The mysterious peril of Mr. Pizza

Local Italian pizza place goes up in flames

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Siena pizza shop "Mr. Pizza" caught on fire Nov. 18.

Ben Hitchcock | Cavalier Daily

Let me tell you about a man I know. His name is Mr. Pizza. 

Mr. Pizza owns a pizzeria (surprise!) about 100 yards from my apartment in Siena. To quote my friend Geoff, Mr. Pizza’s pizza “slaps.” I don’t really know what this means, but I can only assume it’s a compliment, because Mr. Pizza’s pizza is some of the finest pizza I have ever had. This is fortunate — I’d hope anyone with the audacity to call themselves Mr. Pizza would have the decency to make some really good pizza. 

I have already told you two of the six things I know about Mr. Pizza:

1. His name is Mr. Pizza. 

2. The pizza he makes is delicious — the crust is thin. The slices are large. The pepperoni has just that perfect amount of spice. It’s real Neapolitan pizza, where the sauce is the star of the show —  rich and warm and just a little bit tart. To put it succinctly, the pizza “slaps.”

Here are the other things I know about Mr. Pizza:

3. He plays the guitar. Sometimes, when I go in to get my twice-weekly slice, I find him sitting on a stool on the side of the store next to a stereo set, plucking at an acoustic guitar and crooning Italian love songs. I know they are love songs because they are Italian songs, and all Italian songs are love songs.

4) He has a wife. She often works the register. Her name, in my head, is Mrs. Pizza. 

5) He is from Naples. My friend Geoff told me this. 

I do not know Mr. Pizza’s real name. He told it to me once, but I forgot it. It started with an S. Sorvino? Serrino? San Francisco? I do not know enough about Italian names to tell you if any of these is a real name that could actually maybe be the first name of Mr. Pizza. I also don’t know why he chose the boldly incongruous “Mr. Pizza” as his nom de plume. Would you trust a person named “Señor Sushi?” Would you eat food prepared by a man named “Monsieur Hot Dog?” There would be something unquestionably wrong about a restaurant called “Fräulein Burrito.” But that’s just Mr. Pizza for you — an international man of mystery.

Unfortunately, the sixth thing I know about Mr. Pizza is not nearly so quaint as the first five:

6. Mr. Pizza’s pizzeria burned to the ground Nov.18.

My friends, including Geoff, told me about the fire before I saw its effects myself. I didn’t believe them at first. When I was a kid, my grandfather used to always take my sister and me to the toy store, except about halfway through the drive there he’d always hit us with the same line. “Wait! I just remembered! I read about it in the paper! The toy store burned down! We have to turn around!” The toy store, of course, had never burned down. Though this joke forever shook my ability to truly trust other people, it also left me with a healthy sense of skepticism towards any and all news about my favorite commercial establishments going up in flames. Mr. Pizza? Burned down? It was simply not possible. 

I rushed to the scene to see for myself. Sure enough, Mr. Pizza’s pizzeria was no more. The windows were covered with curtains. The entire interior was blackened like the edge of the crust on a slice of pizza made by an inferior pizza maker.

You will notice that on my list of things I know about Mr. Pizza, I did not include:

7. Mr. Pizza is alive.

This is because I do not know if Mr. Pizza is alive or dead. What if he didn’t make it out of the fire? What happened to Mrs. Pizza? Are they alright? I found a very brief report about the incident in local Siena news, but they don’t seem to know much about what happened either. They speculate that the cause of the fire might have been a short circuit. This makes sense to me. Mr. Pizza would have never burned down his own pizzeria. Not by accident, not in an insurance scam, not even in a grand gesture of protest at the tyranny of our capitalistic, commodified, retail-chain-based global economy. He is (was?) a pizza master, a man totally in control of his domain.

My friends and I visited Mr. Pizza frequently. We developed a rapport. When I was deciding where I wanted to study abroad, my advisor said, “If you go to a small town like Siena, the local gelato maker will ask you how your Italian classes are going.” Mr. Pizza was my local gelato maker — except he made pizza and music, not gelato. He knew us American students. He smiled when we walked in. He once told a friend of mine — not Geoff — that he was coming in too often, and that if he kept eating pizza he’d get fat. That’s Mr. Pizza, always the jokester. 

You might think that given that I have seen this man approximately twice a week for the last three months I would know a little bit more about him than I do. But here’s the thing — I’m an American living abroad. I don’t know a lot. I sort of know my way around — I don’t really know the language and I definitely don’t know why Italians love Hard Rock Cafe t-shirts so much. Italians really, really, really love Hard Rock Cafe t-shirts. The Hard Rock Cafe t-shirt is the third most popular genre of clothing in Italy, just behind ripped denim and black leather. 

Mr. Pizza and his store had become part of the fabric of life in Siena for me. No matter what, he was always there with his gentle smile, raspy voice and a fresh margherita pie just out of the oven. When I returned from a sleepless weekend trip, I would go and have a restorative slice. When I had five minutes to spare before class, I would pop over for a pepperoni-based pick-me-up. When I got sad that all the boys in Charlottesville were crushing Natties without me, I would go drown my sorrows in mozzarella and song. Living abroad, continuity has sometimes been hard to find. Little routines like Mr. Pizza became especially meaningful. 

Mr. Pizza, if you’re reading this, just know that I’m going to swing by your place every day until I leave Siena, and I hope I hear you singing and smell your fresh baked dough. If I don’t? Well then I suppose all I can say is ti amo, fratello. Rest In Pizza. 

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