CAESAR’S PEAR TART
My husband, Joe, daughter Jennie and I stood at the edge of Piazza Campo de Fiori, modern Rome’s traditional fresh fruit and flower market, searching out a restaurant for lunch. We spied a large sign on an easel in front of one place and wandered over. Three polyglot paragraphs (English, French, Italian, German, Chinese, Russian) outlined the history of what lay below the erstwhile eatery. The lines that stood out were, “We stand on top of the very courtyard where Caesar’s back met the blade of Brutus. Come in and see where history was made.”
A man wearing an apron with Da Pancrazio embroidered on it stepped out from the doorway to greet us. “Please, come in.” I looked back at my husband and daughter.
The waiter shrugged his shoulders in an oh–so-Roman gesture of indifference. Then he said in tourism-honed English, “You don’t need to eat here. We are happy to let simply enjoy the history. It’s downstairs.”
We looked at each other and shrugged. Why not?
“Thank-you, Grazie” I replied as we three of us slipped through the door of Da Pancrazio and scrambled down narrow, winding, stone stairs. Each step took us down through layers of Roman history, until, as promised, at the bottom, we were in a sub-basement that was a city square from Roman times. Signs declared that from this point (at the end of the stairway), a path led to the Senate in Caesar’s day. Another sign , a few feet farther on said, “On Caesar’s last day, he walked across these stones and here had that fatal encounter with Brutus.” We could imagine Brutus leaping out from behind one of the remaining columns as the great man passed. In case we missed anything, a miniature of the scene occupied a small space on the side of the room. We were quiet a moment. Then, slowly, thoughtfully, we climbed back up to modern Rome, a city preparing to celebrate the Christmas holiday.
At the top of the stairs, strategically placed, another copy of the menu on a board, awaited. We decided to stay for lunch and complete our transition back from tragedy to celebration, from past to present in that same space.
The waiter who had greeted us, now seated us. Joe ordered a ravioli dish. Jennie and I, resolved to save a few calories and ordered salad and cheese. When the plates were empty. the waiter came by with a tray of desserts. My daughter and I looked at each other and at the dessert tray. Our caloric savings were begging to be spent.
“Can we split something? What would you suggest, ” I asked.
He smiled at us.
“Caesar’s Pear Tart,” he answered. We hesitated. Then he pointed to an older woman sitting at a table by the door. “She makes it. Since we opened, she makes all the tarts and cookies.”
Jennie and I agreed to share a slice. After all, that delightful looking creation had as many layers of millefoglie (puff pastry) as Rome has layers of history.
Since we had asked to share, he brought a large piece on a plate with two forks, one knife and a second plate.
Such a better use for a knife, dividing a tart in two, so much better than separating an emperor’s earthly self from his divinity. “Et tu, Mama?” my daughter murmured, as I sliced that single large serving into two smaller pieces.
I replied, “Perhaps if Caesar had been sweeter, Vox populi would not have prodded Brutus to the dastardly deed. But at least we have Caesar’s pear tart.”
I picked up my fork. I offered the first forkful to Joe, but he declined. “I’ll save my calories for gelato, later this afternoon,” he said.
My daughter and I each pressed our forks though the tart’s tasty levels: pear, custard and that thousand-sheet crust.
“Fit for the Divine Caesar himself!” Jennie announced as she finished her first forkful.
Soft, ripe crescents of pear arranged on firm custard set on a base of flakey pastry—layers of lusciousness served up with a side dish of history. Divine.
After scooping up the last sweet crumbs, I twirled my fork in a salute.
Jennie chuckled and returned the salute. “Hail Caesar’s Pear Tart.”
We paid the bill, walked back out into Campo dei Fiori where the vendors were closing up the food stalls. A few stalls remained open–those selling tourist goods—scarves, postcards, and oh yes, small statuettes of Caesar. I bought one.
Joan Leotta is a writer and story performer. You can find out more about her here.