The Invasion of the Pasta People

by Pat Fortunato

When Did Everything Change?

Some say it was the Vietnam War, when we stopped believing a single word our government said, including “and” and “the.” Maybe it was when we started calling love affairs “relationships,” thereby sanitizing the romance right out of our sex lives. Or was it the rise of political correctness, when suddenly absolutely anything you said about anyone became incredibly insulting to someone.

I agree with all of the above. But I have another explanation:
It was the day we started calling spaghetti “pasta.”

Growing up as an Italian-American, the only time I remember hearing the word “pasta” was in conjunction with “fagioli,” although we were more inclined to call that bean and macaroni dish “pasta fazool,” a Brooklyn-American version of Neapolitan dialect made famous by Dean Martin in the song “That’s Amore.”

It was love all right. We loved our macaroni, which was different from spaghetti, both of which came in many varieties: from angel hair to bucatini, tubitini to ziti, ravioli to lasagna. In truth, we were very fussy about which pasta (although we didn’t call it that) went with which sauce, and everyone and his uncle (and, especially, his aunt) had their own, fiercely held opinions about this. But we called them by their names, so that it was linguini with clam sauce, or spaghetti and meatballs.

There were Meatballs Back then.

These days, it’s all different. And mostly for the better. You rarely encounter soggy, overcooked lasagna or baked ziti anymore, and you can get all kinds of stuffing for ravioli, not just the classic and one-time ubiquitous cheese. Now spinach is a given. Not to mention mushroom. Or duck. How about lobster! Crab!! Veal and truffle!! Almost anything you can think of. And so far, I haven’t met a ravioli I didn’t like.

It’s just that somehow I feel injured. . .

The general American public, against which I have nothing, or very little, has co-opted my heritage. They talk about pasta as if they invented it! They no longer marvel at my family’s Sunday spaghetti dinners. Although, to be fair, we really don’t have those any more. For one thing, we learned the word “cholesterol.”

And yet. A small part of me (and many, although not all, parts of me are small) does feel cheated.

How dare they take my people’s favorite food and make it their own.

Sometimes I yearn for the days when non-Italians spoke of making a spaghetti dinner and “We” felt superior to “Them,” because “They” had no idea how to make sauce, which we called “gravy.” Good god, some of “Them” actually used ketchup! And rinsed the spaghetti after cooking, or ate it with bread and butter—and milk! Grotesqueries, all.

But not any more. Now people know about all kinds of fancy pasta. Vodka sauce has become pedestrian. Rachel Ray makes saffron with lentils and tagliatelle. Personally, I never heard of saffron until I traveled to Spain, although lentil soup was a staple, especially when there was a ham bone left over from last night’s meal.

Spaghetti carbonara, about which my uncle once said, “If I want bacon I’ll go to the diner,” is now commonplace. Even at some diners. And don’t be surprised to see fettucine primavera on the menu. Fancy restaurants? Fuhgeddaboutit. Malfatti (roast suckling pig and fresh arugula), anyone? Burrata ravioli with truffle oil? Tagliolini with mussels and peas?

You name it, some ristorante has it. Everyone has it. Harrumph.

My only consolation is that not everyone, practically no one, in fact, has experienced the joy of home-made ravioli. Made. At. Home. My job was to cut out each piece using a kitchen glass, then to prick the edges with a fork. I bet I could still do it if I had to. And I used to make a mean sauce, and still might, but why? I don’t have to.

I can get perfectly good tomato sauce in a jar these days, plus any kind of pasta I can think of — and some I’ve never heard of — and not just in Italian stores (not many of those left), but in almost any supermarket. Things change. It’s called progress, as opposed to Progresso, another trip down meatball lane. And as I’ve said, it’s mostly a good thing.

But I ask you this: If Yankee Doodle went to town a-riding on a pony, and stuck a feather in his hat . . . would he call it “Pasta?”

I think not.

