Before, During And After Lunch: Slices Of Life And Of Pizza

I’ve been thinking recently about the nature of this blog. Not a whole lot, but enough to see that my stories — when you look at their sometimes straight, sometimes wavering and sometimes loopy as hell strokes — paint a pretty good picture of what I’m about. I’m not one to reveal all. I’ll never write a word, for instance, about the time, 40 years ago, when I went undercover in Nepal to help bring down the notorious Himalayan gang of bank robbers that dressed themselves in highly-convincing yeti costumes. Or about my space-boot shopping spree with Neil Armstrong a few days before he blasted off for the Moon. But I reveal plenty, I think.

Basically I’m a simple guy who does simple things. Well, simple cum lopsided things often might be a more accurate description. And for the last two and a half years I’ve been writing about them. My articles peer at, for the most part, typical days for yours truly, show what my interests are and have been, and show who has accompanied me (and whom I’ve accompanied) on this journey through what we affectionately call life.

Slices of life. Yeah, that’s what I usually find myself describing. And now that I’ve expended nearly 200 words in trying to establish a degree of context for this current opus, I’ll turn my attention in that direction. “Yo, you better, pal,” I hear a few voices saying. “Our time is limited. We’re this close to closing out your article and checking out some YouTube videos of skateboarding kangaroos.”

Right, right, ye whose attention span is shorter than Donnie Trump’s fuse (but not shorter than his dick). Here we go.

Last Friday I found myself heading north from my suburban Philadelphia abode. My car, having a mind of its own, drove itself two and a half miles to an establishment that ranks high on my ladder of places where I like to grab a bite for lunch. In fact, it probably is my favorite lunchtime eatery in my neck of the woods. And that’s because, speaking of slices, I believe that the slices of pie that one purchases at Nino’s Pizzarama are damn good. A card-carrying fool for pizza, I down them there two or three times a month (and I go to other pizza joints throughout each month too).

I ordered a slice of regular pie and one of Sicilian. They hit the spot regally, though I was slightly disappointed in the regular’s crust. Too chewy. The pie needed to have been left in the oven for another 20 or 30 seconds to become as crispy as it itself was hoping to become. Such is the life of pie.

While munching away, I couldn’t get out of my head a song I’d heard on the radio during my northward trek. It’s a very beautiful recording, one that I instantly became attached to soon after its release in 1968: Hickory Wind, by The Byrds. As always, it sounded wonderful.

Hickory Wind comes from Sweetheart Of The Rodeo, a magnificent country-rock album. The Byrds, famed for earlier numbers such as the psychedelic nugget Eight Miles High and the folk-rock staple Turn, Turn, Turn, had undergone some significant stylistic and personnel shifts by the time it was waxed. Three of the five original members were gone and new guys, most notably the space cowboy Gram Parsons, who helped push the band partly into country-music territory, were on board. Parsons is one of rock and roll’s legendary names, not only for his big musical talents, but for his wild and wooly and troubled life. He died of a drug overdose in 1973.

Gram Parsons is credited with having written Hickory Wind in 1968 with his musical compadre Bob Buchanan. (There is a dispute over the song’s authorship, by the way. Some claim that a little-known folksinger named Sylvia Sammons composed it, and that Parsons stole it from her. The truth never will be known, it seems.) It has been recorded by many since then, but The Byrds put it out first.

What a song. Wistful and melancholy, it stands you up straight and makes you think about the times when loneliness and an aching heart might have ruled your days. That’s Gram singing lead. In the car I melted as I listened to his yearning voice and to the sad, sad notes coming from Lloyd Green’s pedal steel guitar. Man, you want to be in a happy mood when you’re eating pizza. But me, I sat at one of Nino’s tables in a contemplative frame of mind, not fully able to concentrate on the powers of sweet tomato sauce, excellent melted cheese and could-be-better crust.

There’s much to be said for contemplative, though. It’s a state that can be good for the inner being, helping us to put things in perspective and, if we’re lucky, softening our defenses. On the way home from Nino’s I turned on the radio and found myself on the receiving end of another helping of such as Horace Silver‘s Lonely Woman filled the car. Silver, whose rich 60-year career in the jazz world ended with his passing in 2014, composed and recorded Lonely Woman in 1963. It came out in 1965 on his most famous album, Song For My Father.

