Sunday, October 2, 2011

Hey, Fongul!

Maurizio actually said that to me, but only because I asked him to.  I wanted to capture his expression so I asked him to say the most offensive thing he could think of.   Being a sicilian, that's what came out.  Maurizio doesn't simply resemble the Italian stereotype, he is the Italian stereotype incarnate, and it's beautiful.

One of the things I love most about San Francisco is it's authenticity.  When you go to an Italian restaurant in North Beach,  you get served by Italians.  With accents.  Who speak with their hands.  The real deal.  And you never have to plan, you just go and you find little gems like Maurizio's Caffè Macaroni on Columbus Avenue.

None of us had ever been there before and when our group of 8 walked through the door, Maurizio asked "How Many" (heavy accent).  We look at each other.  "How Many?" (heavy accent).  More stares.  "How Many"?  (Louder).  We finally get it and working like a tornado he starts moving chairs,  tables, setting napkins, silverware, and all the accoutrements necessary for lunch.

I'm guessing Maurizio is 5' 6" and every move he makes is with a purpose, but somehow lacks efficiency.   He's over here for the menu board, he's back over there for water, wait now he's back over here for a menu, oops forgot the wine glasses, now he's over yonder.   While he's walking over yonder, arms and legs pumping, hands gesturing in the air, I hear him saying, "Mama, Mia" (not kidding here), grabs the wine glasses, flashes back to table, and he's off again.  At this point, I don't even care what's for lunch, I'm so amused by this whirling dervish that the food is really secondary to me now.

At some point during the rundown of the menu board he let's us know that the "Insalate Caprese" isn't available today, but I don't catch that part.  Communication from Maurizio to the kitchen is via intercom because the kitchen is located up a set of stairs.  The conversation goes like this:

Kitchen: (loud garbled message, in Italian)

Maurizio:  pushes button, says something in sing-songy beautiful Italian, gestures with his hands, says "Mama Mia" (no Insalate Caprese), then quickly turns and heads back to the table.

 The menu board (a portable white board) may as well be an NFL play script because I can't understand any of it.  It's lots of colors, slighly smeared, written in part Italian, part English and it's a mess, but It's beautiful.  Besides, I always look for the Penne with Sausage regardless of the Italian restaurant I'm at.  It seems to be my measuring stick for grading Italian Restaurants, and I'm comfortable with it.

He goes around the table taking orders and eventually makes his way to me and I order the Penne and the "Insalate Caprese".  I wasn't being a smart-ass, I never quite caught the part about it being unavailable.  Maurizio begins chastising me with a heavy accent and hand gestures.  I can't understand the words, but I know exactly what he means.  As I'm watching him all I can think about is that now I know where the East Coast attitude originates from, and it's beautiful.

When we get our food, it's not secondary to me anymore, it's incredible.  The bread, the wine, the pasta, the dessert, everything.   I tend to remember things as "good" or "bad" in a lump sum package, and this was definitely "good", and we'll be back and recommend it to friends.  Before we left Maurizio agreed to allow me to take some photos, despite his protestations that his looks "Woulda breaka da camera".

The 30 second exchange we had with me behind the camera is the distilled essence of why I take photos.  It's a brief contract between two people to create a moment, to capture something of the individual that is lasting and enduring.  It's also a distillation of all that I've learned about photography and what it means to capture light and gesture.  I don't think about the tool (camera), I'm only seeing the subject and how I can bring out a moment in time and capture something meaningful for both of us.  That 30 seconds is a distillation of about 1,000 hours of learning and when it all comes together there's not much that can top it as a photographer.

Oh, and the other part of capturing photos is this (and I don't know who said it first):

"If you want to take interesting photos, put interesting people in front of your camera"

Maurizio, you are a beautiful and interesting person.

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