We had been standing outside the pizzeria for well over an hour, when D said we should give up, and I agreed. We were approaching the temporal limits of being able to get some pizza from Antica Pizzeria da Michele and still catch our flight to Palermo. Periodically the host would come out and rattle off numbers from a book of tissue papers. Our number was 24 (in the white book) and when we started, they had been at 50 in the blue book. While we had made progress, we were still only on white 12, and it was 1730. I felt like we probably needed to be seated by 1745 to have enough time, and this seemed unlikely.We had booked a long layover in Naples out of necessity, but to make the most of it we decided to take the cab from the airport to the ancient streets where the pizzerie lived. Antica Pizzeria da Michele is the original – where pizza originated. We have been there before and the pies have haunted me since. When the driver dropped us off, our faces fell at the sight of the crowd waiting outside, but still we joined the throng waiting undaunted.
Until finally we were daunted and walked away. We headed up the street only to find other places closed. It was late in the afternoon, and only da Michele and some gelaterie seemed to be open. So we finally shrugged and headed toward the taxi stand. Our steps took us past the pizzeria, where I heard the host announce 25. Or was it 35? Then 26, so I stepped forward with my crumpled piece of paper and said, “24,” and we were in. At 1746.
Seated in the corner of an almost institutional dining room under the glare of fluorescent lights, the pizza was as sublime as I remembered. At about 18 inches diameter, it filled the plate, and then some. True Neapolitan pizza is an almost strange fusion of wet toppings which are sparsely scattered over a circle of charred dough, and it would be rejected back home. But here, in its original den, where the dragon furnace belts out 900 degree temperatures, it is perfect.
And I am in bliss.
The trip so far had been wonderful. The flight from New York to Rome left a little bit late, and the cabin was too hot, but the amenity kit was nice (perfect to hold an iPad). And most importantly, the food …
Well, the lasagna, served with a béchamel sauce, may be the best thing I have ever eaten on an airplane.
There was a single customs agent working in Rome, which ground the transfer to a near-standstill, and yet we still made the connection to Naples, where we had the aforementioned field trip for pizza. This, I would note, may be the most expensive pizza ever, when factoring in the cost to store our bags at the airport and the price of the taxis to and from the pizzeria.
During the taxi ride to the pizzeria, this sign clarified a great deal about Italian driving. As the driver defied the laws of physics, distorting time and space to pass between other vehicles on the road, I looked at the list of fares. My eyebrows shot up at the English translation.
They don’t call it a “trip,” “ride,” or even “fare.” It is a race. I looked around us, wondering if we were winning or losing.
Following the pizza, we made it back to Capodichino airport in time for our departure, and after a 35 minute flight we arrived at the airport in Palermo, where we collected a rental car and dove into the crowded night time streets around our hotel. When we arrived at the hotel, D waited with the car while I went inside. The hotel had advertised valet parking, but the young Sicilian gentleman at the desk seemed to know nothing of this, advising us that we should find a parking spot with blue lines.
Many streets around us were closed, and they were so densely packed with cars and people that we could barely get anywhere. After scouring the nearest blocks, noting that 3/4 of the cars were parked illegally, we went further away. There, in front of Hermes, we had the fortunate coincidence of arriving just as a large crossover pulled away.
We paid a small tithe to a local extortionist who “helped” us park, and schlepped our bags to the hotel half a mile away, checked in, and well after midnight headed out into the Palermitan night. The clerk indicated that restaurants would be closed, but we would be able to find food.
And, indeed we did. I had these Sicilian involtini, or meat rolls, which I grew up knowing as spiedini. Hailing our waitress in order to pay the bill, we turned at long last to the good night’s sleep, which, after 24 hours of traveling and pizza, we so desperately needed.