There’s little I need to say about the song. It is subdued and righteous and should be better known than it is. A trio (Horace on piano, Roy Brooks on drums, and Gene Taylor on bass) perform Lonely Woman, Horace having decided that the tune would benefit if saxophone and trumpet, which appear on the majority of his recordings, sat this one out. Less sometimes is more. What’s more, Horace plays straight through Lonely Woman’s seven-minute length, having further decided that neither a bass solo nor drum solo were appropriate. Hats off to that.

Slices of life. Slices of pizza. I’m sure a spot-on connection could be drawn between them, and that slice-y metaphors are out there ripe for the picking. Those with bulbs brighter than mine would have no trouble drawing and picking. Which is why I now shall quietly exit the stage, before long to return with another tale of the sublimely simple. Till then, amigos . . .

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Darkened Skies, Beautiful Philadelphia

img_0891 At about 8:30 PM on the first Friday of the current month, my wife Sandy and I exited Capofitto, an Italian bistro cum gelato/sorbetto (ice cream/sorbet) store that we like. We’d downed a pizza-centric meal there, capped off with scoops of cappuccino gelato and peach sorbetto. Pretty damn good for sure. Capofitto is in the heart of Philadelphia’s Old City section, whose roots go back powerfully to Colonial days. No doubt the block on which Capifitto resides, a length of Chestnut Street, was trod upon countless times by any Founding Father you can name, not to mention his romantic partner(s), as was just about every Old City block. I find it très neat to think about that. Old City is a cool part of town.

“What next?” we asked ourselves. Should we go back to our home in the burbs? Nah, the night was young. And quite dark, as the Sun had set an hour earlier and neither moonlight nor starlight was apparent to me. Essentially, Old City was being illuminated by electric lights, and in a muted manner. Which I enjoyed. Everything seemed dreamy and atmospheric — the semi-ancient brick buildings, the stone-paved streets. I felt as though I was on a movie set. I asked Sandy if she’d like to go for a walk. She said yes, and off we went down Chestnut Street toward nearby Penn’s Landing, a large swath of Philadelphia’s Delaware River waterfront. The night not only was young, it also was calling. 

img_0894Like the Founding Fathers, Sandy and I have moseyed along Old City’s arteries many times. That’s an activity that doesn’t get old. We keep coming back for more. And this being a night whose effects I actually was paying attention to, which isn’t always the case, I felt myself getting into the scene more than usual. “Holy brotherly love,” I murmured to myself when, half a block from Capofitto, I turned around and saw the huge and perfectly-sculpted United States Custom House, which went up in the 1930s, glowing warmly in its white lights. “That’s gorgeous.” Indeed it was. I snapped its picture, the first of many that Sandy and I would snap as we investigated Philadelphia under darkened skies.

img_1546In a flash we were at Penn’s Landing, a once unassuming and still developing stretch of territory that city officials have been master-planning and trying to force into glorious bloom for over 50 years. To put it another way, the keys to unlocking Penn’s Landing’s full potential as a tourist and city resident draw have yet to be discovered. But it’s getting there, as we shall see. First thing you notice at night when you enter Penn’s Landing near its northern end, as Sandy and I did, is the Ben Franklin Bridge, which connects our nations’ first capitol with Camden, New Jersey. The bridge is massive and grand and, when skies are black, a visual wow. Why? Because years ago someone had the sterling idea to string colorful, Christmassy lights along it. Sandy and I looked at the bridge long and hard and, as on many nights before, we liked what we saw.

The park's LED lights (center right) seen from a distance.
The park’s LED lights (at right) seen from a distance.

I must have realized this on past visits too, but that night I was taken by the low-wattage illumination in most parts of Penn’s Landing. Just like in Old City. Philadelphia — and I’m all for this — ain’t aiming for a Times Square type of lighting blitz. A feeling of intimacy, I think, is the result throughout most of the city. And that casual, relaxed spirit was true even in the section of Penn’s Landing that the masses have discovered and turned into a destination. I speak of Spruce Street Harbor Park, which drew closer as Sandy and I headed south along Penn’s Landing’s walkways. At night we couldn’t and wouldn’t have wanted to miss it, because the possibly thousands of color-shifting LED lights hanging from its trees were superb and put us under a spell. And we didn’t need to don shades . . . yes, the lights dazzled, but subtly.

