to notice my wrongness before I’ve built an ambitious structure on shaky ground. The point of my relentless self-questioning is to avoid precisely that fate! This is the result I'm desperately trying to avoid!

However, I do acknowledge my inner contradiction. I'm mortified about being wrong yet love correction. I fear the tap on the shoulder, yet welcome it. I pride myself on having built ideas, brick by brick, for fifty years, subjecting each nugget to skeptical examination, and I both love and hate the idea of being forced to throw big chunks away.

What's more, I hadn't quite noticed this ambivalence until right now. And, sure enough, I'm grateful that it was pointed out. I'm happy for the extra clarity. I don't feel consternation or embarrassment. But isn't that the nature of fear? Aren't feared things always surprisingly endurable in the actual happening?

Hey, look at that! An interesting little insight/connection popped out! Can you see why I like having my inner contradictions revealed? There's always a cookie!

I welcome correction because I fear wrongness. Correction removes wrongness, even as it exposes the thing I most fear. Thankfully, I fear it so much that I'm willing to withstand its exposure to avoid its exposure!

It's a bit daft, yes, but I think we can all relate to this observation in some aspect of our lives: "I fear it but don't dislike it when it happens." Also: the observation that cleaning is the dirtiest work of all is a fundamental observation; number one on the list of paradoxes that must be embraced.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

The Nightmare Fuel of Naomi Wolf's Hilariously Ruined Book

You may have heard the Naomi Wolf news. She's written a book based on research that took her through a slew of archival material, concentrating on one single phrase that seemed quite clear in its meaning, but which turned out to mean the opposite thing. The entire enterprise turned out to have been for naught, and she only learned this while on the air during a radio show shortly before the book release.

She handled it as gracefully as one could, but every writer hearing about this died a tiny bit. I lost a toenail and eleven eyebrow hairs, plus I need to check in with my islets of Langerhans.

Here's the news story
Here's a short Twitter thread about this by historian John Schindler.

Wolf seems like a Keystone Cop; an incompetent asshole who met her righteous come-uppance. Hilarious!

But not to me. There, but for the grace of plod, goes me.

I spent two years working on my smart phone app Eat Everywhere. It contains virtually everything I know about practically every cuisine on Earth (plus the knowledge of a phalanx of smart colleagues). Not just dish names and categories, but cultural background and savvy know-how accumulated over the course of decades of promiscuous eating.

I fact-checked nearly every damned statement in ever-increasing panic, hoping that ethnic Brazilians and Ethiopians and Russians - who'd surely look up their family's home cuisine first - would say "Man, these guys really get it!", and trust us deeply on less familiar stuff (while some fantasize about sex or power, this is my fantasy: being corroborated and trusted). I knew that if we’d messed up some Italian pasta shape or Thai curry, hordes of food weenies stood ready to pounce - to pronounce the work lightweight bullshit (I have some experience with snark).

My panic was "ever-increasing" because something horrible was happening: it was revealed to me, drip-by-drip, that 5% of my food knowledge was comically, stupidly, embarrassingly wrong.

Most awfully, a half dozen dishes I knew like the back of my hand turned out not to actually exist. And they were some of my favorites! I'd found each in some immigrant restaurant that had, it seems, capriciously dreamed it up, and I'd enjoyed it - often for years - presuming it authentic, and adding it to the underlying basis of my food knowledge.

I spent tens of hours trying to track down these nonexistent dishes, assuming I'd gotten the spelling wrong, or that they were from obscure parts of the region, or that they'd lost popularity (a few bona fide dishes I ate in my 20s have indeed begun to disappear, Pakistani aloo bujia being one example, and Haitian fufu another; only old people remember them). I grilled natives, raked through menus....had a hard time letting go. Some of these non-dishes may be rolling around in my brain still. I'm pretty sure I filtered them out of the app, but it was often too late. Several had popped up in my professional work. Some food expert I am.

I'm not a food historian. I'm actually dubious of the phrase, because there's no central motherlode of scholarship in which to school oneself. Given the immense variation and cross-pollination, and the moment-by-moment evolution, there's no solid "there" there, so one has no choice but to learn empirically. And, while empirical knowledge may be useful, it is inevitably 5% comically, stupidly, embarrassingly wrong - higher if you’re not very careful. 

Those two years were a horror of discovering how hacked-together and patchy and dubious my knowledge is. Maybe I'd done it all wrong! I wrote last week that...
There are two schools of food writers covering world cuisines. The first are like gringo anthropologists, poking and prodding. They are fixed points while the restaurants revolve around them. The second school is the one I subscribe to: the mergers. We eat Moroccan like Moroccans, Peruvian like Peruvians. The culture du jour is the fixed point, and we do the revolving, feeling at home everywhere thanks to malleable cultural stem cells, paisonified even when we look nothing like the rest of the crowd.
Perhaps I'd have done better to choose the other way, pumping waiters for fritter ingredients, taking Aspergian notes on the soups, and treating this less like delirious cultural surfing and more like the dry dissection of moths or tadpoles. Less immersion, more taxonomy.

But the gringo anthropologists make plenty of errors, too, and they're worse ones - viral bits of inaccuracy endlessly passed on. The well's been poisoned by shoddy conventional wisdom, and only peripatetic Lone Ranger types have an independent enough perspective to recognize the contaminants. But, alas, we generate new wrongness of our own.

To most people, Wolf's a laughingstock. But if you're not cautiously trafficking in accepted convention (and even that won't ensure accuracy, but merely cover your ass when you do inevitably err), your fresh, original observations and conclusions place you in grave danger. You're out there without a safety net. This is why people rarely stick their neck out. There's a deep fear, and it's not unreasonable.

