As a teenager, I often ducked into Pagliacci Pizza in the U-District along with the college students and punk rockers who populated The Ave back then. My go to was a slice of cheese and a soda. I was fascinated with the walls. Italian movie posters, most of Hollywood films, covered every inch of wall in the store. I couldn't resist trying to figure out the original titles.
Years later, when I became a co-owner of Pagliacci, Dorene, Pagliacci's founder, scribbled out an address in Rome and said, “This is where you get the posters.” It was a secret almost as big as the recipe for the sauce.
Turns out when the store was new, back in 1979, Dorene had first decorated the walls of the store with photos of uncooked pasta. Italian, but not quite right. On a trip to L.A., she spotted a few vintage Italian movie posters in a store, but they were expensive. With an upcoming trip to Rome planned, she decided to wait. That’s where she found her source: Hollywood Tutto Sul Cinema. The store, located in the bustling Campo di Fiore, just off of Piazza Navona, had walls lined with movie posters. Many of them for Hollywood films in translation. The owner, Marco, was a total film buff and his store was a gathering place for Roman cineastes. And the prices were good. Dorene bought enough to cover the walls and a tradition was born. Every time she went to Rome, Dorene would return with a suitcase full of posters.
Fast forward to the first trip I took as an owner, and more importantly, the curator for our Italian movie poster collection. I had minored in Italian in college and lived in Rome for a year after graduating. I had visited several times with my previous job. Now, here I was dragging my 4-year old son and my 1-year old daughter through the lively crowds. While the adresss seemed straight forward, these were the days before Google Maps and this was Rome. Not straightforward. I finally found Hollywood. Bedraggled, and trying to pacify my kids (my wife had long given up and was shopping a few streets over), I asked about the posters. Impressed with the American who spoke Italian well, the owner pushed a stuffed three-ring binder my way.
“Che locandine vuoi?”
What posters did I want? With one kid seated on the counter, and trying to make sure the other didn’t run off, I made a list. The kids added a Shark Tale poster to my list.
“Due giorni,” Marco said.
Two days? I expected to leave with the posters. Takes time to get them ready, Marco explained. That’s business Italian style and Marco was a character study in Italian-ness. I rearranged my plans to stay in Rome long enough to get the posters.
Each subsequent trip to Italy includes a trip to Hollywood, to get more posters. Because the store has regularly irregular hours, this sometimes included two or three trips back to Campo di Fiore to find Marco, who always remembers Palgiacci. Recently, I found an email address for Marco and sent him my list in advance. I assured my wife it would be quick. A short stop in between lunch and gelato. When we arrived, Marco smiled and said, “Due giorni.”
But I sent you my order, I pleaded.
Marco shrugged. There is a great Italian word for this scenario. Boh (a whole blog could be written on this word and its many uses in Italian society). In this case it meant Marco didn’t know if I was really going to come. It all worked out. My wife went shopping, my kids went for gelato and soccer in the piazza and I went to Hollywood. And so the tradition continues, in every way.
Returning from Rome with the posters
Todd Muns, the general manager of the store on The Ave, loves having the posters. “Frequently someone walks around the store looking at the posters, then tells me how they loved the posters when they attended school,” he says. “They say the pizza was amazing, but the posters bring back the nostalgia.”
Last year, a handwritten card arrived with a special request. One of the producers of The Martian, Aditya Sood, wrote to ask if I would hang an Italian version of his movie in the store. Of course. After 37 years the tradition is still going strong and provides a nice little excuse to get over to Rome every so often.