img_1552Spruce Street Harbor Park, loaded with things to do, overlooks Penn’s Landing’s marina, which I never used to think much of because I’d rarely if ever notice anything interesting going on within it. And the grounds of what is now the park, which opened for business in 2014, once were as bland and barren as an unbuttered slice of white bread, except for a grove of trees and a monument to Christopher Columbus. That, at least, is the way I remember the area. But all that has changed. Lo and behold, SSHP has become, I’d guess, the most popular place to hang out in all of Philadelphia. The governmental folks who orchestrated the park’s development birthed a phenomenon, a winner that has far exceeded in popularity anyone’s expectations.

img_0926img_0911Designed to have a summery sort of ambience, the attractions at Spruce Street Harbor Park have a limited run each year, though I wouldn’t be surprised if the powers that be are brainstorming ideas that would keep the park open most or all months. Yeah, more is better, guys! This year, SSHP’s season began in early May and will end on September 25. At the very least, why not open the gates in mid-April and close them in mid-October? Sounds like a plan to me. Anyway, the place was mobbed the night Sandy and I visited. With good reason. It has a low-key, breezy combination of things going for it, besides the groovy LED shafts whose color blips rise and fall regimentally.

 

img_0920img_1557There are hammocks dangling between trees; tables and chairs of different sizes and shapes scattered all around; a boardwalk lined with food shacks; craft beer stands; an indoor arcade; restaurants floating in the marina; a bocce court . . .  you get the picture. Among other pursuits, folks lounged, strolled, stuffed their faces and watched others lounge, stroll and stuff. And played their parts peacefully and politely. The nitwit factor at Spruce Street Harbor Park and the rest of Penn’s Landing and, come to think of it, in Old City, was nil that night. Do hypnotic lights amid semi-darkness induce commendable behavior? I don’t really know, but there might be something to that.

 

Alas, all good things that first Friday evening, for Sandy and me anyway, came to an end. To a train station in central Philadelphia we eventually proceeded. And, not long after that, at our abode’s doorstep, a mere handful of miles from one of the city’s borders, we arrived.

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(All photos, except that of the United States Custom House, by Sandra Cherrey Scheinin. If you click on any photo, a larger image will open)

You Gotta Like These People: A Review Of Meet The Patels

A few nights ago my wife Sandy and I went for the umpteenth time to the Ambler Theater, an art house cinema in the Philadelphia suburbs that I’ve praised often on this website. We were accompanied by our excellent pals, Cindy and Gene. They are Philadelphians understandably loathe to drive to the burbs, or anywhere, for fear of the nightmare that sometimes awaits them hours later when they return to their congested neighborhood and attempt to find a parking space. I hope they are not still circling their surrounding blocks these several days later. If they are . . . well, that’ll learn ’em.

We saw Meet The Patels at the Ambler Theater.
We saw Meet The Patels at the Ambler Theater.

The movie we went to see was Meet The Patels. It is a delightful concoction, a documentary so breezy and cheerily assembled that I urge all of good spirit to take it in. For those not of good spirit, watching it maybe will help them find a better path in life.

 

 

Nonetheless, I left the Ambler Theater not at all sure if I would comment online about Meet The Patels. Sure, I enjoyed the documentary very much. Sure, it’s worth writing about. But: 1) Hundreds of reviews of this movie already have been penned. 2) I didn’t seem to have any wondrous insights to disseminate. 3) Etc.

On the other hand, my blog is a voracious master, compelling me to keep it fed.

Words of wisdom attached to a wall at Randazzo's Pizzeria.
Words of wisdom attached to a wall at Randazzo’s Pizzeria.

Fresh out of ideas and inspiration, I sauntered into Randazzo’s Pizzeria the day after watching Meet The Patels. It’s a decent joint a mile or two from my abode. As I waited for my pizza slices to heat in the oven I took a look at one of the walls. It was covered with knick-knacks and photographs. One of the knick-knacks caught my attention and got me thinking. It was a depiction of an Italian chef standing next to a chalkboard on which were written very sage and pithy statements: “A pinch of patience; a dash of kindness; a spoonful of laughter; and a heap of love.”

Those are words not to be taken lightly. They truly are meaningful. They are a good recipe for life. And they illuminate what, to me, Meet The Patels is all about.

