Monday, October 31, 2011

The greatest maze ever scribbled sends a shaken echo in and out of all the places it used to emanate from.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Thick and Thin

Last summer on a drive into Italy I witnessed something funny happen at a rest stop. We were driving from Geneva, and instead of stopping in Switzerland to pay 8 euros for a bag of nuts (regrettably i did this) and some second rate pastry, we decided to wait until we were in Italy to get slightly cheaper and far superior highway food.

The drive is among the most beautiful one can take through Europe. Four wheels and a distended payload have never so happily struggled its way through mountains, valleys, and hairpin turns. There are very few places to stop and eat, though, so once we crossed the border, we navigated to the first trough we could find. There were more than enough choices to combat the painfully ubiquitous "Cold Cheese Sandwich" that occupies most of Europe's road stops, but being at the gartered thigh of "the boot" one leaps for what's local: pizza.

While I was waiting in line for my slices, I quietly observed all of the voices around me, mentally resetting my internals towards my strongest foreign language, Italian. I eavesdropped on people speaking Italian to help me remember phrases, but the loudest voices were coming from English speakers, too hard to ignore...even deep in character of my caricature. It was not just English, though, but thick, baudy, greasy, clattering Scottish voices. Real rough and tumble. Even the ladies, whose high voices ought to have been soothing counterparts to the combustion of the other mouths, sounded like gears grinding together. The other language being spoken was money. Commerce in this cafeteria was cut in two and divided equally: leave it to the italians to try and peddle a swindle, leave it to Scotland to rally for the cause of logic.

We were all lining up for pizza, and making our orders at the cash register. As intended, I pretended to not speak English so I wouldn't have to get involved or have to take part in empty commiseration with other foreigners. While it's really enjoyable to 'blend in' at some place that isn't your own, it was mostly so I could just watch it all happen. The first group, three young males, tried to order a "BEGG PITSUH. REET?? A BEGG WUN" and the painted cashier obliged "Ah, yaysse. A beeg-a Pizza. Hokay. Heighteen Uros." Eighteen euros was paid and the group of Scots waited patiently down-counter for their food to come out of the oven. I had ordered "Due trancii di Margherita, e un cafe" and efficiently followed the herd with my false identity intact. As they got further towards the end of the counter where one picks up their order, they seemed to take particular notice of the pricing signs in front of the various slices of pizza for sale: EU3.60 per slice. This is our moment of conflict. A man in the group with a particularly char-grilled eyebrow turned to his mates and said "ACH WAIT A MENNET. IF THOSE ER THREE SEXTY A POHP, AND OUR PIZZA IS AYTEIN YOOROAS, WE'RE GETTIN REPPED OFF. WHERE'S THE MATHS IN THAAA." -- Then there was mass confusion and panic as the message spread in the group, part gossip and part poison.

The woman responsible for delivering the orders came over and started asking who was waiting for slices. The scots queued with new determination -

"BEGG PITSUH! REET HEEYAR." The waitress had a look at the receipt and replied

"your teecket saysse you ownly orderred 4 slices, and that you've (pointing to another person) only ordered 3. Szo, 7 slices total?"


and the rebuttal "Ah boot, it sayse 'ere that you only have ordered 4 zlices"


--and so this continued back and forth until finally two pizzas of identical size emerged from the oven. One was sliced in to four, and delivered to those waiting for slices. The other was put in a box, cut in to 8, and given to the Scots, who were understandably vexed at the division of provision. Begrudgingly and with visual condemnation of the outcome, they accepted the begg pitsuh, but before they left grillbrow stepped forward to spek his peace - "LOOOUK. WE'VE PAID, IT'S ALRIGHT, BUT I JUST WANNA SEH WAN THENG. SLICES, THREE SEXTY A POHP, 4 SLICES EN THESS PITSUH, BUT IT'S 18 YOOROAS. SHE GOT THREE SLICES, 3.60 A POHP, SHE PAID 10.80. HOW EXAHCTLY DOES THA WERKK? IT'S OOT OF ORDERR."

He hands her his receipt. The woman, stared at the receipt and in a moment of deliquescent bureaucratic death, she looked up and said to the chef, in Italian, "He's right...this makes absolutely no sense." I was stunned. There are few people more stubborn than Italians, and i'm not sure any of the stereotypical warmth and compassion so typically applied to the Italian national identity stems from border dwellers in the north. So she turns to the supervisor, and says "what's going on with these pizzas? A large is the same size as one divided up for slices, and it costs twice as much, it doesn't make any sense."

For this glimmer second, of all the microcosms of upset people in the world, it looked like someone on the INSIDE was finally going to listen and deliver justice. I think everyone in line with any comprehension of English, Italian, or sympathy, was holding their breath in anticipation of this bid for recognition. The boss, and then the cook in turn, stepped to the microphone, so to speak, and responded.

"They are all crazy. Go tell them not to be crazy. Stop it. A slice costs what a slice costs, a pizza costs 18 euros, everybody knows that. Tell them to learn the rules."

In those Scots paying for that Pizza, one witnessed one of the faces on the many heads of the world, and it was saying: I know you're wrong, and I know i'm right, but I suppose it doesn't matter..." For a  fleeting moment, rationality tried to battle governance, and endured a small victory. There was hope for the world (maybe just the pizza eating world)! Sadly, in the endgame of baked dough and melted cheese -- and perhaps more relevant for the world we're inheriting -- though, another "uprising" was wrapped up, sliced apart, and handed straight back.