“Please Get Your (Meat) Balls Out of My Pizza”: A Feminist Ethnography
Geneva, Switzerland is not a city for young people. Penniless and surrounded by dead-eyed bankers sipping 18 franc cosmopolitans, nights out with friends often involved sharing a single beer by the banks of the Rhône. It was pretty sad. After years of relentless searching, my best friend Julia and I thought we’d finally found the place. Our place. Where we’d go when the Calvinist drag of the city started getting under our skin. This place, lined with fairy lights, glowing among the gray office blocks, was heaven. Once a week, Julia and I escaped into the warm embrace of Pizzeria Luigia.
Luigia is located inside what used to be a parking garage, underneath one of the ugliest buildings on one of the saddest streets in one of the most depressing cities in the world. And yet, Luigia brought nothing but happiness. Our weekly visits there were always the highlight of an otherwise stressful high school experience.
Julia and I still wonder why a family of Neapolitans would choose to set up camp in Switzerland. Maybe it was for the money. Maybe (and this is what we hope), they knew the city needed some love. Love in the form of Pizza Miracolata.
It was a ritual. Julia and I always ordered the same thing. Starting with iced tea. One lemon, one peach. Not because it was really that good, but because it was cheaper than water. Switzerland is weird. Then, we’d order the Miracolata. Literally, The Miracle. And it truly was.
The Miracolata is listed on Luigia’s ‘special pizzas’ menu. You have to work to find it. Really, it’s a pizza Margherita, but instead of using your classic supermarket ingredients, Luigia brought them from Italy. Imagine a Margherita, but the tomato sauce tastes like sunshine and the mozzarella comes from a cow that’s actually happy to be alive (unlike a Swiss cow who I presume is overwhelmed by a life of never-ending labour under capitalism). Sure, the ingredients added 10 francs to the price tag. But Julia and I had a strategy. Order one, split the cost. Sure, you’re eating less, but you’re eating love (At just above half the cost of ordering a full, mediocre pizza each). Anthropologically speaking (this is an ethnography after all), sharing also brought kinship-building benefits. Eating the same food is sharing the same blood. I like to think the years of sharing a Miracle are why, to this day, Julia and I still look so much alike.
The ritual would end with us looking at each other and asking whether we should get the balls. We always did. Chiacchere alla Nutella. They were beautiful. Leftover pizza dough from the kitchen, topped with Nutella and chopped pecans. This was another way Luigia was a sanctuary for us. It was a space for us to eat freely, guiltlessly. Eating Nutella balls with someone who would enthusiastically have them with you was liberating for two girls living in social contexts that taught us only how to shrink. In Luigia, we were happy.
We should have known it could not last. Luigia hired that waiter. That waiter forced himself and the outside world into the bubble of safety we’d worked to build, Miracolata by Miracolata. Every week, we would go in, leaving our guard with our coats by the front door. He would spot us and leer. We’d sit down and start chatting. He’d come and take our order. Smirking at our words, licking his lips, he’d say: ‘are you sure you girls don’t want some meatballs with that?’ We’d go soft and say no thank you. He was relentless: ‘I’m always available if you change your mind’, he grinned. He’d gawk at us all night. In those moments, Julia and I were reminded that we were never really safe. We were always being watched. Our friendship and weekly moment of liberation turned fodder for the waiter’s pornographic threesome fantasy. Suddenly, ‘balls’ turned from sweet Nutella-and-pecans to gross invasion of our boundaries.
But Luigia was our space, our safety net, the only place we could go in a city with one of the highest teen suicide rates in Europe. In an act of defiance, we stayed. Together, week after week, we carried on despite the waiter. We still enjoyed ourselves, we still ordered the same thing. Protected not by the space, but by each other and the sheer joy of an amazing pizza.
December 2016, we went back to Luigia almost two years since the last time. Two years since we moved on from Geneva and turned to other places (and pizzas). Edinburgh in my case, Chicago in Julia’s. Returning to our ritual for a night, it was all the same. Dipping our crusts in olive oil, tomato sauce on our faces, we laughed. That waiter was nowhere to be seen. Miracolata trumps meatballs, always.