This Slog, for example, is a lumpy bag of mostly fresh observations and conclusions. I sometimes wake up in night sweats, questioning the entire enterprise. What if I'm some kookie ditz willfully spraying banality and nonsense into a void, having convinced himself I’m clear-eyed and insightful? I live in terror of hitting the "publish" button, because I know I'm capable of putting something obviously, flagrantly stooooopid out there. I'm always waiting for someone to kindly tap my shoulder and say "Um, Jim, I'm really sorry but that's just absolutely flat wrong". It hasn't happened more than a few times here, but the potential's always present. One can quintuple check oneself, but assumptions inevitably become firmament, and it's impossible to accomplish anything worthwhile if you're constantly and endlessly rechecking firmament.

Oooof. Just horrible. It's total nightmare fuel.

Back in the Hemisphere

Indexing previous reporting from my 2019 Italy trip:
The Naples Diet
Lines in Italy Explain My Exasperation
His Dying Thought: Oh, right; this is how you die in Italy
The Surprising Truth About Real Neapolitan Brick Oven Pizza
The Surprising Truth About Real Sicilian Rice Balls
Marzipan, You Idiot! Marzipan!
Naples: Mistaking Soulfulness for Danger
Two Recent Glimpses of Ridiculous Death
Pasta Time!
Miscellaneous PIzza
Sfogliatelle Shootout in Naples
Desserts and Lodgings
The Benign Insanity of Scouting Moroccan Food in Naples
Jewish and Comedy Food in Italy
Mama Grimaldi: Lasagna Preface
Mamma Grimaldi: The Final Lasagna

In Naples! Naples!

Oh well. Anyway, I flew back into Newark Airport, where I'm a big fan of SNAP off-site parking (wrote about it here), and grabbed my traditional post-flight Newark bite ( it greet it eat it 'fore I get home tonight).

I hadn't been to Casa Vasca in ages. It used to be a staunchly Spanish place (more Galician than Basque, despite the name) with the best sangria I'd ever found in the western hemisphere (the most convenient hemisphere for me!), including great white sangria. Never on foodie radar, I always gave Casa Vasca credit for producing some of the most authentically Iberian flavors in the tristate area - and I say this as an Ironbound skeptic, unimpressed with virtually all the standard options around Newark's Ferry Street.

It's changed a bit. It's starting to morph toward Latin American, and the cooking has a Telephone Game vibe, where recipes have been passed down through too many generations of chefs. But while this dish was Mid-Atlantic (i.e. halfway between Spain and the Dominican Republic), it was so well-prepared that authenticity was the last thing on my mind. I kind of blissed out on it, remarking that it was no come-down at all from what I'd been enjoying in Italy. So why did I get on that plane in the first place?

It's the eternal Chowhound paradox:

1. Total confidence that treasure awaits discovery literally everywhere, yet...
2. An irrational drive to seek it out as far from home as possible.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Mamma Grimaldi: The Final Lasagna

Indexing previous reporting from my 2019 Italy trip:
The Naples Diet
Lines in Italy Explain My Exasperation
His Dying Thought: Oh, right; this is how you die in Italy
The Surprising Truth About Real Neapolitan Brick Oven Pizza
The Surprising Truth About Real Sicilian Rice Balls
Marzipan, You Idiot! Marzipan!
Naples: Mistaking Soulfulness for Danger
Two Recent Glimpses of Ridiculous Death
Pasta Time!
Miscellaneous PIzza
Sfogliatelle Shootout in Naples
Desserts and Lodgings
The Benign Insanity of Scouting Moroccan Food in Naples
Jewish and Comedy Food in Italy
Mamma Grimaldi: Lasagna Preface

Prerequisite: Mamma Grimaldi: Lasagna Preface (don't forget the homework assignment at the end!).

28 years - exactly half my lifetime - ago in Barcelona, I ecstatically devoured precious cargo brought back from Italy by one of my music students at the time, guitarist Andrea Grimaldi. Andrea was a wonderful cook, but he insisted he was nothing compared to his mother. I'd flown in for my biannual Spain gigs, and this time the timing had lined up. Andrea was just returning from a visit home, bearing holy parmigiana from The Master.

Even reheated, it was one of the greatest things I'd ever eaten. I've spent the past three decades dreaming of meeting Mamma Grimaldi.
In the meantime, I've visited Andrea's rustic hacienda in northern Catalonia several times (documenting his amazing cooking here and here, plus a slideshow here). I was also proud to host Andrea's photo essay about Mamma Grimaldi here on the Slog, starting here.
Last month, stars finally aligned. I was in Rome for Easter, and Andrea had brought his family for a visit. So I finally got invited for lunch at Mamma Grimaldi's house in the village of Aprilia, between Rome and Naples.

Andrea, a Slog reader, was aware of my lasagna obsession, and asked his mom to make some for me, an act of kindness so great that I despair at my inability to show sufficient gratitude. She prepared it with mini meatballs. Let's go to the videotape.

A couple of brief "making-of" videos:

Extremes can be strange. You'd expect them to be like lesser instances, only more so. But sometimes they're a whole other thing; a different world. This is why "The very rich are different from you and me", and it's why "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." There's a threshold past which it's just strange. You can't anticipate it. You can't extrapolate it from what you already know. It's terra incognita.

