January 2007


Amorina Cucina Rustica
624 Vanderbilt Avenue
(betw’n Prospect Pl. and Park Pl.)
Prospect Heights
(718) 230-3030

 

 

 

I found my one true love on Viale Trastevere a few years ago. She had all the main requirements — curvy, brunette, and holding a freshly baked pizza from the ancient brick oven beside her.

My lady adorned every box that came out of Pizzeria ai Marmi in that old and moody corner of Rome. Marmi (known as “the morgue” around town for its garish lighting and marble tables) was only one happy moment in a lifelong connoisseurship of Neapolitan pizza, but it was the most profound. The neighbors knew it well, and we bumped elbows every night as we crammed in for dinner. The wine was cheap. The pizza (as it often is in such places throughout Italy) was perfect. But it was the skill that captivated me. I ignored countless hours of conversation while watching the overstressed pizzaioli shape the dough, top the pizzas, load them in, and take them out, never missing a beat in their practiced rhythm. To eat something so fast and cheap yet so flavorfully nuanced seemed to typify life there — where simplicity breeds contentment and an attention to detail that elude us as we continue to evolve and automate.

When I moved back to New York a couple years ago I held out hope for the triumphant return of Neapolitan pizza to my weekly pleasures. I thought it would take some effort, some trial and error, and not a small number of Metrocards and wasted time. It turns out that all I had to do was look around the corner.

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Bus Stop Coffee Shop
542 Ninth Avenue
(at 40th Street)

Midtown West
(212) 560-9030

 

 

 

I spend so much time running around, beneath, and through the Port Authority Bus Terminal that I feel it is in some ways my third home (right after the office, which is right after my actual home if anyone is counting). In another era I might have said this with a certain amount of satisfied relish — transit hubs are truly magical places and I used to feel that I could measure my life’s success by how much time I spent at the start or end of some adventure on the road. But these days it’s hard to manage that point of view when the frequency of my visits there starts working on my nerves, exposing the truth that running for a bus is one of the roughest stresses life can offer. The fear of being late — hours late — and the self recrimination that inevitably follows is an anxiety that’s really hard to beat no matter how many deep breaths I take.

Another reason for this change in perspective — this hurry-up-and-wait kind of travel that hovers around the BT — is the fact that there really isn’t anywhere to sit back and relax. My favorite train stations of the world have that one particular bar or café down the block where you can sit and watch the bustle and wait for the whistle to blow while you think about where you’re going or where you’ve been. Even airports with their synthetic mall-like food courts have a few gems with a view out onto the tarmac. My best memories of being driven to the starting point of a trip as a kid were always that stop for a bite along the way.

There’s none of that here. At least, that’s what I thought until I showed up early one day and had the odd thought to go snooping around the back of the building.

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It does seem like forever, but the holidays have finally died down and life in our fair city has resumed a relatively normal pace, and that means it’s time for us to resume waxing gastronomic for your reading pleasure. The staff has run out of holiday excuses for not turning in their essays on time and those will soon be appearing here. As for me, I’ve had a few days to unwind from the seemingly incessant bus travels, meeting people in bus stations, eating bus station food, and also the few odd days of working when neither I nor the rest of the world was on vacation.

During these weeks of trying to keep to deadlines, juggling credit cards, and making sure everything was just right on the days when everything needed to be just right, I never had a chance to stop and notice that I had lost track of time, and therefore lost track of myself. It’s a familiar feeling in this eat-pizza-in-the-cab-on-the-way-to-a-meeting culture — that anxious bug that drives people to incessantly jab at elevator buttons or huff and puff when caught behind a slow-moving person on the subway stairs. In overscheduled times, we lose sight of the reasons why we’re here to begin with, and life becomes strikingly less pleasurable. But I was thankfully reminded during a few special, almost imperceptible moments.

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