And thus a pizzeria inspired me to sit down and type this report. Meet The Patels concerns a family of four, the Patels. Natch. Husband and wife, India-born Vasant and Champa, moved to the States decades ago for better opportunities than they saw available at home. They became accustomed to the American Way, but hung on strongly to their native customs and values. Stateside they produced two children, Geeta and then Ravi. Now young adults, the siblings are highly Americanized, yet cognizant and appreciative of the Asian culture that undeniably runs through their veins.

All four Patels, as best I could tell, reside in California. Mr. and Mrs. P occupy a roomy home. Geeta and Ravi, touchingly, share a comfortable apartment. How many adult siblings live together? Few, by my experience. In this documentary, Geeta and Ravi seem to pull it off easily.

On to the plot. Meet The Patels spins the tale of Ravi’s search for a wife. Having recently broken up, after a two year romance, with a white girl named Audrey, 29-year-old Ravi somewhat reluctantly agrees to allow his parents to try and find a suitable match for him. Only thing is that Mom and Dad never knew about Audrey. Ravi was too embarrassed ever to tell them that he had dated a female of the non-Indian-American persuasion. Mom and Dad, successful products of an arranged marriage — arranged being the norm in India — were under the impression that their 29-year-old son was kind of a relationship tyro. And that his unstated goal was to settle down with someone who shared his ethnic background. Coolly they convince Ravi to allow them to employ slightly updated versions of traditional Indian matchmaking methods to identify and locate a mate for him. Said mate is to come from the large pool of well-educated and fine-tempered Indian-American and Indian females that Ravi’s parents are confident exists. Let the games begin.

Meet The Patels is a movie that originally wasn’t meant to be a movie. As a lark, Geeta began filming Ravi’s wife-seeking adventures. After a while she and Ravi realized that fun and wisdom were to be found in the raw footage. Light bulbs went off in their heads and a project was born. They are credited as Meet the Patels’ directors, and along with two others as the writers. The movie doesn’t mention this, but it turns out that the story and filming took place about seven years ago, after which various snags held things up big time. Last year, finally, the movie was completed and became a darling of the film festival circuit. It’s playing now in a modest number of theaters. Ravi was an actor landing a handful of movie and TV roles while Meet The Patels was filming. These days he is a pretty big presence on the small screen. He’s currently in two series, Grandfathered and Master Of None

Meet The Patels moves fast and furious, Geeta handling most of the camerawork in an engagingly amateurish home movie mode (she claims she never learned how to operate her camera, or frame scenes, properly). The film intersperses animated sequences, scripted and nimble, to explain and give oomph to the plot. The plot doesn’t require more elucidation from me. No spoiler alerts here. What really matters are the lessons about human behavior and relationships to be gained from the flick (and from the Italian chef’s chalkboard). To wit, the four principles in Meet the Patels are endearing, warm and loving. They respect each other and get along famously. They are open (excepting Ravi’s concealment from Mom and Dad of Audrey’s place in his life, but we’ll forgive him that) and open to change. They smile a lot, laugh a lot. These are folks you’d want to be friends with.

Sandy, Cindy, Gene and I all left the theater feeling good. Amen.

(Photos by Sandra Cherrey Scheinin. If you click on a photo, a larger image will open)

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A Meditation On Pizza

Pizza, pizza, pizza. For how long have you been a part of my life? Why do I adore you so? Have my feelings about you changed over the years? And most importantly, where the heck can I find really good examples of you? These are questions I am about to answer. They also are questions to which I will return in future articles on this blog.

Some people write about politics or religion or nanomechanics. I have yet to address those and other heady subjects, and probably never will. I don’t have the smarts for that. I’m not too sure I have the wattage to say anything dynamic about pizza either, for that matter. I’m a preschooler compared to the Einsteins out there whose knowledge of and insights into the world of pies are dazzling. But I’m not embarrassed to lay out some thoughts and observations. Take it away, Neil.

Pizza is my favorite food and has been for 40 or so years. I grew up on Long Island, and it was there in the early 1960s that my pizza habit began. The habit grew, and somewhere in the early 1970s became pretty well an obsession. I was living on Long Island for part of that decade, and in Manhattan and Philadelphia at other times. In all of those locales the pizza was similar. I, and I’m sure most people, didn’t spend a lot of time discussing pizza in those days. Basically, you ate it and you liked it. There were only two varieties back then, regular (a round pie that I suppose now would be referred to as New York style) and Sicilian (a square pie whose crust was thicker and chewier than the regular pie’s). You could get mushrooms or pepperoni with the former if that was your wont.

