Sunday, November 13, 2005

Siena: Black Market Pizza

In Siena, on Banchi di Sopra, just above the Piazza del Campo, is where one may find black market pizza.

If you go there at night, say after one or two o’clock in the morning, you can find the open door that leads to the back room of a closed bakery.

Inside are the ovens. Hot. With them are the night bakers. The night bakers are scroungy, scruffy men who wear little but a thick coat of flour and their underwear, which may or may not have been made from dough.

If you signal - just so - to the Head Baker (you’ll know him by the ashing cigarette he hangs from his lip) he might come over and regard you menacingly. This is a good start.

The thing to do is to hold up a number of fingers and then to say that number in Italian as best you can. If all goes well, the Head Baker will sputter something from behind his cigarette and shuffle back toward the ovens to turn up the volume on the radio (which is playing schmaltzy Italian pop songs). He’ll say something to the men who work under him and then retrieve some fresh dough from the man-sized mound that sits on one side of a long counter. He’ll shape this dough into as many little pizzas - pizzette - as he thinks you asked him for. Now you wait outside.

Sit on the sidewalk. Drink from the bottle you picked up earlier in the evening but have not yet finished. Listen to the argument between a man and a woman and a vespa somewhere uptown, echoing through the warren of streets and alleyways.

Finally, after he gets just the right amount of cigarette ash and sweat worked into the pizzas, the Head Baker sets them in the oven for just long enough to wake up the bacteria and convince the cheese that melting is something that exists, but isn't meant for it, not in this lifetime anyway. Then he’ll find you outside and hand you the pizzas wrapped in parchment paper.

He’ll qoute you a number. It doesn’t matter if its the same number it was last night, or even twenty minutes ago; it’s the price and you pay it. He puts the money into his (dough?) shorts and sticks out his bottom lip and chin while he raises his shoulders just a touch. He grunts at you and you get the hint: What are you still standing there for?

You leave and eat your black market pizza on the piazza.

It won’t taste very good to your tongue. It tastes fantastic to the part of you that wants it to.

If you go back to the bakery in the morning there’ll be no sign of the night bakers. The door to the oven room will be shut. The woman at the counter that you approach through the front will grudgingly sell you cold pizzette for less than you paid last night.

But you won’t enjoy it half so much.

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