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Caspar 7 November 2011

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Home Again

On a sunny Sunday afternoon In Palermo, I went out seeking water and yogurt for Rochelle. After more than an hour backtracking people carrying shopping bags, dodging raucous motor scooters, stumbling on uneven payment, and stepping around piles of trash and dog shit, I found myself at the end of my string. Simultaneously, back in our lovely rented apartment, Rochelle was reaching the same conclusion. By the time I got back with 10 pounds of water and 6 pounds of other food stuffs I couldn't utter a civil word. I cooked the tastiest taglietelle we've had since Vallelunga, and calmed down enough to agree with Rochelle: this is not fun any more. Everything we really want to do can be done better in Caspar. Time to go home.

After determining that flying from Palermo was awkward and ruinously expensive, off I went back to the Palermo Centrale to change our train tickets, thankfully an easy and friendly exchange with the helpful agent. The rest of the evening was spent arranging a flight home, a place to overnight in Naples, and a pick-up and ride home from the airport. 

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<p>Rounding the breakwater at Messina</p>

Rounding the breakwater at Messina

Everything fell into place easily, and so clearly the patron saint of travelers was watching over us.

The train ride across the top of Sicily to Messina was easy and pretty; the ferry ride across the Strait likewise; a wait of an hour, and then we were on a EuroStar in first class, comfortable and speeding as fast as the southern Italy roadbed will allow for Naples. Another pretty, easy trip. Except for the ferry, I took no pictures. Pictures from a train are never as vivid as what the eye sees. Sunset over the horn of Policastro. Lights going on in a castellated hilltown. The sprawl of Naples.

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Naples was, especially for Rochelle, a daunting prospect, and dragging our luggage and carting our bags through the gauntlet of unemployed, disgruntled men hanging out in the square in front of the train station wasn't reassuring. But we found our hotel right away and were greeted and made to feel safe. Soon we had printed boarding passes in hand, and a taxi to L'antica Pizzeria da Michele, the self-proclaimed "Templo di pizza" -- the temple of pizza generally recognized as the best pizza in the world. Now THAT is a big reputation to live up to.


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<p>a perfect Margherita</p>

a perfect Margherita

Then it was just cutting and chewing. You'll see from the picture that I couldn't control myself, and dealt a mortal wound to my pizza before remembering to take a picture of it. And what a delicious pizza! Too runny to eat American style, it was best cut into hand-sized pieces, folded with sauce and cheese trapped inside, and then devoured. Perfect thin crust (except around the outside; just enough there to mop up the excess.) Simple, perfect flavors.

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As a recovering restaurateur, I am always fascinated by establishments that survive and thrive. But this is ridiculous! Since 1870? Three or four generations have maintained this simple, affordable, much beloved institution through unthinkable changes. Even if the pizza wasn't superb, that in itself would be a reason to go and partake in awe. The Temple of Pizza indeed!

The crowd in the restaurant was good natured, the staff friendly and amused despite the pace of service. Our tablemates, a couple of women from half an hour outside Napoli, had come in by train for a pizza and some bright lights, and while there wasn't much talk -- good food does that -- we felt very much included in a Neapolitan phenomenon. Going into Naples, we had misgivings and fears, but here, engulfed by pizza, and afterwards dodging through the insanity of traffic to our hotel, it all felt fine.

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Easy transport from downtown Naples to nearly-downtown Naples airport, relaxed and expeditious security clearance, exactly the right grappa and limoncello in duty free, and away we went.

Photos from planes are even less successful than pictures from trains, but I enjoyed the view out the window on the flight to Munich. Snow capped Alps, orderly fields and clusters of white houses in Bavaria. A huge airport where we found our heart's desire, a good German wurst and a glass of beer served up by a cheerfully Wagnerian barmaid. 

Then the really long flight, sardined into seats meant for little people, no window, eleven hours in the air, and, at last, the familiar halls of SFO, a friendly immigration officer's "Welcome home," and Damiana and Sienna coordinating the fetching and return to our own bed, cat, and place. It's good to be home.

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