This is because we are a conservative species that does a poor job with edge cases. We instinctively place the extraordinary adjacent to the very good, even if it's light years beyond. As I recently wrote:
Human beings compress extremes. We regress toward means. In plain language, we narrow our perspective, which means we "clip" the ends of the scale, mentally compressing extremes into a nondescript paste.
I've reviewed food that's good, delicious, and transcendent, and, once, a Oaxacan corn porridge/drink (which I dubbed "The Medusa Gruel") that went beyond the beyond:
As its sublime, all-embracing soulfulness penetrated every capillary, I became utterly lost within myself. The flavor simply would not fade. In waves, it permeated my internal universe, and I didn't realize I'd fallen into a stupor until Manuel came over and waved into my eyes and asked whether I was ok. It took effort to return to the conversation, as the afterglow still showed no signs of dimming, but I managed to wrench myself from its tendrils and resurface. Until, that is, my next sip, which again turned me to stone. I was eating very languidly, yet Manuel kept urging me, with a degree of urgent concern, to "¡Cálmate!", or calm down - which, even in my hazy state, struck me as an inapt instruction for someone who'd gone essentially catatonic.
That description bears no resemblance to anything I - or anyone else - has ever written about food. It's not relatable. There are peaks where we must abandon toolsets and find new means of description and comprehension. At a certain point along the upward reaches of the curve of declining results, the fog clears and we've landed elsewhere. Or turned into stone. Or who knows what.

I've also seen this with very rare and prized wines, and struggled to explain my experiences in a posting titled "The Beauty of Water, of Whiteness, and of Silence" (I'd strongly suggest reading the whole thing):
Having tasted 1929 Chateau Lafite, and many of the very greatest sakes, wines, beers, Chinese teas and spirits of the past century, I can report that those diverse experiences all triggered a similar observation: they all struck me as improvements on water. They uplifted its essential purity rather then masked it. All I've thought about while drinking those masterpieces was....water. I reveled in water. It's a miraculous feat! While anyone can tastefully mask water, improving on it is a seemingly impossible task because water is perfection.
The very best stuff has a shocking purity, a grace, an emptiness. You don't process it, it processes you. It's a whole other thing.

When I took my first bite of Mamma Grimaldi's lasagna, nothing happened. It fit my biology so precisely - the natural state of my taste and texture receptors - that it was devilishly hard to recognize it as something foreign to my mouth. It was like descending into a pool heated to body temperature. It was like kissing a mirror. You might pronounce it "light", but that would be grotesquely faint praise. It was evanescent. You search, but...nothing.

What the hell just happened???

So you take another bite, and it all repeats. Exactly, like a computer algorithm reliably producing the same answer to the same question until the heat death of the universe. While dream-like, it's also paradoxically rock solid because it's repeatable.

The experience of Mamma Grimaldi's lasagna was total intimacy...with no specificity whatsoever. No noodles. No sauce. No cheese. No lasagna. If anything, it was water. Pure water gently trickling. A soothing stream, at body temperature, scarcely vulgar enough to fill your gut or tickle your palate. Happy flipping Easter; you have received communion.

I will never eat another lasagna. Lasagna has been retired. I couldn't bear to eat a merely fantastically delicious one. I'd perish from the sadness.

Mamma Grimaldi also made parmigiana (because of course she did) and I was shocked to discover that I'd held a perfect holographic memory for three decades. This was a Swiss-precision match of my recollection. The prior parmigiana had imprinted like a trauma and, even all these years later - her age now advanced, and living in a sci-fi future with Internet and mobile phones - her concept and execution remain so solid that the parmigiana hasn't wobbled. My 28 year old self waved at me, and I, at 56, waved back. Sup.

Nutty. So nutty. Nutty from the flavorful wheat in the breadcrumbs. Nutty from the mild olive oil and ultra-gentle sauté . Nutty from the eggplant, grown in the sunny Grimaldi garden. Nutty from the rind-ish cheese. And, above all, nutty me, sitting there at the table, grinning widely like some dolt.

Amid all the nuttiness: a precisely calibrated zing of acidity from the tomatoes.

If you're still breathing normally, I pity you.

This sums up Mamma Grimaldi better than anything: After we'd risen from the table to resume terrestrial activity (more wafting than walking, though), she went straight to work on dinner, which was, ho-hum, totally normal, nothing special, an entire meticulously-split lamb's head.


And that's a rap.

Next installment of my Italy trip: Back in the Hemisphere

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Mamma Grimaldi: Lasagna Preface

Indexing previous reporting from my 2019 Italy trip:
The Naples Diet
Lines in Italy Explain My Exasperation
His Dying Thought: Oh, right; this is how you die in Italy
The Surprising Truth About Real Neapolitan Brick Oven Pizza
The Surprising Truth About Real Sicilian Rice Balls
Marzipan, You Idiot! Marzipan!
Naples: Mistaking Soulfulness for Danger
Two Recent Glimpses of Ridiculous Death
Pasta Time!
Miscellaneous PIzza
Sfogliatelle Shootout in Naples
Desserts and Lodgings
The Benign Insanity of Scouting Moroccan Food in Naples
Jewish and Comedy Food in Italy

There's something you need to understand before you lay eyes on the long-awaited report about lunch at Mamma Grimaldi's house. I don't want to overload that report with background material, so let's briefly talk lasagna.

A regular reader of this Slog might get the impression that I'm obsessed with it. Here are just a few recent mentions.

Why Simplicity is Hard, on the foibles of reheating lasagna:
As I recently reheated some leftover lasagna (lasagna!!!) with brutish vapidity (belying the many years of experience behind my reheating choices), thunking the cold carby slab into a nonstick skillet at medium heat, drizzling a tablespoon or two of chicken stock into the pan, covering, and cutting heat back to low at first sizzle, I experienced a flash of self-awareness, showing me how Philistinian I looked.

Not a pretty picture. I appeared like some elderly British pensioner futzing around mournfully in his bathrobe, dutifully executing a series of tasks beginning with the opening of a reeking can of cat food. This is not how magic conjuring is assumed to look (yet again: magic is messy).

