Donald Hall’s ‘Garlic with Everything’

Donald Hall:

Going to Hamden High School I discovered garlic. Spring Glen Grammar School was suburban middle class and pale. At Hamden High I first heard “Paisan!” shouted from one friend to another. In the decades between the wars, immigrants by the thousands arrived from Calabria and Sicily. Our basketball team was composed of set-shooters who averaged five foot two. As I joined the society of Hamden High, I rejected Spring Glen’s culture because it sniffed at people with accents. I hung out with friends who were second-generation Italians, and they altered my diet. In pizza joints I began my romance with garlic. It’s hard to believe, but at that time pizza was exotic. In most American cities there were no places that served pizza, much less chains of Pizza Huts, Domino’s, Papa Gino’s, Pizza Chefs, and Little Caesars. Except in southern-Italian neighborhoods, pizza was unknown coast to coast. Even in northern Italy people didn’t know pizza. In 1951 I asked for pizza in a Florentine restaurant. The waiter was puzzled. He disappeared into the kitchen, and when he came back he told me I could have it tomorrow. Did the chef find it in a cookbook? The next day he brought me the worst pizza I have ever eaten—pasty, doughy, tasteless except for garlic. I am told that Florence has pizza parlors now.

This is a perfect fifteen minutes of reading to sand down the rough edges of the memories of yesterday’s consumption.