A few months ago, I went to MOMA to see my favorite paintings, and to eat lunch in the second floor cafeteria. Before being seated, I am always asked if I prefer a stool in the back, near the windows, or a chair next to a table. I take the table and chair.
I don’t mind not being able to see out a window because I’d rather watch the comings and goings of the diners. The cafeteria hosts a lot of out-of-towners, foreigners, and a third group, museum regulars, who don’t need menus. They generally order the same lunch over and over again.
Count me in this last group. I always order the prosciutto panini and coffee (which comes with limitless refills). My order never changes but the panini has. Back when, say ten years ago, it was a whole slice of bread including the crust. Then, about four years ago, the panini lost its crust. Losing its perimeter made it smaller and less sandwichlike.
Then, last year, the restaurant cutback on the size of the bread slice, and to confuse matters even more, dropped the word “prosciutto” from the menu. Now it is called “panini with ham.” The good news is that it tastes just about the same.
Being easily offended, I considered making a fuss. Fortunately, I was able to avoid a nasty confrontation when the restaurant manager, newly hired, asked me if I was happy with my lunch. Seizing the opportunity, I recited the unhappy story of the diminishing panini, and advised him that regular customers would see the new panini, at its slightly higher price, as a rip-off. I politely suggested that he increase the size of the bread slice, and add back the crust.
The manager listened very attentively. He seemed surprised that anyone could remember back so far into “panini history.” Ten years, for a twenty-something year old, is almost half a lifetime.
Dining again a month later, I was surprised to see that the panini had grown in area. The crust was still absent but the bread slice had a greater girth. I concluded that my insistence had made an impression on the young manager, and had altered the cafeteria’s food policy.
After a lifetime of struggle making art, I can say that success, recognition by MOMA, tastes a lot like a prosciutto panini.