August 26, 2009
It was just another dive on De L’Église that was destined to drown. The name on the sign closed on puckered vowel lips, and we called it “Amoro,” since they’d left us the option. That’s all we did with it, for quite a few months. I never saw anyone go in there. But the place stayed afloat long enough for its number to come up in fast food roulette, and my roommate always played by the menu.
Ten minutes after we hung up, a decrepit-ass minivan roared down our street.
“Here comes trouble,” Joy poked her head out the window.
A man burst from the rotting hull of the vehicle, ticking with zeal.
“Good lord, he’s got our souvlakis,” she whispered. “They’re not even in a bag.”
No they weren’t.
At the door, I gave the guy ten dollars, and he placed one foil-wrapped sandwich in each of my hands.
“You are going to like these, my friend!”
I never doubted it.
But the man craved evidence.
“Why’s he coming up?” Joy asked, from the top of the stairs.
“It’s a question of pride, mademoiselle,” the man replied.
He shepherded us into the living room and motioned toward the couch.
We sat down.
“The ‘V’ is for vegetarian.”
I took a bite out of that one.
Joy flashed a tzatziki smile:
The man pulled napkins from his pocket and flared them out in front of us like a deck of magician’s cards.
“Excellent! I hope to see you at the restaurant in the very near future.”
He saluted and left.
The minivan engine rasped to life.
“Amoro is fuckin’ weird,” Joy wiped her lips.
Two days later, I was sitting with a couple of friends on Amoro’s terrasse, watching gulls battle cars and each other for street pizza crust.
The waiter brought our menus:
“Those birds know what they like.”
It was good old souvlaki-and-napkins.
“For you, my friend,” he pointed at me, “I recommend the grilled vegetable sandwich. You never had anything like this.”
Jamie and Angela wanted in on the deal.
“I was hoping you’d ask,” the man winked.
“No tomatoes on mine, please,” Angela added.
“Never!” he smiled beatifically.
Jamie strolled off to the washroom and came back flushed with discovery:
“Holy fuck! I just saw that waiter guy grilling our vegetables. He also answers the phone. There’s no one else back there.”
A few minutes later, dinner was served.
“You love it!” the chef scanned our faces.
No one disagreed with him.
“I’m so glad!”
He brandished a keychain and two Styrofoam boxes.
“I’ll be right back!”
The minivan crept down the street.
Angela watched it go:
“Amoro does not disappoint.”
But he obviously disappointed someone. A bank, I imagine.
Pretty soon, there was a new Amoro in town.
The flyers said so.
Jamie and I peeked in there one night, to inquire after the dearly departed.
“What do you want to talk about that asshole for?” the pseudo-Amoro exploded. “Sit down!”
A hard offer to refuse.
“Can I get you some water?” the man asked.
We both nodded.
“Whaddya mean—what kind?” Jamie scowled up a smile.
“It’s an important question, my friend. Our bodies are mostly water—I’m sure you know that—you seem like intelligent men… Don’t you think it matters where it comes from? You are what you drink. I’ve got free water on tap—lots of it—certified by the city of Verdun. You want to be like Verdun? Drug addicts, mental cases and welfare motherfuckers. It’s all in the molecules, my friend.”
“What else you got?” Jamie always kept an open mind.
“If you want to treat yourself right—I have an amazing selection of products in the fridge. Keep in mind now—you pay for top quality. I can get you some $2 stuff from Northern Quebec. I can do that—and it’ll be good for you. But the Alpine spring water? That’s like a transfusion from Superman. And if you’re looking for a real wet dream, I just received a shipment of $20 bottles—direct from the mountains of Greece.”
“Greece?!” Jamie blurted. “Isn’t that a dirty country? All that Athens pollution and shit. Who the fuck wants to be like Greece?”
The man actually flinched.
