Wednesday, October 17, 2007
Back in the 1930's, three lads, sons of Italian immigrants residing in Washington State, got to be pals when all made it into law school at the same time; and the three then made a further pact...
That's the story, anyway, that one of them in the early 1960's used to tell his University of Washington English Department classes; the tale-teller was Angelo Pellegrini, a well-known gourmet and food critic, Shakespeare specialist, and by then non-practicing lawyer. He called it "Rosellini, Rosellini, and Pellegrini," and he regaled us students with such anecdotes along with his brilliant, Machiavellian-grin recitations of Macbeth, Iago, and Lear.
Back in their law school days, it seems, the three guys vowed that, someday, Al would rise to the governorship of Washington, Hugh would become Chief Justice of its State Supreme Court... and then Angelo would be appointed President of the U.W. "Sure enough," Angelo would say, "in the Fifties, Al was elected governor, Hugh was selected to head the Court, and..." He'd pause and smile his mischievous and slightly feral smile, then say, "And I kept waiting for the phone to ring. But the call never came."
Oh well. Administration's loss was the English Department's gain. Dr. Pellegrini (doctor of Law rather than of Liberal Arts; oh, and his Italian surname means "pilgrim") was known instead as a maverick professor, spending less time on interpreting Will and more on requiring his students to memorize and sometimes recite in class the 17th Century English iambics. Many hated this approach, but I loved it--had no trouble remembering the Bard's words, during classes or final tests. (I felt more connected to Shakespeare then than at any time before or since.) And because I could spout on demand, I became one of Pellegrini's proteges, I guess--sufficiently so that when I was getting married a couple of years later (a low-key, base-chapel affair with both sets of parents gone overseas, no friends in attendance, and no honeymoon pending), I asked Angelo to help me choose a restaurant and menu for the two-people-only wedding dinner.
He told me not to worry, he'd arrange a fine meal for us at Rosellini's 410 (Victor representing another branch of that family, I suppose), which was usually thought of as Seattle's premier restaurant back then. And sure enough, we dined perfectly that night, surrounded by elegant trappings and delectable food, including a bottle of Pellegrini's own handmade wine, the gift of which was a much bigger deal than I knew then. (I said he was a food expert; really he was an internationally known one, espousing eating fresh local foods and maintaining family herb gardens and making one's own wine and so on, a Fifties critic of America's move to pre-packaged foods and an early proponent of what's known now as the "Slow Food Movement." He wrote a handful of books too, the best known of which was/is his classic philosophy-of-food volume titled The Unprejudiced Palate.) Angelo helped launch that first marriage well...
I left academia and became a writer, lost touch with the professor. But ten years later, figuring "nothing ventured...," I called him up and asked if he would make the arrangements for our tenth anniversary dinner, back again at the 410. He remembered me well enough cheerfully to agree. But this time, things went sadly wrong; the trappings of the aging restaurant didn't seem as posh and then-wife got food poisoning from some shellfish--should have realized it was an omen for the unfriendly split ahead!--nothing for which Dr. Pellegrini bore any blame, of course. He lived on till age 90 or so and is still revered in serious food circles today.
Meanwhile, though I never did meet Chief Justice Hugh, I did once interview retired Governor Al, for a story on the do-nothing State Legislature. Al was in his Seventies by then and had a set of dentures that he clacked regularly when speaking, jerking his head back to make his plate of teeth click into place again! Those loud clacks, which he seemed totally oblivious to, made for a very disconcerting hour as I struggled to take notes and not laugh out loud. And I did think of the professor, by then most renowned of the three, who was still eating well with his own rather pointy teeth...
That's my version of the tale of Pellegrini and a couple of Rosellinis.