But then I transferred the lasagna to my plate and beheld a thing of beauty. The bottom was just starting to crunch/caramelize, and the rest was perfectly melty and moistened. As is often true, my reheating turned out better than the original. So-so lasagna was transformed into something that could make you weep.
"Cave of Forgotten Dreams", on lasagna as an examplar of the magical quality of art:
" exceptional lasagna might transport us in ways that can't be attributed to its constituent ingredients. Why, after all, do certain lasagnas have that power, while others do not? Why do some results amount to so much more than the sum of their parts? That's the magic!"
" "The Frets are Very, Very Far Apart", on entitlement:
For those convinced that we're the most suffering sufferers who've ever suffered...I have good news and bad. The good news is that we've been spoiled rotten, which explains why we gnash our teeth at the lower end of a spectrum of unprecedented prosperity, tolerance, and high-mindedness - as if someone's snatched away some tiny morsel of our towering portion of astoundingly delicious lasagna. The bad news is that when you've lost all sense of proportion, you curse yourself to apocalyptic pain whenever the floor drops further.
Bands I Like, on subjectivity in art appreciation:
I may know more about food than you do, but if we were to share a slamming plate of lasagna, you and I would feel an affinity. We'd know we were enjoying the same thing in the same way. But if we were to listen to music together, you'd see me smiling, grimacing, and rollling my eyes at what would strike you as completely random moments. You'd wonder what the hell I was hearing. There's no commonality!
And my magnum lasagna opus, Lasagna and Depression, a complete prescription for a happy life based on a sanely clear-eyed framing of the whole lasagna issue:
I love lasagna. Sure, everybody loves lasagna, but I love it more. If you ever saw me eating lasagna - even just pretty good lasagna - you'd be watching a happy fellow. You'd figure I was born to eat lasagna.

But do you know how many times per year I eat lasagna? Maybe once. If that.

There are lots of reasons. It's hard to find good. And it tends to be overpriced. And I try to eat healthy. So lasagna doesn't happen much for me. But the weird thing is how absolutely okay I am with that.

Now that you understand where I'm coming from with lasagna, we are ready to proceed. I'm assuming you've done your homework, per the assignment several postings back:
Coming up soon in this series: lunch at the table of Mamma Grimaldi, who I've been scheming to meet for 30 years, and who didn't disappoint. If I can assign some homework in preparation, please have a look at the devastating Mamma Grimaldi photo essay sent in a couple of years ago by her son, guitarist Andrea Grimaldi, a very old friend living near Barcelona. The three-part food porn glory begins here, and it will change your inner biology (not to oversell).

Next installment of my Italy trip: Mamma Grimaldi: The Final Lasagna

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Jewish and Comedy Food in Italy

Indexing previous reporting from my 2019 Italy trip:
The Naples Diet
Lines in Italy Explain My Exasperation
His Dying Thought: Oh, right; this is how you die in Italy
The Surprising Truth About Real Neapolitan Brick Oven Pizza
The Surprising Truth About Real Sicilian Rice Balls
Marzipan, You Idiot! Marzipan!
Naples: Mistaking Soulfulness for Danger
Two Recent Glimpses of Ridiculous Death
Pasta Time!
Miscellaneous PIzza
Sfogliatelle Shootout in Naples
Desserts and Lodgings
The Benign Insanity of Scouting Moroccan Food in Naples

Roman Jewish cuisine is something I reluctantly felt obligated to try. I'm always skeptical of trendy cuisine; that's how crudely wonderful Neapolitan pizza became something refined; that's how Spanish tapas - cheap pub grub - turned into swank Iberian sexy swankness. Maybe I'm wrong, but I don't believe there are remaining Roman Jewish grandmothers who grew up cooking this sort of thing, and art forms seldom lend themselves to artificial respiration.

But, again, I had to give it a go. There are a handful of places specializing in Roman-Jewish cuisine, all very famous, and the least pandering of them seemed to be Piperno.

I'm especially uncomfortable whenever cuisines get associated with one single dish. "You're going to Japan? Have some sushi!" Or "hey, Jewboy, betcha been munchin' on a whole lotta bagels, amiright?" I don't see much difference between insta-associating Russians with borscht and associating black people with watermelon. But I went ahead and ambivalently ordered the famous (famous!) carciofi alla giudia, described in my smartphone app, Eat Everywhere, thus:
It was heavy with its oil saturation, reminding me of the Belarussian food I had in Brooklyn that channeled my late grandmother's cooking and floated my boat in primal ways I'd have preferred to keep moored.
I'd normally continue with "....but delicious!", after "heavy with oil saturation" but, as I wrote in that other report, a part of me harkens to sodden disgusting grease. I keep that part locked up in an inaccessible lobe of my brain, and normally don't let him order.

But even if you don't share my self-surprising old world proclivities (btw do you know where I can get a rickety cart full of second-hand pots and pans and filthy washcloths to hawk around my neighborhood?), you'll still find it delicious despite - if not because of - the oiliness. I wouldn't describe it as "good-oily", but it's every bit the special treat the photos convey.
Also: filetti di orata in crosta di patate, aka sea bream fillets in potato crust. Another dish from a bygone, mildewed era that excited my less enlightened and modern faculties, perhaps even engaging some sleeper agent encoding. I do, in fact, feel a certain yen to agitate against the czar.
Crostata con marmellata di visciole, aka tart with sour cherry jam. I'm unschooled in the fine points of 19th century European pastry, but my genome enables me to pronounce this a descendent from the Austro-Hungarian tradition. I can't tell you where this conclusion popped up from. It's like a child spontaneously speaking fluent Basque after some crisis, or an old uber-WASPY girlfriend of mine who once joined me for dinner in a restaurant doubling as an antique store. Without once glancing directly at any furniture, she declared with haughty certainty that they're "not real antiques". How can you tell? "I just know."

