Day 15: Real Poor Photography

Whew gotta take it all in stride. I’ve only been here twice in the last week. Really slowing down. Chrissi and James went yesterday for lunch. That’s all right.

Anyway, there was an interesting photo on the wall by our table.

Not a great picture but I felt weird just getting up and climbing around others to take a better one.

My photo honestly looks awful so I’m going to edit it on my phone down to this:

Just imagine you’re on one of those brain dead procedural shows and I just yelled at the tech to “enhance!” the grainy surveillance footage we found.

Most prominent in this image is the man drinking red wine while his wife demands he go home. Obviously she’s seen this episode before a few times as she can’t even muster up an angry expression and merely stands there totally deadened in her hate for the figure who bears no resemblance to the sweet young man she married twenty years before. Has it been that long? It feels like forty.

The other figures in the scene seem to have things to do, but then there’s the dark-haired younger guy who looks like a cross between Ryan from The Office and that one guy you sort of knew from college. Also, like Ryan (B.J. Novak), this guys happens to be staring at the camera with an expression of general distaste.

Presumably, as this should have been a professional photo shoot on behalf of The Olive Garden, the photographer took a number of other photos as well as this one. Which means that this particular frame was specifically selected to represent the scene.

The effect is not to make this vignette seem contrived, but actually to add some sense of realism to it. An amateur photographer prefers the staged to the candid, but it’s almost impossible for me to believe that this portrait was taken from a real photo album rather than a professional shoot.

Still, other clues complicate this. The layout and composition seem off, further suggesting this is an amateur attempt at artistic photography. For one thing, while the three overhead lights are presumably lined up in the frame for balance (though the rightmost one is cut off), the figures beneath them feel too stiffly spaces to have the natural feeling of an aesthetic work.

I’m starting to believe this photo was someone trying to photograph well but lacking training (and thus a kindred spirit).

It only seems proper then, if this photo really did come from an amateur’s portfolio, to take another photo of it myself, quite poorly, to add one more layer of realism.

The worse everything is, the better.

Dish 1: linguini, artichoke, shrimp

Dish 2: linguini, chicken (grilled)

Bread: 1 (plain)

Weight: 328/2

Energy: low

Day 14: Secret Menu Item 2

All right so this, sadly, almost qualifies as a food hack, if people still say that kind of thing.

No, your eyes don’t deceive you: those are breadsticks in the nude. They haven’t been dressed with that incredible mixture of salt and oil that jacks the calorie count up from ~140 a piece to ~400 each. And the sodium content is about the same numbers, except in milligrams.

As much as that topping is delicious it can go down a little rough sometimes if you’re the kind of person who tries to keep track of your sodium count without requiring scientific notation.

Anyway, much like the salads, you can ask for the bread with nothing on it. The server will warn you that it will take the kitchen some time, but that’s quite all right. If they haven’t figured out by visit 14 in less than 4 weeks that we have nothing but time on our hands, then puritanical requests like undressing the bread legs aren’t going to change any minds.

If you’re wondering, the breadsticks are still fine without the topping, and if you, like me, are planning to dip your sticks into any sauce you can find within twenty yards then all that salt you really can do without.

Alternately, if you don’t want to wait half an hour for your clean, shy bread, you could just settle for the normal topped sticks and scrape the salt off yourself with a napkin or sock. If you’re really resourceful you could keep it in a flask or Tupperware and be set for salt for the foreseeable future in case of nuclear war or massive earthquakes.

Bring your appetite! And your blood pressure meds.

Item 1: linguini, meat sauce (side), breaded shrimp

Item 2: linguini, breaded chicken

Item 3: linguini, grilled chicken

Breadsticks: 2 (dry)

Weight: $£€¥

Eyesight: 20/200

Day 13: The Real Pieta

The Olive Garden serves Italian food and thus is vaguely Italian and so we will use it to segue to something else Italian: Michelangelo and, specifically, his Pieta sculpture.

Now, I know what you’re thinking; yes, he did carve two Pietas. But we’re talking about the good one:

Stanislav Traykov

He carved it right around the turn of the (15th) century and it’s widely regarded as pretty good.

A Pieta is a genre of artwork surrounding the compassion or “pity” of a figure or figures–typically Madonna–over the dead Christ.

Several elements of Michelangelo’s work differ from other Pietas. One is the use of a Mary who looks to be in her thirties rather than her forties or fifties.

