The Birthplace of Pizza

Pizza was born in Naples, Italy, in the heart of the poorest city in Europe. Some history books date the arrival of the first pizza as far back as 997 A.D. while a number of historians place it closer to 1738. In 1843, Alexandre Dumas wrote about the pleasure of eating a pizza in Naples.

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More than a few Neapolitans will argue that the actual date was sometime in 1870, when Pizzeria Da Michele opened its doors and pulled the first marinara (oregano, garlic, and San Marzano tomatoes) from inside a 485-degree brick oven. Continue reading “The Birthplace of Pizza”

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How Italy Saved My Life

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Italy saved my life.

I first arrived there in the summer of 1969, 14 years old and thousands of miles removed from the streets of my New York City neighborhood. I left behind parents waging a futile battle against a crumbling marriage and a jagged mountain of debt and my closest friends beginning their surrender to the allure of drugs and a life of petty crime and one-way jobs that always follow in their wake.

I didn’t know what I would find in Italy but knew, even at such a young age, that whatever it was it couldn’t be much worse than what I was leaving behind. We lived in a four-room 10th Avenue tenement railroad apartment whose windows cracked and froze during long winter nights and were incapable of capturing even a slight breeze across many a brutal August summer. The night before my flight was to leave for Rome I sat with my mother on the stoop of our building, each of us cooling off with a Puerto Rican shaved ice cone. “You sure you want me to go?” I asked, speaking in Italian since my mother stubbornly refused to learn English, her one rebellious act against an American family and a way of life that for her amounted to little more than a prison sentence.

She nodded and then pointed to the street and the apartment buildings and clusters of neighborhood people milling about doing their best to escape the summer heat. “Do you want this to be the rest of your life?” she asked. “If you do, then stay and your father can find other uses for the money. But if this isn’t want you want, then get on that plane and go to Italy.”

“What’s there that’s not here?” I asked.

Continue reading “How Italy Saved My Life”

A True Canyon of Heros

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It is, for me, the most peaceful place I could ever hope to find.

The Church of Santa Croce in the city of Florence, Italy is the final resting place of many of the giants of the Renaissance. Among those who lie beneath a variety of ornate marble tombs are Macchiavelli, Galileo, Dante, Rossini, Vasari, Ghiberti and, the Divine One himself, Michelangelo.

I stepped inside the church on my first visit to Italy when I was 14. It was then I first began to understand what it meant to be Italian. Continue reading “A True Canyon of Heros”