Pat Fortunato: After working in the publishing business for many years, I now write for pleasure, especially for my blog: MY AGE IS UNLISTED.

I’ve Lost It!

by Pat Fortunato

As a result of watching far too many versions of Law and Order, I have become incredibly jaded, desensitized to the viciousness of violent crime, and suspicious of everyone. But that’s not the problem.

The thing that really gets to me is that when they search a suspect’s apartment (that’s “toss the perp’s crib” to you, bub), looking for a piece of evidence—a gun, smoking or otherwise, or a ticket to Tahiti — they find the damn thing in what seems like mere moments. “What do we have here, Lennie? Looks like the professor is planning a little sabbatical.”

Or, the exact opposite happens: they don’t find what they’re looking for —and are absolutely Positive that it isn’t there. “The place is clean, Liv. Let’s take a look at the car.”

I, on the other hand, am constantly losing things in my apartment, things that go missing for hours, days, months, years, and in a few sad cases, forever. That poignant phrase, I know it’s here someplace, can be heard echoing endlessly throughout my kingdom.

So what I want to know is this: Is there any way I can hire the people from Law and Order to search my crib, er, apartment. Not for tickets to Tahiti (I should live so long) or guns (I have no weapons except for cooking knives, which are rarely sharpened). Not for any kind of incriminating evidence actually, although that depends on how you define “incriminating.” No, I need these people to search for things that are missing in inaction (MII) and that I have all but abandoned hope of ever finding.

Some of these items are about the size of a gun, or not much smaller, so the cops should have no trouble succeeding where I have failed. Hey, Mike, have you seen my travel iron, last used in 1996? (Mr. Big can toss my crib any day.) Or the travel alarm clock, which probably became MII about the same time as the iron. How about the tape measure that is “always” in the closet in the den, but isn’t there now. Or the one remaining hot plate that isn’t cracked. (Didn’t I have dozens of these at one time?) Or the color photograph that was on the bookcase since New Year’s Eve 2000 (a group of us celebrating the Millennium at the Algonquin) that has suddenly disappeared. How about the gold and green eye shadow I used on New Year’s Eve? I really liked that. Haven’t seen it since the first of the year.

And the misses just keep on coming. . . A partial list of what I’d like the detectives to find include a heating pad, a hairbrush, a pair of plastic earring backs, and an extra key for the apartment. And I can never find a nail file when I need one. Yes, those last few items are small, but these guys find things as tiny as hairs and hairpins (DNA! DNA!). Surely, a nail file or a key would be no problem. Then there’s the heart-shaped bookmark from Tiffany’s.

Actually, there were two of them, one traditional and one in a more abstract shape from Elsa Perretti. And the robin’s egg blue pen, also from Tiffany’s. Okay, someone may have taken the bookmarks and the pen (unlikely, but possible), but who would walk off with that ratty heating pad or the earring backs?

The detectives are also good at finding evidence in the form of paperwork. A suspicious bill from Guns ‘R Us, or a receipt from the One Night Stand Motel doesn’t stand a chance when they’re on the case. Hell, I’d even give them a heads up. Don’t bother with the rest of the apartment, guys. Go directly to the den. There you’ll find the File Cabinet from Hell. And in it, somewhere, are the following items that I’d pay real money to find:

•The manual for the Sony TV purchased about 8 years ago so I can figure out how to use the closed caption feature.
•The list of restaurants in Paris for a friend who’s going there this week (I smell overtime pay on this one).
•The letter that was supposed to be attached to my will that specifies that you must all tell a “Pat Story” at the funeral and get very drunk afterwards.

Actually, I’d like to keep the entire staff (staffs) of L&O on retainer so that I could call night and day for emergencies. For example, to find the envelope I just had in my hands (IN MY HANDS!) five minutes ago (FIVE MINUTES AGO!) and can no longer find. I’ve searched all over. Retraced my steps. Went back to the kitchen. The bathroom. The closet where I was foraging around for gum (which I also didn’t find). The stack of newspapers to be thrown away. My purse, where it had been earlier.

