I was in the south of France at the Nice airport at the car rental booth. The agent, knowing our travel plans (to northern Italy and back), asked with a concerned look if we wanted contents insurance (for theft of auto contents). When I asked why, he said, "You're going to Italy, you know." Aha - I see. We had not even left the airport, and national rivalry was in full swing.
Years later, on a subsequent trip with my family, we stopped to have lunch at an amazing spot right on the beach in Menton, southeastern France, near the Italian border. Many of our waiters were Italian.
Regular readers know I love France, however, I readily admit that the French can be a little particular - one must know how to act and how to handle them. This is why, when we asked to move two tables together, we asked rather timidly. We were surprised to hear the response, No Problema.
I also noticed this phrase emblazoned across the front of a road map of Italy - apparently this was a virtual national motto. I am convinced that this was Italian national pride with the added twist of posturing against the tourist experience with the persnickety French, where, for some visitors, everything seems to be a problem. I heard the refrain No Problema many times on that trip to Italy.
Last night, three of us decided to go for some quick pizza. However, our choice of where to go was constrained by one of our group, who had two dogs. So it was decided to give Ben's Pizza a try - this place, much like Nathan's of Coney Island, has a look and feel of a Klein bottle, with no identifiable inside or outside. Perfect for a motley crew with dogs in tow.
Now I had never eaten at Ben's at this location - the place always frightened me. Let's just say that cleanliness is not one of its hallmarks, and I always found the place extraordinarily unattractive and unappealing.
Our order for slices was a mess. One of our party was unfamiliar with the choices, many changes were made, misunderstandings clarified, etc. The situation was trying for anyone in retail, particularly in New York City where customer volume is heavy and patience can wear thin.
However, this man (photo center) was unflustered by any of it and seemed to have the patience of a saint. Remarkable for a place in a touristy location like this. And at every juncture, whenever I apologized, I imagine you have guessed his response already: No problema!
Ben's Pizza is located at 123 Bleecker at the corner of MacDougal Street and has been in business since 1966. There is a second location in SoHo at 177 Spring Street. The pizza itself? The reviews differ wildly. Our slices were better than expected.