Slowly I Turned...
There are some things that make even a Pizza Quest, that is, the search for the perfect pizza, shrink into nothingness and I experienced such a thing this past week when I was in Buffalo, NY. I'm not referring to having, for the first time, Buffalo Wings in Buffalo (that was pretty cool), and also my first official Beef on Weck sandwich (that was actually amazing and memorable, especially with horseradish. Actually, I've had Beef on Weck before but never in Buffalo, which claims bragging rights, and never this good, the beef so tender it was like butter). For those who don't know what Beef on Weck is, the Weck refers to a Kimmelweck roll, kind of like a Kaiser roll but with kosher salt and caraway seeds on top -- kummel means caraway, and the proper spelling should actually be kummelweck, with an umelot over the "u". Weck, of course, means roll. The beef is sliced paper thin, cooked slowly, and carved off the bone before piling it on the weck, which also gets a dip into beefy jus. Beef on Weck is to Buffalo what a cheese steak is to Philly and, when done properly -- which not all places can do -- is equally memorable. But all of these "only in Buffalo" culinary moments are obliterated by my first ever visit to Niagara Falls.
I know, it's such a cliche and sometimes I think maybe I'm the only American who hasn't already been there. I tried not to expect too much; I didn't really expect much. I've seen waterfalls before, big, tall powerful waterfalls, but I was totally gobsmacked by the impact of Niagara Falls when I finally got to the edge. I saw the famous vapor plumes before I saw the falls, and heard the sounds of fury as I approached, but when I got to the rail and put it all together with my first sighting of the actual falls I was speechless. And I say this having seen it only from the American
side, as I didn't have a passport with me to get over to the Canadian side (I was in Buffalo for a project with a client and the trip to the Falls was a gift from my host at the end of the day's work). We drove through a brief rainstorm to get there and then, as we parked the car and began walking the 1/2 mile to the cliff's edge the rain stopped, replaced by those spewing, majestic vapor plumes. From the railing, we had a good view of what is called The American Falls, but a somewhat obscured view of the much larger and grander Horseshoe Falls -- which is why the Canadian side is considered the more spectacular view. But even the smaller American Falls was breathtaking and, when combined with what we could see of the Horseshoe, far exceeded anything I had imagined. It blew me away. I was literally speechless for a number of minutes, transfixed by the presence of a power that only exists, if it exists anywhere else at all, in very few places on earth.
There's a lot of history and lots of factoids about the falls that some find interesting: the amount of water that tumbles over (100.000 cubic feet per second); the Falls as the "neck" (in Mohawk, "Niagara" -- sort of, at least that's how the spelling came down) that comes between and connects Lake Erie and Lake Ontario; the power generation -- off the hook--and the hundreds and probably thousands of people who have lost their lives trying to roll over, walk over, or ride down the falls. But all of this is just background. What I experienced in the presence of the Falls was a kind of sacred vacuum, like the eye of a hurricane; a sense that the whole world was tilted to this one locus, and that it existed to remind us that there is a power greater than anything we can possibly imagine. In that sense, Niagara Falls is a type of natural icon, and an icon, in it's traditional sense, provides a glimpse into the mind of the creator God, the Source of all that is. I got that glimpse, fleeting as it is, at the Falls.
Of course, Niagara Falls isn't God, and is but a speck compared to that transcendent Power, but in its presence we can experience a taste of that Power, of how there always is something greater than the greatest things that exist in this world. But sometimes it helps, when we try to imagine the greatness of an Uncreated Force and Being, to experience created things in this world that blow our minds with their immensity -- the immanence that is the flip side of transcendence. They may not be the Thing Itself, which can't be grasped in all Its fullness, but they do point to what greatness can be, to what it can feel like.
I write all this because, as I reflect on my Niagara Falls moment, it all points back to the Quest, the real quest, that we are all on. Here, on this site, we glibly refer to Pizza Quest as a metaphor of the search for meaning, and it is, but it is but a small metaphor that funnels into larger and ever larger metaphors -- and all metaphors in the Quest, ultimately, are images that point to the real goal, our true home and destination, always just out of reach, always about to go over the Falls just as we grab for it.