In that spirit, I just know this is Austro-Hungarian, and if you doubt me we might be forced to duel. I am, after all, a man of honor.

There's something stately about this kind of cooking (probably not a function of the Jewish/Italian hybrid so much as general old-school traditionalism). I wasn't raised eating with proper silverware on proper china, so whenever I pick up fork and knife with real heft to them, I feel a bit cowed and disoriented. But this food absolutely requires them - and starchy, heavy linen napkins, to boot. Have another look at that anachronistic potato-crusted fish fillet, and expand the photos for greater detail, and ask yourself: Wouldn't you'd need to eat that with a silver fork weighing about a half a pound - preferably a special purpose potato-crusted-fish-fillet fork with the second-to-last tine slightly inset for a perfectly logical reason People Back Then understood?

I've spent my life gulping tacos and pork buns, and, when flush, perhaps a paella or t-bone steak. But this sort of cooking is why people in olden times used heavy forks and starchy napkins. It's why they ate in jackets. It's why they sat rigidly for photos.
I have never, ever, in my life felt more shmucky to be wearing a t-shirt and sneakers. If I were sitting there stark naked, I'd scarcely have felt wronger. Not because of the ambiance or social morés (it wasn't a formal place, especially at lunch) or fancy decor, but because of the heft of the fork, and the heft of the food requiring that hefty fork, and the heft of the restaurant that cooked that hefty food that required that hefty fork. Lightweight chowhound idiot was not an apt terminus in that chain. All at once I get it: the silverware, the napkins, the dress code, the whole damned thing. The ways of older generations are suddenly ravelling. Martin, bring me my walking stick!

Jews may be famous for comedy, but Roman-Jewish Piperno was extraordinarily un-funny. Naples' Trattoria da Nennella, however, was a laugh-riot.
Bustling crowds straining to enter; a perfected-yet-undignified procedure for herding them in, and then back out again in 25 mins flat - all performed with a wink and a grin. There are private clubs in London where high-powered bankers pay big money to be scolded and slapped by imperious matrons while they dutifully sip their milk through straws. This is a bit like that. It's the kind of place where waiters theatrically berate you for not finishing your pasta. They're "real characters", the noise and the crowds and the dense-packing and fast turnovering are inherently barbaric, but, again, there's always that wink-and-nod.
If this were New Jersey (and it could definitely exist in Jersey) it would be played straight. But here it's played for farce, so you find yourself rolling with it. The crowd isn't just eager tourists; working class locals eat here, too. As do what look like bankers, perhaps there for some nostalgic disempowering.
I came for their big specialty dish (I had one job to do!): pasta with potatoes, swimming in a sauce of provolone cheese; a seriously old-school item that's otherwise been evaporating into the Neapolitan ether. I stole this photo from Yelp.
But I was distracted by a special of rigatoni with swordfish and potatoes, which I foolishly imagined would afford similar starch-on-starch bliss. Idiot. I should have returned another day and ordered correctly. It's one of those weighty regrets one carries with one.

How's the food? It's cheap. Really cheap, at 12-15 euros for the entire meal.
And it's exactly as it looks: prepared by untrained cooks with supermarket ingredients (the menu discloses the use of frozen foods; I wouldn't be surprised if my swordfish chunks came from a can) with the talent of a mediocre Italian home chef (i.e. damned good) but who've grinded out these dishes way more than the 10,000 iterations required for task mastery, so there's a certain snazzy sizzle to it all. Great...though obviously not-great. Or, perhaps, not-great....but obviously great. After mulling over Naples' culinary koan for a while, I texted my BnB host, Giancarlo, to say:
If I lived in Napoli I would go to Nennella either every day or else absolutely never. I honestly don’t know which.
He replied :
I can understand what you mean. In my opinion pasta with potatoes and provola cheese of Nennella is one of the best in Napoli.
My bad.

Light forks. Light knives. Light napkins. T-shirt fine.

Next installment of my Italy trip: Mama Grimaldi: Lasagna Preface

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

The Bloomberg Precedent

I eagerly supported Bloomberg's mayoralty. I didn't agree with everything, but he was a mensch who did what was right rather than what was politically expedient. Service for the greater good rather than individual glory. In the annals of NYC politics, it was a golden age.

When Bloomberg hacked norms and regulations to eke out a third term - the city was in fiscal crisis and he truly was the best man to put it right - I was uneasy but accepted.

Consider the three dangerous problems in that sentence:

1. Crisis makes it ok to overturn laws and norms.
2. He's the one who can save us.
3. I ignored my reservations for what seemed like a special case.

This is how very bad things happen. Yes, he truly was a superior figure to fix the problem, the crisis was truly serious, and this truly was a special case. Positive motives all around! But the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
Even ants can learn if you provide enough negative feedback. But this is humanity's blindspot. We just keep forgetting:

Don't augment executive power because you think your guy's especially good. Don't arm militias or warlords to the teeth because you agree with their current credos. Don't torture people when you're extra scared. Don't assassinate bad actors or persecute idiots. Not because it's important to be "nice", but because the chickens always return to roost. Don't create radically new precedents to suit your momentary fears or dreams, because demons will surely arrive to avail themselves of every precedent you set (or allow to be set).

I'm not saying Trump will be able to do this (though he'll certainly try). But if he does, the menschiest of mensches, doing the right thing for the right reasons, will have played a role in enabling the unthinkable. And, via my acceptance, me, too.