By the late 20th century though, pizza became a complicated subject with a nomenclature that I can’t keep straight. New York style, Chicago style, Neapolitan, Margherita, thin crust . . . on and on it goes. And then there’s the whole matter of toppings. We live in an age when figs, pineapple, you name it, are fair game to bake atop a pie. For ease of discussion I’m going to keep this essay focused on the type of pizza I like best, the humble round darling composed of crust, cheese and tomato sauce. No toppings.

In the 1970s regular pizza seemed a-ok to me. It was chewy and floppy, often heavily laden with cheese and tomato sauce and usually dripping with oil. That variety is alive and well to this day. Its top makers, such as Di Fara (in Brooklyn) are truly famed. I’ve never had a Di Fara slice, but I gather that that establishment has taken the regular (aka New York style) pie to a new level, probably by using higher quality ingredients than those I grew up with. I wish that Di Fara would open a branch near me. While I wait two or three millennia for that to happen, I’ll instead continue to visit a couple of places in the Philly burbs that make New York style pizza similar to what I devoured years ago. The quality varies from visit to visit at these parlors, but I can’t complain too much. I like their wares fairly well overall, though I now have better alternatives.

There’s something about pizza that strikes a chord with my elemental self. It’s not a fussy or complicated product. The three main components seemingly were created to join blissfully together to make taste buds swoon. But as I’ve learned over the last 20 years, a great gastronomic marriage can become even greater. In other words, pizzas better than those I knew in my youth and middle age exist in this world. Di Fara’s baby is an example. In the USA, pizzas have reached rarified heights of deliciousness.

I’m not talking about all pizzas by any means. Most American pies still are very ordinary, maybe way too heavy on the cheese or cursed with a cardboard crust or hampered by an indifferent tomato sauce. However, new pizza orientations have taken hold in many establishments, and the one I’m especially all for is this: Thinner and charred crust. High quality cheeses and tomato sauce in balanced proportions. Oil in moderation, not cascading from each slice like a waterfall. This is not New York style pizza, though I’m a bit uncertain as to the name(s) it has been given by the pizza intelligentsia.

The above paragraphs are a long lead-in to my recent visit to Anthony’s Coal Fired Pizza, a chain with a branch in Horsham, PA, not far from my home. My wife Sandy and I dropped in on a hot August Saturday night. We’d been there before, each previous visit knocking our socks off. I know of a few places in Philadelphia with pizzas that match my updated criteria for excellence. In the burbs, Anthony’s is the one and only that I’ve discovered.

Our lovely salad at Anthony's Coal Fired Pizza.
Our lovely Italian salad at Anthony’s Coal Fired Pizza.

Anthony’s has a small menu. I’d guess that pretty much everything on it is swell. Sandy and I, though, have had only the Italian salad and what Anthony’s calls its traditional pizza. Both are so good we order them again and again. The other night the salad was fine as usual. Crisp lettuce, chick peas, tomato and hard boiled egg wedges, all glazed with a tart light vinaigrette dressing. Simple and satisfying.

Our majestic pizza pie at Anthony's.
Our majestic pizza pie at Anthony’s.

The pizza came on a flat wood throne. Visually the pie was beautiful — you have to love those darkened areas, the basic color palette. Tastewise, beautiful too. The cheeses, mozzarella and romano, were earthy, the plum tomato sauce bright and lively. And the crust’s charcoal bite brought me joy. I’m an easy guy to please, given the right circumstances. At Anthony’s I was a happy eater. Good salad and superb pizza. And a hoppy brew to wash them both down, Arcadia Brewing Company’s Cheap Date Pale Ale. There was nothing more I needed or desired.

I’ve previously written about Capofitto, a fine joint in Philadelphia serving up blackened soul-satisfying pies. I know that pizza greatness extends far beyond Capofitto and Anthony’s. Fussy me will continue to search for pizzas way above the pedestrian, and will report back now and then as I discover them.