Then he pulled up a chair and whispered:
“I am sorry to hear you say these things, my friend. But I am not surprised. Your mind has been poisoned by the media… I am not angry at you, you understand—but I want you to know that I am a Greek man, and your words stab holes in my heart…”
“Fuck dude—I was just foolin’ around… Did I pump it too hard?”
“No apologies please… Just listen…”
“I’m on it!”
“Okay…yes… the television is full of reports about the poor quality of Athenian air… but that’s only because the rest of the world—and particularly the Turk—is jealous of our intellectual and Olympical heritage… I have been to the capital—and it is no harder to breathe there than in any other metropolis. But to think in Athens! That is a mental operation which has no parallel anyplace else. I can’t even describe it to you… I got the idea for this restaurant there…”
“Why not call it Athens then? Or Plato? What the fuck?”
The man shrugged:
“Ah, Plato… a great man… but the Hellenic experience cannot be reduced to a name… Do you know the history of Byzantium, my friend? The magnificence of Greek Fire? The Ottoman took advantage of our good nature and put us on the ropes for a few centuries, but my country has weathered the storm. On my last trip, the Oracle at Delphi whispered ‘Greece: 2.0’ in my ear… Do you believe me?”
It didn’t seem feasible to contradict the prophet before dinner was served.
“Man you really tossed that Greek salad around!” Jamie changed the subject. “Did you make it to Troy?”
“Let me tell you something,” the man grimaced, “I will not go to Troy—except as a conqueror.”
After all of that, we ordered tap water (along with submarines and fries).
“Fuck!” Jamie exulted. “This dude’s got even more Amoro than the last one!”
The water was warm, but the submarines were excellent. I looked around for the ketchup.
“You can look all night and you won’t find any of that shit in my place,” Amoro smiled. “It’s an insult to good potatoes.”
A burly man wandered into the eatery.
“I love the ketchup speech. I love dis guy!”
He put a violent headlock on the host.
“This is my friend Nikos,” Amoro coughed. “He fought in the Cypriot army. He can tell you about the Turk.”
Nikos ambushed a chair at our table, settling upon it like a backwards baseball cap:
“Were they asking about the Turk?!”
Jamie stopped chewing:
“Well, if you ever want to know anything. Anything at all. I live across the street.”
“Do you?” Jamie leaned forward. “This is the New World, man. No one cares about your tribal shit around here. We just fuck each other with stock market dildos.”
Amoro and Nikos exchanged intense looks.
“This is a conversation with balls!” the restaurateur boomed. “I’m breaking out the $20 water!”
I lost track of the place for a number of months. Whatever I was doing, it must have been important. When I finally got back there, a lot of things had changed:
“Ah! Hello my friend!” Amoro greeted us at the door.
He had a bow tie on.
“Have a seat over here,” he gestured toward the window. “Under the pepper tree.”
“What’s this?” my friend Christine asked, caressing a luscious pepper overhead.
I had made some wild claims about Amoro.
The man brought us menus and water—with ice.
I inquired about the fridge full of imports.
“Specialty waters?” he shrugged. “This is just a regular Verdun diner, my friend. With better food.”
Christine jabbed at a word on the page:
“Greek coffee? That’s the same as Turkish coffee, right?”
“Ah,” the man swallowed. “Turkish coffee is black,” he traced a halo round her head, “like your hair… Greek coffee is brown…”
He studied her complexion.
“They are different… but… equally good…”
“I’ll have it then,” she smiled. “With a burger and fries.”
I ordered penne arrabbiata.
When the food arrived, she played the trump card:
“Can I have ketchup with these? Please?”
“I’ll… see if we have any… in the back…”
He sulked into the kitchen.
Christine cupped a hand to the side of her mouth and pantomime-whispered:
“Amoro looks pretty beat up.”
He didn’t last long after that.
They closed up for good in ‘02.
The sign is still up though. The pepper plant too. The pot anyway—and the desiccated fruits of its bloom.
Anyone for Amoro 3.0?