Let's not panic, or even worry prematurely. Instead, what if this time we learned from the example? Next time you find yourself hooked on some exceptional individual or cause, feeling unblinking confidence in your assessment, that's the time to tap the brakes, pull back the camera, and remember that different people feel the same unblinking confidence in individuals and causes you'd find repugnant. So maybe blink, just a little, and don't do anything you wouldn't want to see them do.

And never forget that a mob is a place where people go to get away from their conscience.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Reframing Resistance

For two years I've listened to incensed people insist that leaders destroy their political careers and subject themselves and their families to extreme harassment by calling out Trump. They are unpatriotic and spineless cowards for refusing to stand against an administration approved of by 90% of their party's voters. Disgusting!

And Don McGahn and the rest - who've already done their duty by testifying to Mueller - should come forward and give the Democrats their TV snippets (because no one read the Mueller Report, televised sound bites are crucial) despite White House opposition. These are people who work and socialize within the Republican eco-system, but screw their lives and livelihoods. They need to grow a pair and do what's right. This is for the nation! Make a sacrifice, dammit!

Here's the thing. Not one of these angry people would do any different. And they're too deluded and vain to recognize it.

We live in a world where each of us enables or overlooks a thousand horrors per minute. Most of us won't give a starving person a nickel. We won't pick up a piece of trash - it might soil our hands! - much less sacrifice livelihoods and become pariahs within our networks in the service of higher principle.

When stuff turns bad we ass-cover and rationalize going along. That's not cowardly behavior, it's human behavior. When Nazis snatched Jewish children and sent them on boxcars to their incineration, the individuals who opposed this were so few that movies were made about them. Consider that. Those who stick their necks out at personal risk are heroes. It is not normal behavior.

While angry patriots mouth off on Twitter about how it's time for The People in Charge to find backbones and put country over party, that's not lemonade they've personally drunk. How many times have you stood up, amid existential stakes, for what you believed was right? Have you ever done so, outside your dreams and fantasies? By "standing up", I don't mean getting mouthy on Twitter, even if you feel that aligns you with the angels and punches your virtue card. I mean tangible sacrifice for you and your loved ones in defense of higher principle. Apologies, but odds are that you, reader, are Lindsay Fucking Graham in a thousand ways, and you'd most likely Lindsay yourself even if you were in a position to save the country you love.

When people were freaking out over Trump's election victory, and it looked like Muslims might soon be slated for boxcars, not one person joined me in declaring themselves Muslim. Jesus, Jim, that's going a bit far, isn't it? Yegads.

It was awfully weak tea, really. It was mere hypothetical sacrifice, applicable only if things went a certain way (and even then only if some obscure blog posting were noticed). It wasn't in the same universe as the sacrifice of tanking one's career, one's connections, one's entire life in the here and now. Yet none of my angrily #resisting social circle would go even that far.

You have not and would not ever do what you huffily demand these people do. How do I know? Because if you had, there'd be a movie about you. I'm waiting for the movie. Show me the movie before you demand heroism from other people.

The real problem is that we have a political system requiring heroism to repel shameless tyrants. The founders knew this. It explains their deep reservations as to whether this republic thing would actually work out.

The Benign Insanity of Scouting Moroccan Food in Naples

Indexing previous reporting from my 2019 Italy trip:
The Naples Diet
Lines in Italy Explain My Exasperation
His Dying Thought: Oh, right; this is how you die in Italy
The Surprising Truth About Real Neapolitan Brick Oven Pizza
The Surprising Truth About Real Sicilian Rice Balls
Marzipan, You Idiot! Marzipan!
Naples: Mistaking Soulfulness for Danger
Two Recent Glimpses of Ridiculous Death
Pasta Time!
Miscellaneous PIzza

I've trained myself to play "what doesn't belong here". If you drop me in Times Square I won't holler "Look! Hard Rock Cafe!" That's not where my attention goes. I photoshop-erase 95% of any landscape, and what's left is my bubble, which I pretend is all there is (this explains how I spot, say, a churro lady amid all the neon). It's a benign insanity; the sort of indulgence I once explained thus:
Human beings spend their lives in conflict with imaginary people: mentally rearguing old arguments, worrying about faceless attackers and detractors, reliving bygone humiliations, and generally using our imaginations to make our lives a living hell. That's considered "normal", but using the same faculty in positive ways to help us cope seems, for some reason, childish and loopy.
The "what doesn't belong" habit is so entrenched that I can't stop doing it even in places like Naples. And so, while waiting for Mimì alla Ferrovia (covered here) to open for lunch, I strolled the neighborhood, immediately zeroing in on a stealthy Moroccan joint. And couldn't resist going in. And, once in, had to try a bite, even though I was about to eat elsewhere. I wasn't specifically craving Moroccan food, but I was compelled to gratify my inner Moroccan.
There are two schools of food writers covering world cuisines. The first are like gringo anthropologists, poking and prodding. They are fixed points while the restaurants revolve around them. The second school is the one I subscribe to: the mergers. We eat Moroccan like Moroccans, Peruvian like Peruvians. The culture du jour is the fixed point, and we do the revolving, feeling at home everywhere thanks to malleable cultural stem cells, paisonified even when we look nothing like the rest of the crowd.

My school lost (this is surely why there's been little interest in Eat Everywhere, my smart phone app), so I'm the last of the Mohicans, endlessly questing for the old tribe's fry bread.
Ristorante Bourouta is a staunchly immigrant-facing operation (I'd bet you I was the first non-Moroccan ever to enter.....and it doesn't google at all). I gave it only the most perfunctory exploration, but what I saw and tasted there impressed me a lot. It's very close to the main train station, again, just down the block from the well-known (though faded) Mimi alla Ferrovia, somewhere between #37 and #26 on Via Carriera Grande.

