November 6, 2013

Blog the Twenty-first: Is it really Eggplant alla Parmigiana, or rather alla parmiciana?

Fact is, no one knows—which only goes to show how uninteresting facts really are.  At best, if well chosen, they’ll point out what needs explaining, but they rarely explain it.  They may speak for themselves, as the saying goes, but they don’t have much to say about anything else.  Mostly they just assert themselves, as things needing to be explained. 

A true fact can be a right answer, but a right answer isn’t a reason why.  A reason isn’t just another fact [lest we end up with an endless train of facts and no explanation …], but rather a relation between facts—as of a cause to its effect, or an intention to its end, or a source to its issue.  At best, facts supply the matter of an explanation which, by relating them aright, reveals the truth of the matter.  But as any good liar well knows, you can arrange facts as well to occlude as to reveal the truth.  What you need to tell the truth, more than the facts, is a good story.  There’s an Italian saying, Sed non è vero, è ben detto—“If it’s not true, it’s well said.”  What should happen sometimes tells the truth better than what does happen.

Case in point:  I’ve always been perplexed by Eggplant alla Parmigiana’s being called alla Parmigiana, i.e., Parma-style—Parma being North Italy’s celebrated capital of Parmigiano-Reggiano.  But eggplant parmigiana (dropping the alla in English, with compensatory decapitalization) seems so very southern:  sun-loving eggplant topped with zesty red sauce, oozing sweaty mozzarella—for which South Italy's Campanian buffalo are so famous—and showered with gratings of tangy Pecorino Romano. What do Parmesan cows have to do with any of that, I ask myself.   

So I start working up a diatribe against the pretensions of the Parmesans, about how the true origin of a thing should be credited to its final perfecter rather than its first confecter; that it is not its factual birth that reveals its true nature, but its full flowering; that, whatever inchoate beginnings this eggplant dish may have had among the Parmesans, its true form was clearly achieved in South Italy and disseminated thence throughout the Americas by its emigres ….  You get the idea.