Tuesday, February 9, 2010
What's all the big fuss about in Italy? First off, nobody's getting excited--that's just how Italians speak. Secondly, there is a reason to be upset which you might not understand unless you're a fan of Italian food. I am. Italy is a gastronomic dream come true, where even the roadside grills along the Autostrada serve food superior to any American fast food--FAR superior, with fresh salads and soups and pastas and house wine. The country takes pride in its cuisine, as it should, and has met our "fast food" with a "slow food" movement of its own, relishing the length of time it takes to cook good food. So what's all the fuss?
First off, they stuck a McDonald's on the Piazza di Spagna, or Spanish Steps, one of my favorite spots in all of Rome.
Piazza di Spagna
It's not just me. Piazza di Spagna has been a favorite of locals and travelers since it was first built in 1725 (the construction of the Church above the steps began in 1502). The Scalinata della Trinità dei Monti is the longest and widest staircase in all of Europe. To the right of the steps, on the corner just above the fountain, is where the romantic poet Keats lived and where he eventually died. For generations, Piazza di Spagna has been visited by architects, painters, musicians and poets who all lodged here. George Eliot, Goethe, Coleridge, Shelley, Byron, the Brownings, Henry James, Edith Wharton, Oscar Wilde, James Joyce, Giorgio di Chirico and Bob Dylan were just a few who visited and were inspired by these steps in the celebrated centro storico. The latest member of this illustrious company is Ronald McDonald.
This clown stuck a "restaurant" atop the historic steps, and if that wasn't bad enough just unveiled the McItaly burger to add insult to injury. The Eternal City could survive the culinary onslaught, you might say. After all, Rome has survived every army the world could muster, the sack of the Vandals, Goths and Visigoths, a succession of crooked popes and corrupt politicians, the iron fist of fascist Mussolini--surely it can survive this colossal whopper of bad taste.
This is the McItaly. Some genius at McDonald's cooked it up to match the glory of Rome. It's made with Italian beef, Asiago cheese and Artichoke spread. Sure, it's probably better than a Big Mac, but even so. According to the burger chain, they've been selling all week like hotcakes. Tasteless, overly-salted, high calorie hotcakes. The company says the McItaly has been exceeding their sales expectations...but what would they say? They're getting gobbled by homesick tourists and college kids?
Minister of Agriculture Luca Zaia endorsed the McItaly burger. He argued that the new burger would put money into the pockets of Italian farmers in these tough times. He smiled for the cameras and waved his greased palms.
This past spring, I spent nearly three weeks in Italy, eating my way across the country, and never once missed McDonald's. Don't get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with a good burger, but fresh fish on the coast, grilled meats, delicate risottos and an array of fine pastas and pizzas and outstanding wines helped me forget the culinary sins of Ronald McDonald and his ilk. Sorry, guys. I know you spent a fortune on this ad campaign, but for me, there is no contest. Not even close. I'd pick the Spanish Steps over the Golden Arches any day of the settimana. And next time I'm in Italy I'm sticking with Italian food.