The counter lady was all business until I asked for mint tea, which she, of course, failed to understand. I performed an elaborate pantomime of pouring tea into a cup, exaggerating the traditionally lengthy Moroccan pouring stream...
Stolen photo, sorry

...into something cartoon-like. I watched her mental gears operate as she 1. snapped instantly into comprehending my request, 2. registered amusement at my display, 3. recognized my unexpectedly easy familiarity with Moroccan tea-pouring technique, and, finally, 4. couldn't restrain her mirth over the whole damned vignette - and meta-vignette - gigglingly connecting, against all instinct, with the suddenly-hip stranger who'd a moment earlier been a clueless tourist. Her precise and fast mind (in a just world, she'd be an engineer or lawyer) went click-click-click-click while I watched appreciatively - which she also registered, along with my registration of her registration. She won't forget me, nor me her.
The appreciation of tiny, fleeting things - I call it nano-aesthetics - is a core tenet of my religion.
This is harcha, described in the Moroccan section of my Eat Everywhere app like this:
It was perfect. Staunchly traditional, with no nuances sacrificed to expediency. It didn't need to be so deeply brown (snatched from the oven a nano-second before drying out and burning), or so crusty, or so moist inside. And the tea contained multitudes.

The kitchen staff were filling earthenware tagines with devastating-looking stews. I'd figured this would be a humble snack shop, but it's a completely below-radar Moroccan virtual reality; a direct portal. I didn't feel comfortable taking sweeping photos, but I hope you can feel it a little.

I never managed to return for a proper meal (that high priority to-do item was a casualty of my second glimpse of ridiculous death). But if you ever get there, please report back.
I captured something special while shooting the restaurant's sign from the sidewalk for reference purposes. A fellow who'd walked into the frame was less than overjoyed to be there. I think I captured something not often caught on film (at least not by photographers able to tell the tale).
To grok how fleeting it was, here's a video loop made of the "live" photo.

Kudos to my new friend for packing so much expression into a mere fraction of a second. It's more than the greatest actor could pull off.

I want to reaffirm that every single person in this restaurant - none of whom spoke my language, and all of whom had reason to be startled by my incongruous presence - could not have been more hospitable. In fact, those were the warmest 10 minutes I spent in Italy (aside from my time at the table of Mamma Grimaldi, who we'll visit in the final trip report, and who's not in Italy so much as hovering over it from some celestial realm).

So what's going on here? Easy: Hearts that open all the way can snap shut just as tightly. I noted earlier that the soulfulness of a place like Naples is easily confused with peril. Morocco (a place where I've spent time) is orders of magnitude more soulful...and thus proportionally more dangerous-seeming. We all must decide how much human rawness we can tolerate - and how numb we're willing to become to insulate ourselves.

Most of us, alas, have forgotten we have a choice. Amid our mannered First World sterility, we might remember that there are warmer, more soulful (and, yes, scarier) places out there. Since they reflect a more natural human condition, they feel like home - for better and for worse. Within this reframing, I see this guy as welcoming me home one way, and the reluctantly giggling counterwoman doing likewise in another way.

Next installment of my Italy trip: Jewish and Comedy Food in Italy

Friday, May 17, 2019

Desserts and Lodgings

Indexing previous reporting from my 2019 Italy trip:
The Naples Diet
Lines in Italy Explain My Exasperation
His Dying Thought: Oh, right; this is how you die in Italy
The Surprising Truth About Real Neapolitan Brick Oven Pizza
The Surprising Truth About Real Sicilian Rice Balls
Marzipan, You Idiot! Marzipan!
Naples: Mistaking Soulfulness for Danger
Two Recent Glimpses of Ridiculous Death
Pasta Time!
Miscellaneous PIzza
Sfogliatelle Shootout in Naples

Nearly every alternative tourist lodging in the world (AirBnB, regular BnB, rental apartments, etc) tries to attract guests via offers of savvy local tips and advice. 99% of the time, this is boring conventional wisdom. The allure of "local tips" loses its luster when you consider the advice someone might get from your dull neighbors and Blimpie-eating work colleagues. Just because you're local doesn't mean you know anything, and the odds are strongly against your having good taste. So I almost always ignore such information.

But then there's Giancarlo Garraffa, recovering lawyer and proprietor of BBinItaly in Naples. Giancarlo is a serious chowhound, an intellectual, and an unaffected great guy. He doesn't traffic in conventional wisdom, he really sweats his recommendations, and he's enormously generous with his knowledge. If you stay in one of his properties and load WhatsApp onto your phone, he'll happily advise you on-the-fly....not just to hustle up a higher rating for his lodgings, but because he sincerely cares. His tips are right on the money and his taste is flawless.

Giancarlo directed me, first thing, to Pasticceria Ciro Poppella (aka Poppella), a century-old pastry shop that's well-known to locals but hard to pick out of the food tourism noise. I'd never have made it there without Giancarlo's urging, and I'm awfully glad I did (note: it's across the street from Pizzeria da Concettina ai tre Santi, another Giancarlo recommendation, which I covered in my "Miscellaneous PIzza" report, where I described their Cetarese pie as "among the great bread experiences of my life").

Poppella's big specialty is a normally unexciting pastry called fiocchi di neve.

Something Italy has in common with Japan: a willingness - even zest - for elevating not just vaunted items, but also the also-rans. There's no winnowing, no "good stuff". It's all considered good stuff, and a given place might very well specialize in something you'd always considered lowly.

Consider, for example, my experience with sfogliatella frolla, which I'd previously considered to be "for killjoys who want all the calories with none of the ultra-crispy pastry miraculousness", and which La Sfogliatella Mary raises to high art and craveability.


