Saveur Article: Page 2
From Rome's Fiumicino Airport, I aim my rental car towards Naples on the Al autostrada. Two hours later the Salerno and Reggio Calabria sign appears, just as Nick had predicted, and soon afterward, almost as an afterthought, a smaller one announces the turnoff for San Marzano. Immediately, I plunge into a succession of towns, each one indistinguishable from the next and all bearing arrows pointing to my destination. "As soon as you get off the highway and head for San Marzano you notice something strange," Nick had told me. "You say 'What's going on?' Then you notice the fields with fruits and vegetables. You see the soil and it's saying, 'Look at me. Look how rich I am!"'
Does the soil speak to me? Yes and no. I had pictured great tracts of farmland bursting with perfect produce. Instead, there are plots of every size in every possible place-in front yards, abutting gas stations, along the edges of the road. The vegetation is rampant, elbows flying, watch out, here I come! Exactly like the drivers in San Marzano. There are no signs, no traffic lights, nobody stops. Except me. Then everybody honks as if I'm the crazy one. At 8 P.M. the streets are full of people. Chairs are set inches from roaring motorbikes, and nobody seems to notice. Small alleys are a jumble of houses. Anarchy is in the drivers, the fields, the town-in the Italian blood. I know. I feel it myself.
As a child, Savino Zuottolo lugged fresh tomatoes from his father's small farm to local markets in nearby San Marzano. Now, as a partner in a company that owns hundreds of hectares, at harvest time he ships 4,500 pounds of tomatoes daily to locations throughout Italy, Germany, and Switzerland. "Three years ago, when I went to Italy, we exchanged ideas," Nick had told me. "Savino had the best tomatoes in the whole area at a great price. He said he would like to come to the U.S." Now, from the Albergo Nappo, I place a call to Savino's office. The word Americano gets the message across, and an hour later Savino, his partner Nicola Coppola, and I are engaged in a Marx Brothers routine of mutual incomprehension. Ultimately, we agree that Savino and an interpreter will pick me up at ten o'clock the next morning.
At 10:30 A.M., I am sitting on the hotel steps when Nicola pulls up. We walk across the street for a caffe macchiato-two sugars, a dash of cream, and a shot of pure caffeine. Nicola is friendly and outgoing, simply dressed, unshaven, rugged. The tiny demitasse almost disappears in his powerful hand. Chatting with the local men, some of whom are farmers, I can picture him striding through fields of San Marzano tomatoes, a true man of the soil. When we leave, I notice that his little red car is an Alfa Romeo.
Inside a warehouse a mile from town, workers are preparing vegetables for shipping. A woman chops the outer leaves from heads of lettuce and tosses them into a tub of water. Gialletto di Sicilia melons,
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