Little Italian bakery offers peace during a time of war

This Just In...

April 09, 2003|By DAN RODRICKS

TOO BAD Saddam Hussein did not long ago visit a little Italian bakery; it might have changed his life. He might have become a man of peace. The aromas of baking bread, of steaming espresso and of freshly shaved lemon rinds might have reached some garden of his soul and produced a man bearing no resemblance to the one we've tried to bomb to smithereens. Instead of stockpiling weapons, he might have bought biscotti in mass supply. He might have become a more generous head of state, staging massive giveaways of torta al formaggio from Baghdad to Basra. He might have become enamored of semolina, not sarin.

The world might have been a happier place.

It occurred to me yesterday morning that perhaps national leaders spend too much time in negotiations and not enough in little Italian bakeries, sharing the pane and dolce.

Instead of meeting at the United Nations, maybe the Security Council should deliberate in the back of Piedigrotta, the bakery and pastry shop that opened on Central Avenue in Baltimore last July, a cannoli's throw from Little Italy. Piedigrotta seems like it has been here for 100 years -- but only in part because it occupies the long rowhouse where the Marinelli family baked about a billion loaves of Italian bread for Baltimore restaurants, starting in 1914. It's more because of the authenticity of the goods -- created from the handwritten recipes of Antonio Iannaccone, native of Avellino, and his wife, Bruna -- and the Iannaccones' accents, their devotion to craft, and the intimacy of their business.

"I want a little business for us," Antonio told a reporter last year. "Not too big, not too small, just the right size for us. I do this job to live in peace."

Ah, there's that word again.

Man, woman and child can find peace in a little Italian bakery like this -- with its bright display of goods, cakes and other pastries wrapped in cellophane and tied with ribbons, with its containers of biscotti stacked high, baskets bristling with loaves of bread, and racks of freshly baked goods just behind the counter, where they can be spotted and sniffed by customers.

"I am a strategic thinker," Antonio says.

You can get a cup of coffee here, and espresso or cappuccino. Or you can just stand there and smell it all and be at peace.

I walked across the clean tile floor to the back of the shop, where Antonio, the pastry artist, was at work on sponge cakes, having finished baking bread for the day and having lined the crusty loaves up in neat rows. He'd just topped some light fruitcake with a walnut-peach glaze, too, leaving them for Bruna to wrap for sale in the front of the store.

Though it had just been in vigorous use, Antonio's stainless-steel work space was immaculate. He learned long ago -- in Avellino, starting at age 9 -- the efficiencies of the well-prepared baker's table, and to clean up as you go.

Yesterday, there was a bowl of four large lemons, their rinds removed, and the smell made everything else in the world go away.

I saw next in Antonio's laboratory a container of sweet cocoa powder, and had another strange thought -- too bad Saddam Hussein had not been apprenticed to an Italian baker long ago. He might have been praised today for his tiramisu, instead of bombed for his tyranny.

A brush with Broadway

Eddie Applefeld, that schmoozer, took a bus group to New York last weekend to see Hairspray at the Neil Simon Theatre.

"The theater was filled with about three busloads of people from Baltimore," Eddie says. "The excitement was evident from the beginning, when a voice-over telling people to shut off their cell phones began with, `Hairspray is set in Baltimore in the early '60s,' and most of the Baltimore people yelled and applauded. I was told by the ushers the place really rocks when there's a Baltimore audience, the biggest laugh being when Essex Community College is mentioned."

Peaceful greetings

I like this greeting, outside Salem Evangelical Lutheran Church, at Battery and Randall, in South Baltimore: "Peace Be With You, Hon."

A legal move

Today's docket at the Southern District Court will mark the end of an era -- when court sessions were held in police stations.

After today, Southern District Court moves farther south, to the new John R. Hargrove Sr. District Court Building at Patapsco Avenue and Seventh Street, Brooklyn -- and out of the Cherry Hill building it shared for the past 17 years with Southern District police. As a one-room court inside a police station, the Southern is the last of its kind.

The courtroom chairs that will go from the present Southern to the new Southern came from the old Southern -- the building on Ostend Street used for decades as a police station and courthouse before the move to Cherry Hill in 1984. If them furnishings could talk ...

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