Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Reflections on the local butcher

Last night, after a nice meal with friends, I tucked into the *latest New Yorker.

*Because my New Yorker subscription is mysteriously routed through Frankfurt, Germany, I am perpetually 2-3 weeks behind, which means I am just now reading about Donald Trump rocking out with Bob Weir at the Beacon Theater, and Hendrik Hertzberg's take on the four-star dissing of Rummy. But sometimes it's better to read these things well after the timeliness is gone. After all, who in Rome can I turn to at a dinner party and ask, "Did you read about Donald Trump appearing on stage with RatDog?"

Perpetually stuck in a mini time warp here in Rome, I prefer to dive straight into the articles that are, like me, not exactly time-sensitive. And, so this week I was leafing through the pages and found this gem by Bill Buford entitled "How I became a Tuscan butcher." Buford, a New Yorker, buys a pig at the Greenmarket in Union Square, an episode that leads us into his hilarious apprenticeship working alongside the famous Tuscan butcher Dario Cecchini. You mention the name "Dario" to an Italian omnivore and they know straight away who you're talking about.

In my glee, I mentioned to Xtina the New Yorker piece on Dario. Her response was dismissive. "You Americans. Why must you make a celebrity of this man?," she tutted. "He just puts on a show for you," she continued. "But it's just a show." Is the New Yorker guilty of hyping Dario?

It's true this is the second New Yorker article I've read about Dario in the past few years. And, they did do a particularly long, but brilliant article on the feral pig (cinghiale in Italian) a few months back. But I hid these facts, and instead tried to defend both Dario, the buther, and Buford, the writer, and butchers and writers everywhere, but she wasn't interested. Xtina, who grew up an hour from Chianti, believes she has every macellaio in Central Italy figured out. They are enormous men with even larger personalities. Xtina's image of the macellaio, I believe, is tainted by a particular grabby character from her old neighborhood in Rome who every night asked Xtina to take him home. "I will cook for you. I will sing for you. We will sing together," he would say with a wink, before his disagreeable wife, banished to the back of the shop, would snap at him. Once, this same butcher refused to cut 3 slices of prosciutto for Francesca, Xtina's younger sister. "3 slices!?," he exclaimed "You must be lonely. I will cut you six slices and we can share them together. Take me home. I will cook for you. I will sing for you. We will..." The wife saw to it he didn't finish his common refrain.

Me, I don't have a hangup about the macellaio. If I came home one night to find one in my apartment I wouldn't be pleased. But on their own turf, these men are gods in my eyes. I have raved in this blog often about Mario, butcher extraordinaire from Amandola. He too has turned butchering into an art form. I have more than once had to fight back tears of joy as I devoured his pork ribs, exclaiming "genio!, genio!"

Buford knows his pig better than most civilians. Again, I nearly had a tear in my eye reading about his handiwork -- with a knife, and at the keyboard. His last line is most poignant and shares exactly how I feel about the wondrous work of the macellaio: "The pig, we knew precisely, had been slaughtered for our table, and we ended up feeling an affection for it that surprised us."

Bravissimo. Who cares what Xtina thinks.


Adam said...

Great post! The respect for the animal one is eating is always, for me, summed up in the Simpsons episode in which Homer is digging into his beloved pet lobster, tears in his eye, as he sobs: "I wish Pinchy were here to enjoy this."

Anonymous said...

have just found your site...and am enjoying it immensely!