Here’s the thing: I can’t find an envelope that I had five minutes ago, but they can find an important piece of evidence which may or may not exist, may or may not be in the apartment they’re searching, and if it is, could be just about any place. I realize that there is a difference between Life and TV, but this is ridiculous. I just know that if Vincent D’Onofrio, who played a detective on Criminal Intent,would tilt his head the way he always did (that man must require serious chiropractic care), he would tell me where – and why —I lost the letter. He knows everything.

Maybe I should see a shrink: Am I losing all these things in place of my mind? Because I harbor hidden hostility to heating pads and hot plates? To create confusion so that I don’t have to think about real problems, such as why do I watch all those episodes of Law and Order in the first place? Is there a void in my life that I have to fill with reruns? To replace the important things I’ve lost. Like my youth? Hell. Where is Doctor Wong when you need him?

Or maybe this is a purely practical problem of too much stuff/not enough space because I insist on living in Manhattan. Although on the surface the opposite might seem true, it’s actually much easier to lose things in smaller living spaces than larger ones. You have no attic, basement, or garage for storage, so you are forced to pack everything, densely, in boxes and drawers, beneath the bed, under the sofa, behind the sofa, jammed in closets and cabinets, high and low, in an apartment so crammed with things that you can’t bring in a deck of cards without destroying the delicate ecological balance.

And yet. I do suspect that there actually is some underlying psychological cause for all this losing of things. It must have something to do with sex. Everything does, or so it seems. Anyway, I finally found the envelope. It was buried in the bedclothes. See? I told you it had sexual undertones. Or is it overtones? Geez, now I’m even searching for the right word. Those detectives are never at a loss for words. Always there with The Wisecrack. They used to feature their smartass remarks in The Case So Far, a little segment that summarized what had happened up to that point, in case some of us viewers got . . . lost.

Sorry about that; I am getting punchy thinking about all the things I have lost in my apartment that they could find if I were a victim (Let’s not go there!) or a suspect. Hmm. What if . . .. I were to become a suspect in a crime. Something I didn’t do and could, eventually, prove my innocence. Would they let me watch while the cops searched my apartment? Would they find the hairbrush? The tape measure? Would they get cranky if I even mentioned the travel iron?

Look on the bright side; if all these things are lost within the four walls of my apartment, they aren’t truly lost, are they? They’re only misplaced. Ergo: I could find them if I conducted a thorough enough search. I know it wouldn’t be easy, even though those shows drive me crazy by making it look like it is. Still. What if I devoted a day, or two, or three, or however long it took, to sifting through all the stuff that I have accumulated. Would I find anything interesting? Incriminating? Things I forgot I had. Would I get all nostalgic and start Googling people I’ve lost track of? Would I find useful things? Or duplicates and triplicates of things I had already replaced?

Maybe, just maybe, I would actually throw away some junk and clear out places so that maybe, just maybe, I wouldn’t have this problem so often in the future. I did this when the kitchen was remodeled and I hardly ever lose anything in there anymore (except the knife sharpener—and the hot plate). Could this level of organization coexist peacefully in the entire apartment?

And what would I do with all the time I now spend looking for things? Would I read more? Would I write more? Would people laugh? Is that a good thing?

Frankly, detectives, I don’t have a clue.

Pat Fortunato: After working in the publishing business for many years, I now write for pleasure, especially for my blog: MY AGE IS UNLISTED.

An American in Mourning

by Pat Fortunato

Gershwin and grief do not mix.

The first thing they should tell you in grief groups is that you should never, ever, go to a romantic musical while you’re in mourning. And of all the musicals in the world, the worst (because it’s the best) has to be An American in Paris.

Little did I know.

