Let Them Eat Spaghetti

I brought some day-old bread to an empty food bank the other day. The woman in charge told me about the generational poverty so prevelent in this, the poorest county of Ohio. I watched as a kid played with a  beat-up Tonka truck that was missing a tire at the feet of two tired looking women.

 “These people have not only given up on a job, they’ve given up on everything… the kids suffer the most.”

On the way back to my pizzeria, I listened to two pundits talk about the balance of wealth in the United States and felt my blood pressure rising. It remided my about a story I had just read from La Bonne Table, written by Ludwig Bemelmans in 1953.

The Spaghetti Train

I came into the dining car late. Patrizzi was finished with his breakfast- that is, with the orange juice, toast, coffee and egg part of it. The other passengers had left. The crew seated at the end of the car had faces like wax figures in the bright sunlight.

Patrizzi lifted his nose and sniffed. “Spaghetti,” he said. “Real Spaghetti?”

“Yes, said the steward, “we are eating now. Back there the cooks are from Napoli.”

“I’d very much like some of your spaghetti,” said Patrizzi. “Enough for me and my friend here.”

The steward said the cooks would be delighted.

The spaghetti came, cooked with butter and garlic and with a handful of chopped parsley strewn over it.

“Some people condemn the Italian kitchen,” said Patrizzi, “and also the French. They say they can’t eat the food on account of the garlic. Now there is no good cooking except with garlic-but in the hands of a bad cook it is poisonous. It must be used with extrreme care. The most reckless are the English; once they take to cooking with garlic they use it so freely it’s impossible even for an Italian to eat it. For example, Somerset Maugham once served truffles wrapped in bacon, a very good dish. The truffles profit by the flavor of the bacon, the bacon is enhanced by the truffles, and I like it. But at the luncheon I bit into a truffle and inside wis a whole clove of garlic. Both the truffle and bacon were ruined. And the garlic, which, incidentally, was also in the chicken we were served and on the toast that came with the cheese and in the salad- it was so predominant that the whole meal was ruined. Now take this spaghetti-simple, ultra-simple- but with a bouquet like the finest wine.”

The train had stopped at a small station to wait for a clear track. Outside the window were cars of a freight train. The boxcar doors were open, and inside were benches on which sat people most of whom had no shoes and all of whose eyes were fixed on the spaghetti and the bottle of wine on our table. I said that it seemed to me that in Italy there was a belief that God had made some people rich and others poor, and that the tragedy was that not only the rich but the poor also believed it, and consequently it would never change.

Patrizzi answered, “And don’t you think this is as it should be and a very good arrangement? Have you ever seen an Italian peasant envious of those who have fine cares, or horses, or jewels? No, they admire those things, knowing they can never have them for themselves. They adopt a detachment, like people who go to the theater, or to an art gallery to admire priceless paintings. They are glad to know that these things exist, but they also know they never can own them. Just from looking at these things they devrive a pleasure that possession never brings, because possession means worry.” He snapped his finger. “More,” he shouted back to the steward.

 

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