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Salami: Woodstock Editions Phoenicia, New York

by Devon Dikeou 

“Send a Salami to Your Boy in the Army”

 

If you notice it, that slogan is emblazoned on the t-shirts of the butchers’ behind the acre long counter of Katz’s deli in New York, and on the faded circular promotional twirlers that spin in a graphic time warp above the masses of diners in the famed Lower East Side establishment. A must visit for in the know NYer’s and keen tourists, celebrities, and politicians—the salami at Katz’s makes the art of delicatessen gastronomy—a savory delicacy supplicated only by the customers’ weekly diet or culinary travels.

 

“You should give that to your father for his birthday.” A remarkably thoughtful and generous statement from my mother, given they have been divorced for 20 years, and their relationship since has not been amicable, by any means. My father cherishes salami as a sample of the modern carnivorous nectar, a palate he cultivates in each city he visits, determining the nuances of not just salami, but pastrami, hot dogs, bratwurst, even McDonald’s. So yes, indeed, this Katz’s salami was an excellent gift for a difficult man to buy a present. He has few hobbies. His commitment to watching all sports simultaneously on TV, eliminates the practicality of participatory sporting gifts such as racquets and clubs—they do not apply to his lifestyle, much less untenable. And as we are not natives of Nevada, an in house bookie seemed a little too racy. A subscription to SI would be wasted, as he has little predilection for reading periodicals—forget about the obligatory sports biography—they will remain untouched in my father’s possession. But thanks to the most unlikely of sources, my mother, my yearly gift quandary for my father was solved, and solved ad nauseum. Salami. 12 years and going, salami from Katz—every birthday and every Christmas. (One year, walking to Katz’s, I cut my walk short. Stopping at Russ & Daughters, I substituted the annual salami for caviar, only to learn that, later, he was disappointed upon not receiving a salami).

 

Journalistic segue. Salami, the book. Like a “boy in the army” with his care package of goodies unexpectedly arriving, here I was with a 20 lb tome, measuring 12 x 17 inches. Opening it, I was astounded at the quality of the product, so to speak. It felt like a hard salami in its look—so gigantic and overwhelming in its presence, that immediate embarrassment swelled in my cheeks like the gradations of red on the cover. The cover—an enlargement of the spectacular meat marbling of the salumirei complexity, a pattern reiterated on the sides of the pages like Four Edge books, was divinity in itself. Intimidating to touch, unlike its subject—usually the first hors d’oeurves to go at cocktail parties where the host is in close proximity to a Gourmet Garage—the book, Salami, is an object of art (you can even order individual prints from the book Salami @ www.woodstockeditions.com), and so pristine one almost dares not enter or breach it.

 

Beyond Salami’s physical presence, however, is Salami’s content. Pictorially, it offers an alphabet of what else, salami—issuing one photograph per page, by Hans Gissinger. Offset printed in six colors, and isolated against the seductive cream background of the heavy pound paper, the salamis appear one after another, each differing, yet remaining intrinsically the same. The text by Gérard Oberlé, originally written in French, is translated by Richard Pevear. The 14 passages pay tribute to salami in a range of different food memoirs. You may need a dictionary to look up words like “cephalotruncating”, but you do learn the origin of the word “salami ”. Each passage begins with a citation. From Albert Cossery, to Stendahl, to Oscar Wilde, the various treatments bring forth ideas of class, taste, literature, sexuality, memory, expectation, even Pop culture, with titles such as “Pedigree”, “Boarding School”, “Salaminikins”, “Coco Bill, Salami Western and Spaghetti Western”. As much as these remembrances might seem unique, its weird how awfully urbane they become. Mr Oberlé’s memory of the various saleswomen who dispense the charcuterie in the “Beauties of Sausagery” like Mme Gebhart, “this priestess of the louchebem cult incarnate the most beautiful human person I know,” or of Donna, “The heiress to this dynastic establishment, she is endowed with the kind of sex appeal fatal to men of my generation, who, as adolescents, smothered their puds in dark theaters before the charms of various Cinecitta enchantresses,” are just few of the many reflections of salami. But these likely kind of responses towards salami in their exuberance and abundance make the reader reflect on their own personal relation to the substance at hand, mouth, or memory, and save it from its own over indulgence.

 

In the voice of this gastronomic Cicero, accompanied by the Minimalistic, photographic features that could substitute for a porcine portrait by Giuseppe Arcimboldo, Salami does become caviar. But as quickly as it is an expensive commodity, it is the food of the Proletariat. Salami can’t help itself, much as product itself, it takes the reader, and eater, through a triage of personal references from the French and Italian versions of Katz’s and Dean & DeLucca—making the small villages of Alsace and the regions Italy seem like the road trip stops of minor league baseball team.

 

So the question is, do I give it, Salami, that acre of a book, as a gift to my father? Answer. No. But I will keep on giving the gift that keeps on giving, salami. Because it is nice to see that there is a universal feeling towards this Dagwood delectable. Notice: Salami, the book, a sausage caught in memory. Send a salami to your boy in the army, any boy, any army, any salami.

 

Devon Dikeou

New York, New York

2001

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