A short time after I became a widow, a good friend suggested we go to dinner and a play. I hadn’t the energy to make reservations or get tickets myself, nor the heart to say no. And since she did all the planning, it was an offer I couldn’t refuse.

Perhaps I should have.

Dinner was fine and the show was delightful: all those songs by George and Ira Gershwin, that singing, that dancing, those sets. But, ah my friends, and oh my foes, it was not a lovely night. The show was sooooo romantic. And I had just lost my love.

Cue the tears.

I cried a little (surreptitiously, I like to think) through “’S Wonderful,” “Who Cares,” and even “The Man I Love” (Gulp). But then. The last song was “They Can’t Take That Away from Me.” That did it.

I’m not ashamed of crying, but it does make some people uncomfortable. In fact, I read recently that nothing is as embarrassing as another person’s sorrow, and I’m usually able to control myself in public. But this time I was out of control. I didn’t just cry, I wept. Convulsive sobbing, tears splashing down my face and into my scarf, and perhaps onto the seat, staining it forever with my grief, which is a pretty romantic notion in itself. I couldn’t stop, not even when the song was over.

If my friend was rattled, she didn’t show it. She put her arm around me until the curtain fell, when she could whisk me out of the theater and into a cab. She rode home with me even though I live downtown and she’s an uptown girl and didn’t say a word as I wept all the way.

When we got to my building, the doorman, who figured something was wrong (they’re very perceptive that way), helped me out and walked me, still bawling, to the elevator. He asked if I was okay, although clearly I was not, and I blurted out through my blubbering, “I just saw a really wonderful play.”

Safely in my apartment, where I could weep and wail to my heart’s content, I stood for a moment inside the door, and suddenly stopped crying. Because at that very moment something occurred to me—something actually funny. Something about the doorman.

“What is this woman like,” the poor guy must be thinking, “when she sees a really bad play?


I cried often in the coming months, but not in public, at least not like that. And over six years later, things have gotten better. How much better? Well, that’s another story.

By the way, if you’re grieving —or lovelorn—or even if you’ve just had a really bad blind date—don’t even think about seeing any revival of An American in Paris. But if you must, take my advice and bring along a friend. And plenty of Kleenex.

After working as a writer, editor, and publisher, I formed my own company in 1984, optimistically naming it Mega Books. When I sold the company and retired, I started a blog called I Can’t Believe I’m Not Bitter, and now do everything I can to stay that way—including being a member of LP2.


Oh, You’re Supposed to Leave Coins!

by Pat Fortunato

Forget about San Francisco: you can leave your heart in Rome faster than you can say Ciao, Baby!

I, however, held on to my heart, but left my underwear.

As some of you know, I am capable of losing almost anything. Gloves, of course, pens and pencils, cell phones, keys, wallets, not to mention money, checks, credit cards, address books and laundry lists, plus scarves, hats, earrings. You know, the usual.

But am I satisfied with these paltry everyday items that any idiot could lose? Not I!

Perhaps I was cursed at birth by a vindictive gypsy (or have been watching too many operas), but I do have a deep and abiding talent for losing virtually anything, any place, any time. Back in college I misplaced my senior thesis and had to rewrite it from scratch, using my barely legible notes, and didn’t get the A I thought I deserved. So young, so tragic.

But the thing that has captured my friends’ imagination—and the incident they want to hear about—is that I once lost my underwear near the Trevi Fountain.

Let me explain.

I was in Rome with my business partner, Diana, and we went shopping for tennis outfits at this really nice store near the Trevi. We had a ball (no pun intended) trying on all the skirts, shorts, and tops that the cute Italian clerk handed us through the curtains of the teeny little fitting room. He did seem to be lingering a little too long, and leaning in a little too far, but we’ll get to that later. Each of us bought a few outfits, some of which I still have today, and so, mission accomplished, we scurried off in search of gelato.

Later that day, around cocktail hour, we met up with Diana’s husband at the piano bar in the lobby of the Hassler Hotel, a very chic, very fancy Italian place at the top of the Spanish Steps.

