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Family Cruise: Joe on Pride

NAPLES, Italy  –  If there's one thing that unites my son and me, it is our love of food. I sent him away to college to become a journalist, and he returned with the delightful bonus of having learned to be a sushi chef while employed part-time at a Japanese restaurant. I've told him many times since, usually when sated with fatty tuna and sticky rice, that even if he fails at journalism, I will always consider him a success because of his ability to feed me so well.

This love of food is why we're striding purposefully along the Friday-morning streets of Naples. We're on a mission. In the book "Eat, Pray, Love," author Elizabeth Gilbert mentions a restaurant called Pizzeria Da Michele. Since it has the reputation of serving the best pizza in Naples, and Naples is the birthplace of pizza, she infers that this pizzeria must make the best in the world.

So we've set out to find it. And after about an hour of walking, we do. The place is so nondescript as to appear surgical. The walls are tiled green and white, the tables simple Formica and wood. The only touches of hominess are a sepia portrait of the family patriarch above the pizza counter and a similar, unsmiling photo of his wife above the cash register.

The menu is similarly to the point. It lists just three choices: marinara pizza, margherita pizza, and margherita with double mozzarella pizza. We order one of each. Our attention drifts to the oven-altar in back. Standing before it is an elderly gentleman wearing a tie and a white lab coat. Laid out before him are only a few instruments: a bowl of tomato sauce, a plastic bin of cheese, a mound of fresh basil, and a few balls of dough. He is no showman. There is no tossing of dough, no soaring strains of Italian arias escaping his lips, no cup for tips. He is a purist.

When our pizzas arrive, we are not disappointed. The crust is artfully thin with just the right amount of scorching. There is a smear of tomato sauce upon each pie, along with a single basil leaf. The fresh mozzarella silly-strings our lips and chins. We stop talking, we eat, we close our eyes, we smile, we eat more, and eventually we push back our chairs and sigh. It is, by far, the best pizza we've ever had—quite possibly the best in the world. I have the urge to applaud.

My son and I stagger out of Pizzeria Da Michele an hour later. We try to walk but don't go far. We find an inviting bench outside a shop selling limoncello, and settle back for a nap.

Life today requires that we do a multitude of things passably. Success for my son's generation involves multitasking, not mastery. But isn't it just as satisfying to the self and more rewarding to be able to do just one thing exceedingly well? What if we each imagined ourselves working in a tie and a lab coat? What would we produce? What would we hold forth as the best in the world? I believe each of us has the potential, the ability, to do one thing that well – even if it's only making pizza.

Find yours, son. Find yours and take pride.

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