We have paparazzi here in these United States (you know, for reality TV ‘stars’ and sports figures and such), but remember, it’s an Italian word. Here’s a new word: Pizzarazzi. I didn’t make it up, though I wish I did.
Pizzarazzi is what you get when pizza is revered with the near-holy fervor it is in its home of Naples, Italy. When I headed there this past March, I was thrilled that a local pizza restaurateur in in Louisville introduced me to his friend at one of the most respected pizzerias in Naples, Maria Cacialli at La figlia del Presidente. And even more excited, when, during the course of our Google-translate aided Facebook conversations, Maria invited me to an event with her to taste the pizzas of summer.
As best as I could understand, una pizza per l’estate 2013 was sort of a preview of summer pizzas from some of the top pizzaiolas (that’s a fun word to say!). I’d never had a real pizza napoletana before and couldn’t believe the serendipty of the event taking places the day I landed in Naples. So, although Maria and I wouldn’t share a language, I happily accepted her invitation, and as soon as I arrived in Naples, set out on foot from my hotel for her family’s pizzeria. After a tour of the sprawling place that has hosted many luminaries (including president Bill Clinton) I hopped in the back of her car with a stack of wooden trays bearing her pizza doughs, accepted a tiny plastic cup of inky black chilled espresso, declined a cigarette, and set out with her husband behind the wheel for the Amalfi Coast.
The site of the event in Vico Equense couldn’t have been in a more picture-perfect setting if they’d chosen it for the movies. I didn’t have the faintest idea what was happening around me in the swirl of Italian, so I took in the incomparable aroma of baking pizza, and tried to absorb just how hauntingly beautiful this spot in the Bay of Naples was. Maybe it was the sleepless night on the plane, the jet lag, or just the joy of being back in Italy after several years, but I could have cried watching the sun set over the bay.
But I wasn’t here to get maudlin over scenery. I was here for PIZZA. The smiling, yet you could still see dead serious, pizza making set and their entourage hustled me into the vast kitchen where pizzas were flying in and out of the oven. I was Pavlov’s dog, nearly drooling with anticipation. At last someone thrust a slice of pizza at me. I attempted to go at it with a fork, only to me met with laughter. Maria rolled it up for me and showed me how to properly eat a slice. And I didn’t stop until I’d had a piece of nearly every variety being prepared.
Unfortunately, I learned later that evening that the main event hadn’t in fact begun. Another Facebook connection, the boyfriend of a friend I knew only online, arrived and, to my eternal relief, spoke perfect English. I hastened to sit with Vincenzo, and learned that only *now* were we meant to eat the product of the night. Earlier, that was just sampling. Oops.
The rest of the night passed in an exhausted haze of pizza after pizza after applause after photo after speech. I let it all just bubble around me, straining to keep my eyes propped open and my belly from popping. My first night in Naples and I, a professional eater, had to plead full. It was a travesty, as one beautiful pie after another made its way to our table.
I smiled till my face ached, weariness unable to obliterate that feeling I’d have so often in the coming 18 days in Italy: awe at how very lucky I was to be in this exact place at this exact time, with these exact people around me. Italy makes you want to capture a moment, preserve it, and bring it out later to examine this treasure. But the fleeting nature of this very bliss is what makes it so precious.
All I could do was join the throngs of the pizzarazzi there that night, snapping photos left and right in the hope that I might look back miles and months later and recall the magic of the night.
My recommendations in Naples
If you go, here are some of my favorite places:
You have to meet Maria at Pizzeria La figlia del Presidente
Pizzeria Da Attilio – I would get back on a plane for pizza with fresh mozzarella
Don’t miss gelato at Gay Odin
Have a quintessential all-afternoon Italian lunch at Umberto
Sleep at Port Alba Relais, well located on Piazza Dante.