So there we were, the three of us, lounging at the lounge, working on drinks of Campari (me) and Scotch (them). It was to be my last evening in Rome; they were staying for a few more days. As the piano quietly tinkled in the background, and elegant Italians (elegant Italians are really, really elegant) stylishly conversed over cocktails and delicious little nibbly things, I asked my friends if they thought they’d be going back to the Trevi. If so, I wondered, could they stop in that sweet little store and see if anyone had found my underwear?

I was surprised by their simultaneous loud and startled “WHAT!—which resulted in a kind of happy hour hush among the privileged patrons. There seemed, at least to me, to be total silence in the room. Even the piano player stopped, his hands poised in mid-air as he turned to stare. Remember that commercial, “When E.F. Hutton speaks . . .” and everyone stops what they’re doing to lean in and listen? That’s what happened, there in the piano bar that night in Rome. It seems that, in Italy at least, sex sells even better than financial advice. Italians are so wise.

Well, maybe it was the Compari, or that When In Rome Feeling, or maybe it was just me, accustomed practically from birth to losing things of all nations, but I didn’t think it was that big a deal.

In the shop, I had been wearing my favorite cream-colored camisole and tap pants set—silk, lace, the whole nine yards (actually, very little in the way of yardage, but very effective, lacy lingerie-wise). In my defense, your honor, I was wearing a bra and pantyhose underneath the sensuous silk set, so that when I got dressed (Remember, we were dealing with very cramped quarters and I was tired from all that shopping!), I guess I forgot to put on the cami and pants. It could happen to anyone, right? Well, maybe not.

The next day, I took off for New York, and my friends headed for the Little Shop of Panties, down by the Trevi, where the very good-looking young man who had been helping us (and perhaps himself) claimed that no, no signori,of course he had not found anything like the intimate articles being described to him by this crazy American couple.

My friends left the shop empty handed, and went to the fountain to throw in a few coins. You’re supposed to do that, you know, to ensure that you’ll return to Rome.

But you have to wonder: If tossing coins in the fountain brings you back to Rome, what happens if you leave your underwear there? Will the Italian branch of Victoria’s Secret send you a catalog and ask you to pick up your purchases at the Piazza Navona? Will you be extradited from the US and hauled back to Sunny Italy on charges of lewd and indecent behavior? Or will you return to Rome to have an encounter with the cute clerk? He’s the perfect age by now.

Whatever. But that young man knew more than what he was telling. Much more. It is my firm belief (it’s so nice to have something firm these days)—and very pleasant fantasy—that somewhere in Rome, someone, perhaps at this very minute, is riding around on a Vespa wearing my underwear. In my imagination, it’s a woman, but who knows?

Whoever it is, my loss was somebody’s gain, and one way or another, with, or more likely without, silk underwear, I will return to Rome someday. And to be perfectly realistic, me being me, it’s extremely likely that I will leave behind more than just my heart.


After working as writer, editor, and publisher for many years, I formed my own company in 1984, optimistically naming it Mega Books. When I retired, I started a blog called I Can’t Believe I’m Not Bitter, and now do everything I can to stay that way, including joining the IRP.
Visit the blog at:


Who Was That Countess At Harry’s Bar?

by Pat Fortunato

It was me. Well, sort of . . .

My husband and I were staying in Venice in a swanky hotel, with a staff more than willing to satisfy our every whim.

Actually, I was pretty whimless, except for one thing: I wanted to go to the famous Harry’s Bar — and I wanted a good table. If you were banished to the back room, you might as well skip the whole thing.

In my mangled Italian, I conveyed this to the exceedingly cute desk clerk. (In Italy, aren’t they all?) He nodded knowingly, made the reservation, and gave us a card with a note to the effect that Mr. & Mrs. Us were honored guests of the Bauer Hotel. This was code for: Give them a good table.

