A second earthquake devastates Emilia (remembering the Emilian Renaissance)

Above: The Duomo in Mirandola had withstood the earthquake of May 20 but crumbled this morning in a 5.8 magnitude earthquake. Photo by Cris Provenzano via Instagram.

According to the reports I’ve been seeing this morning in the Italian news feed, there were at least 39 tremors in the region of Emilia this morning beginning at around 9 a.m. At 11:24 a.m., a 5.8 magnitude earthquake struck in the town of Mirandola (which lies at the center of a triangle formed by Ferrara, Modena, and Mantua).

The New York Times reports that at least eight persons died this morning. Thousands of people have been left homeless and scores of factories have collapsed or been closed because of structural damage.

Photo via AGI.it.

In an uncanny twist of fate, the township of Mirandola had planned a town hall meeting this evening with earthquake experts who had hoped to calm local residents (the Mirandola township has a great website, btw, an indication of the industriousness and uprightness of the people who live there).

Of all of Italy’s regions, Emilia and its beauty are perhaps the most challenging for foreigners to understand. Emilia is a land of intellectual and sensual pleasures and partly because it is not a producer of fine wine (aside from a few exceptions like La Stoppa in the province of Piacenza), most enogastronomic travelers tend to gloss over its cultural patrimony after they’ve dined at one of the regions many culinary meccas. (My favorites are Trattoria Bianca in Modena and Ristorante Canossa in Reggio Emilia.)

Whereas the Venetian and Florentine Renaissances produced iconic works of figurative art that continue to attract tides of tourists each year, the Emilia Renaissance delivered the great epic poems of the sixteenth century (think Ariosto and Tasso), wildly popular intellectual hits of their day but sadly forgotten in comparative literature curricula today in Anglophone countries.

To contemplate [historic] Humanism without one of its greatest voices, Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (whose family hailed from the town where the epicenter of today’s earthquake occurred) would be to disregard one of the greatest chapters in humankind’s intellectual development.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to the people of Emilia…

Why Restaurants Matter (the bourgeois social compact) @EatingOurWords

Above: I spent an obscene amount of money taking Tracie P out to dinner at the Tour d’Argent in Paris three years ago. But when you consider the fact that we still talk about it and how much fun we had, there’s no doubt that it was worth every penny — one of the most memorable meals of our lives. Here’s the link to my post on the lunch.

When I was an undergrad at U.C.L.A. in the late 1980s, my great uncle Ted, a Beverly Hills commercial developer (motels were his thing), loved to take me to his favorite “continental cuisine” dining spot. The only catch was that we had to finish dining by 6 p.m. so that we could take advantage of the “early bird special” (think beef Stroganoff and baked Napoleon). I’ll never forget his anxiety when the bill arrived: did the server already include the gratuity? did he charge us the correct amount? had he cheated us for a dish that didn’t arrive? I was too young at the time to drink legally but there was no way that uncle Ted was going to spend money on a bottle of wine. The prices for wine were “highway robbery,” I remember him saying to grandma Jean (his sister).

I loved uncle Ted a lot, especially for his humor and his loud snorts when we would eat at his favorite Chinese restaurant. “The mustard really helps to clear your sinuses,” he would say to my delight as he wiped the sweat from his brow.

He was from a generation that believed — across the board — that the restaurateur was going to try to swindle their patrons.

It’s important to remember that he was the child of people who never went to restaurants: he was born in the first decade of the twentieth-century in New York to Jews who had fled antisemitism in Austria (and the limited opportunities of their station in society). Even when they landed in the U.S., the thought of spending money in a restaurant was abhorrent in their view.

Today, the culinary landscape has changed drastically. When, in the late 1990s, our enogastronomic culture shifted from Julia Child and James Beard to Molto Mario, Lidia’s Italy, Kitchen Confidential, and Bobby Flay, our food “writers” and taste-makers had become themselves restaurateurs. And a new restaurant culture was born in our country: instead of being taught what we could make at home, they began to teach us how to make the dishes that they made in their restaurants. And they also opened a window on to the inner workings of restaurants.

For my generation (and for yours as well if you’re reading this), the thought of not going to restaurants would be abhorrent. Just contemplate what Sex and the City would have been without restaurants as a backdrop for the soap opera (where a diner was the backdrop for Seinfeld. a show that ended in 1998, the same year that Babbo opened).

This is just one of the reasons that I’ve been surprised and frankly upset by the reaction to my recent post on Corkage, a Privilege not a Right for the Houston Press.

Today, I followed up with a post on Why Restaurants Matter (and Why You Should Tip Generously). One of the things that occurred to me as I wrote it was that for the first time in history, the patrons and servers in the social compact of restaurateurship are social equals and intellectual peers. In other words, where the servers were once proletariat and the patrons bourgeoisie, today both are members of the bourgeoisie.

Here’s the link to the post, which includes some notes on how the Industrial Revolution shaped the restaurant experience as we know it today.

In other news…

Our hearts and prayers go out to the victims of Sunday’s earthquake in Emilia-Romagna, which had its epicenter in Finale Emilia (above).

Here’s the NY Times coverage.

As I was looking around the internets this morning looking for information about the tragedy, I was reminded of the terrible 1976 earthquake in Friuli and I found this chilling YouTube video.

In it, a young man, who was taping a Pink Floyd album using a microphone, captures the terror of his family as they react to the shaking of the earth.

Parzens okay after Mexico quake

A quick fyi… Just spoke to mama Judy and heard earlier from brothers Tad and Micah. All the San Diego Parzens are okay after the earthquake that hit Mexicali yesterday and aftershocks. Mom said that vases rattled on her coffee table, her front door got jammed, and elevators were out for a while in her building. But everyone is okay, thank goodness. One lady in her building said a chandelier fell from the ceiling but no one was hurt. Thank goodness.

Someday Tracie B will be is now Tracie P!

tracie parzen

Photo by Alfonso.

An earthquake struck San Diego early Monday morning but Tracie P and me didn’t have anything to do with that… ;-)

bahia don bravo

How could our wedding be complete without ceviche at Bahia in Bird Rock? That’s where we had our rehearsal dinner.

bahia don bravo

Only one of the Texans present had ever had a camaronilla. Guess which one! ;-)

italian wine guy

We were geeked to share the Bahia experience with best man Alfonso and SO Kim.

tad parzen

Brother Tad gave a toast, welcoming the Branch/Johnson family to La Jolla.


Uncle Terry “preached” to the choir and welcomed me to the Texas family.

We love Bahia for the view, we love Bahia for the “ambiance,” and the food is always good. But when Dora is in the kitchen, it’s our favorite.


“De parte de tu restaurante favorito,” wrote my friend Roberto who works there, “les deseamos mucha felicidad y realmente todos estamos muy contentos por ustedes. Felicidades.”

I wrote this post on the plane. We’re in NYC on our way to Italy! Stay tuned…