Thursday, November 1, 2012
Black Pepper Visions: The Pizza Gondola
It is a pleasure to be able to share a few folk tales/ short stories with you this month.
I start with The Pizza Gondola from "Black Pepper Visions: Original Folk Tales & Stories You Can Eat" (FolkHeart Press 2012) because it is a favorite short story of mine.
Which one of us has NOT wished for a gondola to take us away?
This story, one of 16 in the book, also includes interesting food lore. The other stories I will share with you will also have recipes so that you can create your own magic with food.
The rain comes down without care. Daniel sits at a desk reading stock market reports. The large bay trees that line the sidewalk in front of the three-story San Francisco office bend as often as necessary beneath the heavy fall of water.
Daniel doesn’t notice the rain or the bay trees that threaten to brush his office window. He also hasn’t noticed the lunch hour has arrived and that Carla, in the office next to his, has already ordered pizza. In fact, she has just walked down three flights of stairs to tell the first-floor receptionist she is expecting a pizza delivery. Pulling down the tight dark-blue skirt that rides up her thick thighs as she walks, Carla asks the receptionist to have the pizza delivered to her office. “It’s pepperoni and sausage.” She tosses out one of her playful winks.
Bounding up the stairs with a medium pizza in his arms, the delivery boy anticipates the tip. Wet afternoons usually bring hefty rewards; most clients feel bad about his having to be out in the rain on their account. On the third floor, he squints through dark curly hair that sticks closely to the damp edges of his square face. Keeping a tight grip on the pizza box, he whistles a ditty that stays only a few feet ahead of him as he searches for Carla’s door.
From inside his offce, Daniel hears the happy tune and looks up from his papers. Now who would be so jolly during the middle of the work day? Of course, he mutters in near silence as the delivery boy knocks on Carla’s door, calling out “Pizza.”
Hands clasped behind his head, elbows outstretched in near perfect geometric angles, Daniel catches a whiff of the savory odors of hot pizza as steaming circles of pepperoni and balls of sausage atop layers of melted cheese waft outside his door.
“Carla’s having pizza,” Daniel mutters. He’s often wondered about her. She seems not to care about her cholesterol. Or her long blond hair barely held back by a hair clip. He recalls how she momentarily closes her eyes, upper and lower eyelashes meeting for just a second whenever he passes her in the hallway. In the year she’s been there, they’ve actually not said more than a few words to one another.
“I’m married,” he speaks to the wall. “She’s not my type.” Glancing at the portrait of his wife Kaila on his desk, he takes note of her lean and spry smile. Never a hair out of place and never pizza for dinner. “Think of Tipsy” his wife told him the last time Daniel suggested they order a family-size combination pizza for dinner. Kaila pushed against the suggestion because, she announced, it would have hurt Tipsy’s feelings.
The 3-year-old tabby cat had become grossly overweight and Kaila believed they had to work on it as a family. She had said that there would be no treats for anyone until Tipsy lost weight. Daniel had only agreed to take Tipsy in after days of Kaila’s pleading and arguing that they practice being parents with a cat before they had a baby. He himself had never liked the little fur ball.
“Damn cat!” he says almost every morning when he wakes to find Tipsy sleeping on his side of the bed. Why won’t his wife see how the cat has wedged itself between them?
He breathes in the tomato fragrance of Carla’s pizza and lets its zesty tang fill him. Without thinking, he stands up and walks towards his office door. Straightening his tie, he opens the door and looks down the hallway. If she’s out there he’ll say hello or maybe even invite her and her pizza into his office.
With a sigh he sees that no one is there. He quickly glances back at the bag lunch of left over barbecued tofu and pear puree his wife put into his hands that morning and drops his shoulders in resignation. “When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie...” he suddenly hums to cheer himself up then stops. It isn’t working.
“Maybe next time,” he shakes his head and returns to his chair but won’t sit down. He looks out the window and watches the rain. Large droplets of water have formed rivulets on the glass that he imagines are water canals. In the canals he sees gondolas. They are everywhere. Transporting lovers, they pass by children who wave from the shores where mothers are crocheting lace trims onto blankets and pillow covers.
Daniel closes his eyes and now feels his back pressed flat against the inside of a wooden boat. As the boat drifts into the shadows of buildings that loom over the waterway, he inhales the pepperoni and pizza scent in the air. Filling his lungs, he is only vaguely aware of a woman’s hand touching his knee. Breath quickening, he feels her fingers move up his leg, playfully stroking his thigh. In the momentary darkness that cascades over them, the gondolier knows to look away. Daniel senses his discretion and settles into her touch; firm fingers confidently make their slender way further up his groin.
“Ah, yes?” He is just about to turn the woman towards him so that he can look into her eyes before kissing her when the sound of someone knocking on his office door pulls him away from the rainwater journey.
“I’m sorry,” Carla didn’t mean to startle him.
“It’s nothing. I was just thinking about a project.” He points a thumb back over his shoulder towards the desk cluttered with several editions of the Wall Street Journal.
“Oh,” she mumbles, shifting the pizza box from one hand to the other. “This is too much pizza for one person. I thought that maybe, if you hadn’t eaten yet, you might want the last few slices.”
In an effort to not stare at her, he has missed the slight nod of her head as she spotted his unopened lunch bag. “Well, I guess it’s time for me to get back to work, too,” she stepped back out into the hallway, closing the door behind her.
Holding his breath he quickly sits down and listens for the sound of her footsteps traveling the hallway’s brown carpeted length. In the silence that follows, he looks over his shoulder and sees only the limbs of a bay tree waving away his gondola vision. With a long, slow exhale he reaches out for his lunch but instead grabs the phone.
“Yes, I’d like to order a small pizza, please.” Unplanned, the words roll out. Daniel closes his eyes just as the gondolier heads the boat down a new waterway.
History of Pizza
Pizza is a popular American food. It is believed that Italians invented the pizza but its origins can be traced back to ancient times. Baked flat unleavened bread heaped with toppings was cooked in mud ovens by Babylonians, Egyptians, Israelites, and other Middle Eastern cultures. Similar to pita, which is still common in Greece and the Middle East today, it is o€ en topped with olive oil and spices, like rosemary and garlic.
The Margherita pizza that made its way to America most likely came from Italy. In the late 1800’s Italian baker, Raffaele Esposito, was believed to have created a dish for visiting royalty. According to the story, the Italian monarch King Umberto and his consort, Queen Margherita, were touring the area. In order to impress them and to show his patriotism the baker chose to top flat bread with food that would best represent the colors of Italy: red tomato, white mozzarella cheese, and green basil. The king and queen were so impressed that word quickly reached the masses.