Journey to Gorgonzola

Aldo Buzzi, translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein

Years ago I found myself in Indonesia, in Jakarta, which was once called Batavia, sitting at a table in a restaurant in the heart of the Chinese quarter of Glodok—near Kota, to anyone who knows this city, immense in extent, where the long streets change their names every two or three blocks, causing the visitor to go mad. I was reflecting on the menu, undecided between serpent soup, roast monkey, or a simple stuffed dog with hot pepper.

A young woman sitting at the next table with some other people was showing off two beautiful feet, at once thin and soft, brown on top and pink underneath, on which no shoe had left the slightest mark. In Indonesia feet are considered the most fascinating part of the female body, and everyone knows what small female feet mean to the Japanese; it is also known that in Vienna, around 1910, the tram stops were always crowded with groups of gentlemen waiting to admire the small feet of pretty women poking out from under their skirts for an instant as they boarded the car.

I myself have always had a weakness for women’s feet, and I hate people who tell jokes in which feet are associated with the odor of certain cheeses, like appenzeller, camembert, gorgonzola. For these same people, armpits can smell only of goats; and the behind… “It,” a sommelier would say, “has an intoxicating bouquet of roses and Parma violets….” I would add that “it,” because of its form—rounder than any solid of revolution or any circle traced by a compass—and because of its inscrutable mixture of the human and the divine, can be considered one of the most convincing proofs of the existence of God, certainly more convincing than the ontological argument of Saint Anselm.

Gorgonzola, that exquisite cheese whose moderate price has preserved its popularity, was born by chance in Lombardy, in the ancient city of Gorgonzola, which boasts among its most illustrious sons the printer Gorgonzola and the plumber Pietro Carminati Brambilla, called il Gorgonzola. Another illustrious son, the Marchese Busca, whose mansion is reflected in the calm waters of the Martesana canal, every year sent his friend Gioacchino Rossini some gorgonzola cheese, just as the celebrated pork butcher of Modena, Giuseppe Bellentani, sent Rossini salami and ravioli made especially for him. This predilection of Rossini’s is a distinction that our cheese doesn’t have to share with any other. Let’s not forget that the Maestro, a friend of the illustrious chef Marie Antoine Carême, has linked his name to at least five famous dishes: Tournedos Rossini, Cannelloni alla Rossini, Saddle of Veal Rossini, Suprême de Pintade Rossini, Friand of Chicken Rossini.

The train travels silently toward Gorgonzola through a green plain divided geometrically by canals full of clear water, with granite locks. Rows of enormous poplars with dancing leaves (Populus tremula) lead to villas and farmhouses of splendid design, all destined to be covered in a few years with cement. And then the day will…


This is exclusive content for subscribers only.
Get unlimited access to The New York Review for just $1 an issue!

View Offer

Continue reading this article, and thousands more from our archive, for the low introductory rate of just $1 an issue. Choose a Print, Digital, or All Access subscription.

If you are already a subscriber, please be sure you are logged in to your nybooks.com account.