And so, that night, dressed in our one “good” traveling outfit: basic black with (real) pearls for me, blue blazer, grey pants and a tie from Ferragamo for him, we strolled to Harry’s Bar. Note: in Italy, you stroll, not walk.

Lifestyles of the Rich and Trashy

Harry’s Bar looked quiet on the outside, but inside, it was a zoo. The bar was loaded with assorted Eurotrash, including one young couple who couldn’t keep their hands off each other. While I was trying to figure out how to negotiate this scene, my husband, who wasn’t impressed by this sort of environment, calmly handed the card from the hotel to the guy who looked like he was in charge, saying simply, “Prego.”

That did the trick.

We were shown to a tiny table across from the bar, probably the best in the house. But I, still a bit dazed and going into princess mode, noted that it was a very small table—which comment, rather than annoying the maitre d’ or whoever he was, made him take us more seriously. Who the hell was this picky little princess? Little did he know.

Is that Gore Vidal over there?

After being cajoled into accepting the great table and ordering the required Bellinis, I looked around and saw that all the tables were small, except for one in the corner with a group of sophisticated looking folks, one of whom bore a strong resemblance to the famous writer and curmudgeon, Gore Vidal. Could be. He lived in that part of Italy, he must eat dinner, and he too, had a good table.

Looking more closely, this guy was much younger than Gore, and seemed, well, nicer. After a while, I figured out who he was: Ken Auletta, writer for The New Yorker and author of many bestselling books, including Googled: The End of the World As We Know It.

Meanwhile, I got distracted by the couple at the bar: he now had his hand down her jeans, and . . .

. . . by the elegant gentleman who sat down to our left. Obviously a regular, and possibly a real prince with a palazzo on the canal, he told the waiter, “I’ll have something light,” without looking at the menu. How cool is that? On the other hand, considering my grasp of the Italian language, he may have said, “Who the hell are these people you sat next to me?” I worried that he would be bothered by the groping going on in front of us, but my husband reminded me that the man was Italian and was undoubtedly enjoying it.

We too, ordered light, although from the menu. A little salad and some risotto. We split an entrée, even though the portions were small, and shared dessert. The bill came to $400. Which is, to this day, the most expensive meal I’ve ever had — per bite.

It was worth every penny.

The Kid Gets in The Picture

We happened to be leaving at the same time as the Auletta party, and when we got outside, they were posing for a picture. Being the helpful little thing that I am, I asked Mr A if he would like my husband to take the photo, but Ken, as I now like to call him, said no, they came with their own paparazzi (he was kidding), and that we should get in the picture (he wasn’t kidding).

Then we all walked, or strolled, to St Mark’s Piazza, which has to be the most beautiful outdoor living room on the planet, and on the way, the woman who turned out to be Ken’s agent asked me if I was the Countess De Something Or Other.

I didn’t really hear the name, having been shocked speechless by the question—literally, because I knew that once I opened my mouth she’d know I was no Italian countess.

Miraculously, I managed to pull out something from deep within my would-be royal gut and without pausing, I said, “If you wish.“

I Should Have Said . . . Exactly What I Said!

If you wish: so tantalizing, so vague, so not exactly a lie. For me, that answer wiped out all the “I should have saids” on countless, rather than countess, occasions. On several continents.

We all said goodbye at the Piazza, air kisses and all, and my husband and I returned to the hotel, having gone to the famous Harry’s Bar, having been made royalty by Ken Auletta’s agent, and having been in a photo with him that must still exist somewhere in the universe. I only wish I knew the name of the royal personage I was mistaken for so I could look her up and see who I almost was.

But what the hell, you can’t have everything.
Even when you’re a countess.

After working as writer, editor, and publisher for many years, I formed my own company in 1984, optimistically naming it Mega Books. When I retired, I started a blog called I Can’t Believe I’m Not Bitter, and now do everything I can to stay that way, including joining the IRP.
Visit the blog at: