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  • Earle Levenstein

Linguini Vongole...S'il Vous Plait.



I couldn't have been more than twelve or thirteen when I decided that I had to live in Paris and draw and write and sit in cafes and eat Italian food—basically, linguini vongole—every day; every meal.

Movies like Beau Geste and the Corsican Brothers and the Three Musketeers and then, one with Maurice Chevalier and of course, the paintings of Monet and Degas and Daumier… sold me totally on Paris.

At the same time, I loved—I mean loved—Italian food; family restaurants. Couldn't get enough. Always Mama in the kitchen; which was pretty much what Italian restaurants were like then. I’d pass an Italian restaurant and I could just taste the aromas; and Mama saying, Come on in son; join the family, eh?

Irresistible invitation.

Different at home; totally different. Issues galore.

Apart from that, I'd say my own Mama was short on tastebuds—hard to believe that was real chicken on your plate—except when she used her mother’s recipes. e.g.; her mother’s gefilte fish. Off the charts.

It's been a long time since then, of course, and it's water under the bridge. All I'll say is, it's hard to forget those runny eggs that had my brother turning green.

Anyway, one thing my mother could do, was boil water for pasta and heat up a jar of marinara sauce. We'd really lay it on when it was spaghetti night, and we'd praise her cooking, which, incidentally, she resented, knowing we preferred that to her own dishes.

At any rate, as I grew, whenever I'd manage to put together a few dollars I'd head to the nearest Italian restaurant and bathe in what I felt was a family atmosphere; and over the course of years I tried pretty much everything and whatever I tried, I loved.

Right after college, I was drafted and after basic training I was sent to France. Why France? The war was in Korea? Well, needless to say, I didn't argue.

Italy's really close to France, right? Had to be plenty of Italian restaurants, right? Wrong. On opposite sides in World War II; still pissed. What to do?

Well, I still had Paris; got up there whenever I could.

Discharged; back home; work; family; ASAP return to France.

First stop; Paris; half a dream; better than none; some pretty good Italian restaurants in Paris now.

But for the real old Italian family restaurant deal?

I mean, the real deal.

Short hop south; to Nice.

Once a part of Italy.

Italian restaurants out the kazoo.

Check it out.

Trust me.

There’s a mama in the kitchen.


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