Also if note is that the body of Christ is out of proportion. A thirty-year-old man shouldn’t fit well on his mother’s lap.

But there’s a gracefulness to the whole subject that belies these surrealistic details. Additionally, the lack of halos around these figures separates them from traditional versions and adds to the relatability of the scene, identifying the viewer with Mary and Jesus not as religious icons but as people. In this case the wounds and blood of Christ would, despite adding realism, would create a barrier between the audience and the scene. We are not meant to shrink from suffering here but to be moved to a different sort of pity.

It’s an interesting scene because it doesn’t force emotions upon us but allows them to come naturally. All the “unrealism” of the depiction only makes its effect stronger.

Which brings us to our present need for “realism”: we don’t like photoshop anymore–that’s what we say, anyway–because it clouds everything. But unreality can paint more effective reality, so long as the two are still somehow intermixed. Despite the liberties Michelangelo took with his Pieta, it’s clear that the “real” weight of the compassion depicted comes through. If this Mary is marble and can feel nothing for her stone-dead son, then we can still see the compassion the real Mary felt for her lost Son.

I took a photo at Olive Garden that also mixed reality with the arbitrary:

Stephen Summers

Clearly, the halo was a bit of a joke and Chrissi’s smile is false and worn for the camera. But James feels no such need to make himself up for the photograph: he simply does as he feels. And Chrissi’s compassion is real even if her smile isn’t: she’s still carrying the child three years after he emerged from the tomb womb.

And despite everything about The Olive Garden being a facsimile of a real restaurant, a real family, a real dinner, a real event–an image but not the true thing–here is a real thing, Madonna pitying her child.

Even in Chrissi’s smile–seemingly anachronistic with the child’s fading will–you see something real; there is no put-on grimace of pity. She is not modeling a Pieta, but living it.

1: linguini, shrimp (they messed up and these weren’t breaded), artichoke Alfredo (they really messed up and dumped this on top instead of putting it on the side. Had to force myself through half of it.)

2: linguini, grilled chicken, sauceless, please.

Breadsticks: 2.5

Weight: 164?

Love: boundless

Day 12

Dozen days of pasta passes.

You ever wonder if everybody else got the memo and left before everything went south?

Like you’re the only one left in the restaurant and you’re just imagining somebody filling your plate. Maybe there wasn’t any pasta pass at all, or anyone to go with, or anyone to serve it. Maybe I found the bowl and some old noodles in the back of the house and took a picture of it in an empty restaurant to make it seem like anyone might come around the corner at any time and ruin the photo. Like I had to take it as quickly as I could so nobody could ruin the shot.

If my glasses break at the end of the world and I’m the only guy left in the world a la that one Twilight Zone episode it’s fine I’m just going to sleep a lot and enjoy the silence.

1. Linguini + meat sauce + meatball

2. Linguini + chicken

Bread: 2

Weight: 164?

Music: Depeche Mode, “Enjoy the Silence”

Day Eleven: Olive Garden Secret Menu

Welcome to food hacks with Steve.

Maybe you’re at Olive Garden just chilling and taking in the atmosphere and enjoying some good company. Maybe after a complimentary wine sample you glance at the menu and decide you don’t really have the dough for breadsticks.

First of all, if you didn’t know you were broke before you walked into the restaurant, why do you suddenly start to care now? You sound more like the kind of person who is going to try to slip out the bathroom window as soon as the bill appears.

Well, joke’s on you, because there aren’t any bathroom windows. Place is too classy for that.

Anyway, so you’re feeling your belt tighten and you’re still looking for ways to loosen it. So tap into the secret menu.


Secret Menu Item: A Posteriori Chicken Salad

You haven’t got money for a chicken salad but you want one, you’re tired of that basic green salad crap. Well, you’re in luck, friend. Try this instead and be your own hero:

1. Order unlimited pasta bowl (cost is free because you already bought the card last month)

2. Choose whatever sauce and noodle you want: the only thing important here is asking for sauce and topping on the side.

3. Make chicken your topping.

4. Order the salad instead of the soup.

5. When food is brought out say thanks and make sure the server disappears so she doesn’t catch you doing step six.

6. Put chicken side on top of salad.

7. Eat free unlimited chicken salad (ask more more salad and more orders of the same pasta combination until shame or the Grim Reaper catches you).

Don’t tell anyone who told you.

1: linguini, artichoke Alfredo, grilled chicken

2: linguini, grilled chicken

Breadsticks: 2

Weight: 164

Style: sneaky