A couple of weeks ago I presented a demo on gluten-free baking at the annual Professional Association of International Innkeepers Conference (PAII for short). This year the conference was held in Little Rock, Arkansas and I had a wonderful time hanging out with people who really get the spirit of hospitality. Let's face it, to own a bed & breakfast inn or small lodge, as the attendees do, you don't do it to get rich, which everyone knows is not going to happen, but for the intrinsic rewards of serving others and facilitating their guests' relaxation, regeneration, and vacation plans. It's really hard work, often thankless, but sometimes a gracious guest gives back to the inn keeper the one thing that makes it worthwhile: sincere gratitude. I've been appearing at these conferences over the years and often see the same people as well as newer members who come to the conference to share knowledge, learn how to control costs and improve marketing, and to find new products to give their inns that little extra something that allows it to separate itself from the pack and elicit return visits from the guests. Sounds a lot like the pizzeria operators we've been featuring here on Pizza Quest, and I thought about this similarity often during the two days I was at the conference.
The last time I appeared at the PAII conference it was being held in Atlanta during the same week that Veraasano's Pizzeria opened, but before Pizza Quest had officially been born. I called Jeff Varasano to tell him I was in town and he was generous enough to invite me to his Friends, Family, and Press Opening event. The pizza was wonderful and I sensed the buzz of excitement and anticipation that everyone on Jeff's staff held (for those who don't know about Jeff Varasano, he had one of the most famous, viral pizza blog postings ever, a number of years ago, claiming that he could make a better pizza at home than most pizzerias. He gave out his dough recipe and techniques, and was visited by hundreds of thousands of hits. A few years later he actually opened Varasano's Pizzeria and the game was on! For all of the back story and some great pizza photos check out his website at www.varasanos.com/PizzaRecipe.htm or do a Google search of the videos and all the press he has generated). My point is that there is a parallel between the pizza passion that we've been tracking here, in people like Jeff, and the passion that drives innkeepers to work so hard to extend themselves beyond exhaustion just to bring joy to others. We talk about the "fire in the belly" and that's what we keep questing for, an understanding of what that is and what drives it, and now we can add another metaphor to the growing list of artisans, which an innkeeper is in a unique way, that signifies this elusive quality.
One of the fun activities at the conference was an evening at The Clinton Center, which is the Presidential Library and archival museum of Bill Clinton. I didn't know what to expect, having never been to a Presidential Library before, so I was deeply impressed by what I saw. Lots of great video material, journals, re-creations of the Oval Office and other rooms in the White House, great art and also a collection of the many diplomatic gifts he received from famous visitors. There is also an ongoing cycle of installations dedicated to celebrating local or contemporary artists. The latest exhibit is a collection of pieces made exclusively of Lego Bricks (don't laugh -- these pieces were breathtaking, as you can see from some of the photos I took. I especially liked the one of President Clinton's head, with little Lego men climbing out of the top!).
Again, one of the things that made a big impression on me was the passion of the man, President Clinton, that drove him to participate in and create a number of historic moments and to affect the world. Whether you agree with his politics (or morals and questionable behaviors), there is no question, as you follow the archival narrative on display throughout the building, that he too had, and still has, a fire in his belly and a passion to change the world, to leave it better than he found it, and to wade in where angels fear to tread. Of course, there are many such men and women with this benevolent, philanthropic, and transformational vision for themselves, but it was exhausting and humbling to see what one man (and one woman, because it was clear that Hillary was a full partner in their work) could accomplish, regardless of the personal price.
This isn't a political website, it's a pizza site (and I saw a few photos on the Clinton walls where pizza played a role, though not as big a role as barbecue), so I'm not promoting anything except this: the common ground we all share -- those who read these postings and watch our videos as well as those who are featured in them -- is that we have an intuition that life and existence has a purpose and can, in rare moments, express itself in meaningful, satisfying, and fulfilling ways. These moments are elusive, we can't manufacture them at will, we can only willingly pursue them and then hope for a taste of grace that scratches the deep itch we yearn to quench. But even when we do scratch it becomes elusive again and, once more, we're back on the quest. One of the things that keep us going in our quests is when we meet others who are on theirs and who show us (and not just tell us) that it really is worth it. This, my fellow questers, is what we celebrate.