CATANIA, Sicily –The pizza was good, don't get me wrong. But I found my lesson of pride outside the walls of Pizzeria Da Michele.
My father and I had spent the morning meandering through the narrow streets of Catania, growing increasingly disappointed by each shuttered shop. It's a holiday and 10 a.m.—a double whammy for the carefree Sicilians.
But then: activity. Locals are unloading cardboard boxes stuffed with fresh vegetables from trucks idling in an alleyway. I smell the pungency of fresh herbs, the subtle sweetness of ripe tomatoes, the earthiness of just-picked mushrooms. Slaves to our stomachs, we follow.
We turn the corner, and the alley opens into a market. Green, brown and black olives glisten with oil. Butchers with blood-smeared aprons heft sides of pork onto meat hooks, cleaving bone with knives the size of car doors. A swarthy fishmonger dumps a Styrofoam container of live shrimp into a plastic bowl. The crustaceans are flipping and twiddling their legs as hunched women point and shout for a bargain. Everything is alive.
Suddenly famished, we seek out a small trattatoria recommended by one of the market hawkers. “All their food comes from here,” he said. The maitre d’, a brusque young woman, tells us there are no menus, and the chef, an even younger tattooed guy, assures us he'll make something. Don't worry. Please sit. We'll love it.
We stuff ourselves on warm artichokes, raw shrimp in olive oil, and piles of seafood pasta. As we wobble out, hours later, the chef says goodbye with a smile, even though we've yet to tip him. He already knows. We loved it.
The world of Pizzeria Da Michele, with its focused presentation and mastery of a single product, is my father's world. The world of Catania's street market, with its chaos of products, is mine.
My generation, the generation of Napster's file-sharing, of Puff Daddy's music sampling, and of Internet copy-and-paste, does not see a finished product in the pizza pie of the man with the tie. We see a place to start. We see something we can borrow from and network off of. Pride comes from artfully combining what is already good with other components that are equally so.
Although the old guy at Pizzeria Da Michele could probably out-pizza anyone on the seven continents, my tattooed friend looked like he was having way more fun. The variety of his ingredients helped, but how he fused their flavors was where he excelled. He cut through the chaos, understood the components, and created a meal without restrictions.
Maybe tomorrow he would do things a little differently. Maybe the market would be out of shrimp. Maybe he would even screw up a dish or two. But it is forever more fun to dabble and take pride in many things than to be pigeonholed and confined to one specialty.
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