(Photos by Sandra Cherrey Scheinin. If you click on a photo, a larger image will open)

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A Winning Dinner And A Fashionable Movie

Figuring out last minute Saturday night plans at home in the burbs recently, my wife and I were surprised to find dinnertime slots available on OpenTable for Capofitto, a hot newish Italian restaurant in Philadelphia’s wonderful Old City section. This is a place we’d read about when it opened last autumn. It sounded good and also intriguing, as it contains a ten ton pizza oven that was built by three Italian masons on site from bricks and other materials boated over from Italy. Clearly this is an establishment that takes its pizza seriously, which makes me smile. Quickly we made an OpenTable reservation, shot off to a suburban train station, and rode the rails into Philadelphia. After dinner we planned to catch a movie, Dior And I, at the Ritz Bourse art house cinema, one block from Capofitto. We silently congratulated ourselves for developing such an efficient plan for the evening.

Capofitto's dining room.
Capofitto’s dining room.

Capofitto (233 Chestnut Street) is a good looking place, fairly wide and very long, comfortable but not too fancy. Housed in a building about 115 years old, its modern décor somehow gives off the vibes of a traditionally-decorated Italian eatery. The restaurant is owned by Stephanie and John Reitano, who have placed a geletaria in the front room. This is understandable, as the Reitanos blessed Philadelphia earlier this century with a scattering of mucho popular gelato cafés. Capofitto expands the culinary parameters of the Reitano empire.

Icelandic White Ale
Icelandic White Ale

The first important question is: What beer did I order?  An Italian one would have been appropriate, but for the fact that Capofitto’s beer menu listed a brand I’d never heard of before, from a country I’d never given any thought to as a beer producer. Iceland of all places. Next time at this sweet restaurant I’ll drink Italian, but this night it had to be Einstök brewery’s Icelandic White Ale. This is a wheat beer whose label implies that the brewers toss orange peels and coriander into the vat. I noticed those flavors, but unexpectedly I also found a substantial hint of celery wafting up to my nostrils. Must have been the hops, weird dudes that can impart all manner of tastes and aromas to beer. Regardless, the ale had bite and was refreshingly bubbly and I liked it a lot.

Capofitto's pinoli salad and focaccia bread.
Capofitto’s pinoli salad and focaccia bread.

What then did we have for dinner? Pizza of course, preceded by a pinoli salad. Pinoli? That’s pine nuts to you and me. My wife and I shared both the salad and pizza. The salad was misnamed, being composed largely of shredded fennel and orange slices, and brought to life with a fine milky dressing and ricotta cheese. And with some toasted pinoli too. We thought much of the salad, though a lot more pinoli wouldn’t have hurt. With the salad came focaccia bread, very good indeed.

Our gorgeous pizza.
Our gorgeous pizza.

Our pie, a margherita to which we added salty black olives, was fabulous. The pie crust’s body was thin and crisp, its puffy rim chewy in a satisfying way. The entire crust was heat darkened and blistered here and there, the good quality wheat’s earthy flavor shining through. It’s not every pizza whose wheat catches your attention. My wife and I sighed contentedly as we munched away. This was one of the best pizzas I’ve had in recent years.

Capofitto's oak-burning pizza oven.
Capofitto’s oak-burning pizza oven.

The pizza oven, by the way, is a beauty. I looked it over for a few minutes. Capofitto feeds it wood, oak to be more precise, and it reaches very high temperatures, 900 degrees Fahreinheit or higher. Miraculously it bakes a pie in about 90 seconds.

Now, Capofitto has a large menu. Pizzas, salads, cold meats, cheeses, a few pasta dishes. I’d be surprised if most everything on it isn’t good to excellent. But after the pizza we were stuffed enough and didn’t eat anything more, not even the gelatos that brought the Reitanos their initial fame. We will return to Capofitto, at which time we’ll explore sections of the menu we didn’t get to. For now, on to the movie.

The poster for Dior And I outside the Ritz Bourse.
The poster for Dior And I outside the Ritz Bourse.

No one, most notably my wife, would describe me as a fashionisto. I am aware of trend-setting looks and high fashion, but the road sort of ends there. But like most anything, the world of high fashion, if explained and presented properly, will jump to life even for the mildly interested. At the Ritz Bourse my wife and I, as planned, watched Dior And I. Well-paced and well-developed, it is a documentary about the cloistered world of haute couture. It is very good, worth seeking out. Three out of four stars, I’d say.

