“John Wayne: A Love Song” is the second essay in Joan Didion’s first nonfiction book, Slouching Towards Bethlehem. As I have thought about the closing of Traverso’s, my reaction to it and my long history of shopping at the beloved market, the essay and its title keep coming back to me. It seemed a fitting title to what was going to be my personal memoir of a place that has been extraordinarily important to me, both personally and professionally.
But I find I can’t write it. Not yet. For now, I will simply hold the memories close to my heart, for the closure of this market is, indeed, an extremely personal loss. I can’t take it in stride, as just another economic shake out, sad, but there you go, let’s move on. I’m sure many who read this will think I’m being overly dramatic but, in many ways, big and small, my heart is broken. It’s going to take some time for the reality to settle in and for the hope–the belief–that Traverso’s will rise again from these current ashes, perhaps downtown; perhaps in Montgomery Village; perhaps, alas, only in my dreams, to fade. But that is exactly what I hope happens, a new location, with George and his smile at the cash register, Michael suggesting Italian wines, Claudio handing me a slice of mortadella, Elena laughing and saying “Remember the mouse,” a reference to a legendary moment of triumph over a wily rodent.
So here’s what my tribute to Traverso’s will be for now. In 1997, I was lucky to have Rico, George and Michael on my radio show, Mouthful. Last March, near the 100th anniversary of Rico’s birth, I rebroadcast the interview. The file is too large to post within this blog but you can find my interview with three generations of the Traverso family here. Rico, who was in his late 80s at the time of the interview, tells the story of coming to America with amazing clarity, along with his characteristic sweetness and charm.
Last Wednesday, the final day for sandwiches, Traverso’s was packed, overflowing with dozens of people waiting at the sandwich counter. The first three people I spoke with were not locals. Joe Mascon rode his Harley all the way from Tennessee to say goodbye. Another woman buying sandwiches and beautiful old utensils was from Lucca and a high school student holding a stack of sandwiches was from San Diego. Among the crowd I saw familiar faces, too, and there was a steady stream of friends coming in to say goodbye. As I walked to my car, a sandwich in hand and two big boxes filled with everything from anchovies, olive oil and Italian canned tuna to perfectly sliced mortadella, soprassata, prosciutto di Parma and jamon serrano, it was impossible to believe it would be the last time.