Three Shining Stars

Nancy Flynn Apostrophe Blog Archive, Cooking, Writing

The Apostrophe Blog

Musings on Writing and Life.

Nothing changes from generation to generation except the thing seen and that makes a composition.
—Gertrude Stein in “Composition as Explanation”

The composition was a trattoria in a shadier part of a somewhat upscale college town in central New York. Tre Stelle, three stars in Italian, because initially there were three and then there were two. The things seen were art on the walls, sculptures scattered across the floor, copper counters, a wood-fired pizza oven, an Illy espresso machine, the staff always clad in some version of black-and-white. A Hobart dough-kneading machine in the kitchen with the face of a pig painted on it. A Hobart dishwasher. Choice bottles of Italian wine cellared in the dank and cobwebbed cellar down a flight of rickety steps. Generated was good food, good cheer, good will, hearty laughs, good friends. Memories. To this day, a goodly number of us remain in one another’s lives.

Chalk on the slate board was the week’s specials menu and the special Italian wines by the glass. Each week’s menu was hand calligraphed, too—the regular roster of primi, secondi, contorni, pizze, insalatas, e dolci cycled through week after week. The music was always an earlier era of classic jazz—I remember Dinah Washington, Ella and Louis, Bill Evans, even Miles. There was a long-handled wooden paddle to rotate then shovel the pizza in and out. And around the wood fire, an old school oscillating fan to circulate the air. Butcher paper we would rip to size to smooth out over the pressed white cotton tablecloths that cloaked each table—two-tops, four-tops, the larger tables we even had a plywood cut-to-order extension for. White plates, white bowls, white mugs for coffee. Votive holders we would spill with a drop of water before putting our votive candles inside, one per table, the sculpted green Spanish glass of each cube flickering and splitting into prisms as the night grew long and the candle inside sputtered down. Each table getting its appetite whetted with warm-from-the-fire foccacia and one of V.’s infamous dips fashioned from zipped-up leftovers that always had a possibly excessive amount of fresh garlic added in.

I was a lucky person to get to spend four years moonlighting at Trattoria Tre Stelle, a beloved eatery in Ithaca, New York. This was in addition to my day job at the fancy university on the hill, Tre Stelle thrived, was celebrated, had barflies and groupies, became a go-to place to see and be seen before the whole hipster phenomenon made moot of that, a tiny joint with a limited (by choice) menu and limited seating (expanded by the patio come summer) that became the victim of its own success. Which, of course, led to stress stress stress which led the owners (V & S) to (eventually) sell the place in May 1998.

When J. and I got married and had an opportunity to venture to Corvallis, Oregon for (ostensibly) a two-year gig, I only felt I could go because Tre Stelle had been sold and closed. For how could I leave what we had created there—wackiness, stellar Halloween parties, visiting tango-class dancers, bar conversations about books, movies, opera, home-brewed grappa? Hell, even Isabella Rossellini dined there once while visiting with Ithaca friends, an evening we took to (aptly) calling The Big Night. What I see now in retrospect, with the wisdom of hindsight and all that, is that Tre Stelle was, to quote the late John Lewis, an example of “the beloved community.” I never expected to find that working as a hostess and later a waitress in a restaurant; frankly, I didn’t know at the time I was even looking for that.

Beloved community. Memories. The serendipity of finding what you are seeking, what you need when you aren’t even looking. And being willing to take it all in, to let yourself be surprised.

Three stars. Three shining stars.

Nancy Flynn
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