Dior And I, directed by up and comer Frédéric Tcheng, follows the travails and successes of Raf Simons during the initial phase of his new job in 2012. For in April of that year, Simons, who had made his name in men’s fashion design, was hired by Paris’s world famous House of Dior as creative director for its women’s lines. Lucky Raf’s first big project began immediately. He had all of eight weeks to design and present Dior’s 2012 fall-winter haute couture collection. A snap, right?

The documentary begins with Raf’s first day at work, when he is introduced to the seamstresses and other staff now under his direction. Throughout the film Simons appears shy, which makes me wonder how he managed to rise to so high a creative and managerial position. Turns out that the House’s founder, Christian Dior, possessed traits similar to Simons’s. The private Dior was a reticent man, uncomfortable with the public demands of his occupation. Simons is aware of the founder’s bearings. On camera he says that he once began reading Dior’s memoir, only to put it down forever after a short while because he recognized too much of himself in Dior’s personality.

Wait, this is a spoiler alert: At the end Simons triumphs, a survivor of the strained nerves and pained expressions that accompanied him during his test by fire. The haute couture show, held on July 2, 2012 in a majestically flowered Parisian mansion, is a hit. There the movie ends. Today, almost three years later, Simons is still on the job. He undoubtedly has grown more comfortable in it.

My Coca-Cola Relapse

How much cola have I consumed in my life? Thousands of gallons I’d guess. Not to mention the huge quantities of other soda varieties that have passed through my body. But cola always was my favorite. Coca-Cola, Pepsi, RC Cola, store brands – I proudly and happily drank them all. Over time, Coke became my top cola choice.

My cola habit was strong in my teens and went up some notches in my early 20s. But it ended in my mid-40s when I gave up cola and other sodas. All of that sugar for so many years, combined with sad dental hygiene, had made a mess of my teeth and gums. I needed to stop drinking the stuff, and it’s a good thing that my willpower was strong enough to follow through. I didn’t switch to diet sodas because I’ve never liked the taste of artificial sweeteners.

The scene of my relapse
The scene of my relapse

But cola is back in my life. Coca-Cola, to be precise. Its return began not long ago at a pizza place I’ve been going to for a couple of years, Tony Roni’s. Roni’s resides at a remarkably congested and dangerous road intersection in Willow Grove, PA, not far from Philadelphia. Customers might somewhat put their lives in jeopardy to visit Roni’s, but that doesn’t keep them away. And that includes me.

I love pizza, especially the more traditional and unadulterated types, but I can’t find many by-the-slice places that make it the way I prefer: crisp charred crust, sweet tomato sauce, good quality cheese and not an overload of it nor of oil. Tony Roni’s traditional pies seem to vary in quality from visit to visit. They are not too bad overall, but in a better world they consistently would be less floppy and oily. So, a bit frustrated, last year I started ordering slices of Roni’s tomato pie instead. It’s a pizza variety I had rarely had before. They do a nice job with tomato pie, its underside heat-darkened, the crushed tomatoes ripe with good flavor, very little oil, a dusting of cheese. The crust could be better, but what the heck.

Initially I drove to Tony Roni’s once every two or three weeks and, for various reasons, most frequently on Wednesdays. Wednesday is the one day when they offer a free fountain soda to anyone who buys two pizza slices. For a long time I rejected the free drink. After much cavity filling and periodontal work, my teeth and gums have been pretty good for quite awhile now, so why press my luck? But the lure of Tony Roni’s free soda must have been nibbling at my subconscious. Earlier this year my resistence grew thin. Paying for two slices on a January Wednesday I said “oh well” to myself and accepted the cashier’s proferred paper soda cup. Off I went to the soda dispenser and allowed six or so ounces of Coca-Cola to descend. I took a seat, took a sip, and was in heaven. Coke is heaven. I knew that all along.

Since then, my trips to Tony Roni’s have been almost weekly, and exclusive to Wednesdays. Each time I buy two slices of pie, usually tomato pie, and savor about six ounces of free Coke. I try very hard not to drink more Coke than that. So far I’ve been successful. And when I get home from my pizza and soda outings I brush my teeth. Coke is delicious. Dental work isn’t.