Loving clouds of angelically light filling in a cakey shell so instantly melting that you'll miss it entirely if you're not paying close attention. I'm not Catholic, but this was Easter weekend and I was absolutely prepared to smudge and/or mortify relevant body parts, overwhelmed by the ecstatic aftermath of this pastry. I thought I tasted vanilla, but my attempts at analysis were utterly futile. Let me put it this way: in my opinion, the bakers have outdone their savior (by contrast, the Tibetans have the humility to intentionally lightly spoil their mandalas).

I don't know what these are called (my receipt calls them napul'e', which I suspect is Neapolitan dialect), but I've seen them in Italian bakeries abroad, where they're jiggly sticky rube bait, the perfect intersection of not-as-good-as-it-looks and not-worth-the-calories. But these were actually on a par with the blessed fiocco di neve. A Neapolitan Easter miracle just for me!

Paused mid-ravaging for a photo. My self-control is astounding.
Also, because I'm a greedy pig, plus I don't know when I'll return, and, anyway, I've been walking 7 miles per day so it's totally cool to suck in 16,000 calories in five minutes, I filled out my pastry order with a miniature pastiera, the traditional Easter cake. It, too, was galvanizing.

This, my friends, is a plate worth traveling for.

Down the block from Poppella, in an unnamed shop, I was startled to glimpse this loaf of heartburn bread; a cornucopia of cholesterol.

Let me sneak in a brief coffee mention amid the dessert discussion, but don't you dare ask for coffee to be served with your sweets. Perish the thought! Coffee demands your undivided attention.

Giancarlo recommended the scenic, bustling, wonderful Il vero Bar del Professore in the main city square, and I tersely ordered "un espresso", hoping to avoid branching decisions and options. What I received was festooned with crazy, gloppy, toothsome crema, dolloped from an enormous trough under the counter. I don't know what it was, I don't know why they thought I ordered it, but don't argue with The Professor. He was right. I wanted, I wanted.

For extra local color, I got to stand next to a belligerent customer who came very very close to being punched in the face by the otherwise professional and affable barrista. The scene was hastily dispelled by the guy working the cash register.

...which reminds me of an important Italy rule of thumb: in any food service establishment with a very prominent cash register person, head there first. Even if you don't need to pay before ordering (though often you do), they'll explain procedure, while servers generally don't like to have their efficient rhythms broken by awkward questions in tortured tourist sign language.

That was only the first of a succession of pastiera I ate in Naples. Did I mention I was in town for Easter? Well, when in Rome, etc. Poppella's was fantastic, and I could have stopped right there, but Giancarlo had a secret weapon bakery 30 minutes outside the city center, an operation so beloved that its owners are besieged with requests to open a more convenient outlet (having been doing what they do where they do it practically forever, they refuse, stubbornness being a hallmark of resolutely traditional artisans).

The bakery is Antignani Carlo, which I believe is at 141 Via Roma in Pomigliano D'arco, though I've seen it placed at 146 and in the low 200s. I think the phone number is 081 884 1182, but different sources offer a variety of alternatives. I didn't actually make the trek, myself, because Giancarlo scored some for his family for the holiday, and was kind enough to invite me to stop in and sample the goods. This pastiera was wonderful - a clear cut above - but also maddening.

I have a failing as a food writer: I have terrible trouble recognizing out-of-context flavors. I know oregano like the back of my hand, but if you added some to samosas or to cotton candy, I'd pull out my hair trying to identify the tantalizingly familiar seasoning. The pastiera from Antignani Carlo contains a secret ingredient I didn't taste elsewhere, and I hovered an angstrom unit away from guessing it. Well...maybe next year (or I might return for the bakery's famous Zeppola di S.Giuseppe, served only on March 19).

I munched the pastiera on the terrace of Giancarlo's mom's apartment overlooking the port of Naples. Like mother like son; Signora Garraffa spilled forth a profusion of savvy chow tips as I strained to identify the secret flavoring. It takes a certain sort of person to launch earnestly into an extended food shmooze in a language spoken with difficulty, ignoring both a bajillion dollar view and her extended family in the next room honoring the messiah's resurrection. Chowhounds are everywhere, and we somehow manage to recognize and generously advise each other. Vivi Signora Garraffa.

I highly recommend Giancarlo's apartments if you're ever in Naples. His guidance will assure your trip. For a taste of his ebullient knowledge, I'm providing (with permission) the tip sheets he gives his guests. It's solid gold (and entertaining reading), so I'd strongly suggest you bookmark it. Again, though, the real attraction is his on-the-fly guidance via text message. If only every city had a Giancarlo!

Click to enlarge:
Napoli in two days

Don't-miss eating short list by neighborhood

"Smart Tips for Visiting the Surroundings of Naples" : Sorrento, Positano, and The Amalfi Coast

"The Beautiful Islands": Capri, Ischia

...and Procida

"The Amazing Archeological Sites"

My Rome lodgings were great, too. Paola, a very talented photographer, rents out rooms in a private wing of her large apartment, and she and her husband Mimmo are consummate AirBnB professionals. Their place is elegant and comfortable, squeaky clean, and Mimmo whips up ambitious, generous breakfasts. Best of all, they're 15 seconds from a metro station that's a 10 minute trip to the Colosseum. I couldn't imagine staying elsewhere in Rome in terms of price (around $70/night), location, comfort, privacy, and overall value. See Paola's listings here. Paola's English isn't super-fluent, but she makes it work, plus AirBnb's mobile app auto-translates real-time text messages.

If you haven't joined AirBnb yet, this link gives you a substantial discount on your first booking.

Next installment of my Italy trip: The Benign Insanity of Scouting Moroccan Food in Naples

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