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Consider the Cannoli: Subjective Preferences and Conversations about Geek Media

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
1. The Great Wave of Ricotta.

I often think about cannoli. They occupy my thoughts, bedevil my dreams. Not because I love them, or obsess about them. Nor because the eating of a cannoli opens my mind to a Proust-like reverie. Instead, it's because of my bewilderment and bafflement. There are so many amazing desserts, so many worthy pastries, yet the cannoli has spread like the cicada across our land; and, like the cicada, people constantly talk about eating them, and how they are crunchy, yet ... I find the cicada and cannoli equally appetizing.

Wait, did I put the cart before the horse? What is cannoli? Canonically (cannolionically?), the true cannoli is a fried pastry dough. Within this fried dough in the form of a tube, a sweet filling based on cheese (usually ricotta) is put in. On occasion, you will see the cannoli dolled up with other accoutrements to hide the banality of its existence- chocolate chips here, pistachios there. Sometimes, you will see variations of it- "Look, ma, I stuff my tube with chocolate!" But for my purposes, I am discussing the platonic ideal of the cannoli.


2. Fine Pastry, Clear Morning.

The cannoli conundrum first reared its head when I was in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for some time. Previously, I had partaken of the cannoli, and had observed them to be, at best, unexceptional, and at worst, terrible. Much like most pastries made in America. Yet now I was hearing this continual refrain- "You have to try the cannoli in the North End. It will change your life. It is the best cannoli."

So on I went, trying these various cannoli, over the course of several weeks, from all of the places in the North End. Each time, I expected that moment. That eureka. That lightbulb. That understanding. I wanted to love the cannoli. But the epiphany never happened. I understood that the cannoli I had here was better than that of other places. I timed it to try and get it fresher. But the fundamental nature of the cannoli continued to make it ... fine. Even the best, freshest, North End cannoli was ... fine. I could appreciate the shell, I could appreciate the filling, and I would just think, "This just isn't a great concept for a pastry. This isn't even as good as a mediocre profiterole."


3. Thunderstorm Beneath Pellegrino

Of course, maybe the problem wasn't the cannoli, maybe the problem was the North End cannoli. I quested, looking high and low to find a cannoli that measured up to some mythical, platonic ideal of what cannoli should be; importantly, perhaps the cannoli would be something I enjoyed! If so many people love cannoli, then I must be the one who does not understand the alluring appeal, so I need to locate that perfect cannoli.

After the North End cannoli, I was told that there was another place in Boston that had even better cannoli. It didn't. Then I was told that, by the people in the know, that the only good place to go was Federal Hill in Providence, because the mob doesn't suffer bad cannoli. Apparently, the mafia didn't get that memo- the cannoli wasn't good. I tried cannoli throughout the United States, and was disappointed. I even tried cannoli when I was in Italy, going so far as to sample the cannoli in Sicily. Those were, by far, the best cannoli I had. They were pretty, pretty, pretty ... okay. The best cannoli was ... fine.


4. Under Mannen Bridge Eating Dessert

For a long time, I did not know how to process this cannoli issue. I still remember those times in that Commonwealth, when people would come to visit, and they would ask me... "What should we do?" And I would reply, "Why, we should go to the North End, because they have the best cannoli!" And the entire time I said that, a part of me was screaming inside. I didn't like, or want, the cannoli. They aren't good. What is this weird group-think that makes everyone go and get it? Yet I couldn't stop myself from repeating what everyone knew. I lacked that confidence in my own taste.

One day, I talked about it with friends. I finally voiced that nagging fear that had been with me the entire time. "Hey, um, so, you know what? I think .... I think cannoli are overrated." And I got the immediate reply, "No way! That's impossible! That's .... that's .... that's like saying No-mah will get traded." Yes, the irony is not lost on me. But in addition to the pushback, there was a knowing look in many eyes, and agreement. Turns out that quite a few people also didn't like cannoli. As one of my friends said, "Thank god you said it. I'd rather have Dunkies any day than another fakkin' North End cannoli."


5. Cushion Pine with Tiramisu

So it goes. I know, deep down, that even the best cannoli will never be something I truly enjoy. That the cult of cannoli is something that, to me, is overhyped and overrated- the crunchy fried shell and soft filling is simply a bad form for a pastry. Best of all, I know that when I can express this opinion, there will be those that finally can recognize that same feeling that has gone unvoiced for so long deep within themselves. You don't have to go with the flow. You don't have to unthinkingly accept the dire hegemony of the cannoli.

Of course, when I voice my opinion about the dread cannoli, there will always be that guy. That guy has heard what I said, but he knows my preferences better than I do. So, inevitably, I will hear about some supposed real best cannoli. Some place has it- a mom & pop restaurant, a modern patisserie started by a celebrity chef, a hole-in-the-wall bodega that specializes in tacos, pho, and cannoli ... some place. And he knows, he just knows, that if I have this particular cannoli, it will change my opinion. And do you know what? I smile, and nod, and then I go and give it a try, because I'm Charlie Brown, and cannoli is Lucy with the football, and that disappointment is part of my life cycle. Besides, I have to honor the chutzpah of someone who hears my cannoli tale and thinks to themselves, "Hey, he just needs a better cannoli!"


6. A sketch of the Sprinkles shop in Suruga in Edo

Some people are all into cupcakes. Screw 'em.


7. Tea House at Koishikawa. The morning after a Netflix Binge.

All of this, of course, goes back to the strong concepts I have long harbored regarding the subjective appreciation a person can have for art. On this forum, it is most apparent when discussing geek media (and, for that matter, D&D, but that's neither here nor there). There are objective things ... facts .... that can be discussed; the names of Star Trek Captains. The director of Empire Strikes Back. But art will affect each of us differently. In fact, sometimes art will hit us differently depending on when we view it.

There are things that I loved as a kid, or as a teen, or as a young adult, that I no longer have the same affection for. There are things that I love now that I would not have loved then. There are preference that I have regarding my media that are important to me, that may not be important to other people.

That said, there is a genuine joy in discussing these topics with other people who share that passion. I like to share the aspects of the things I like, and that I don't; not in the hope that people will always agree with my personal preferences, but rather in the desire that the conversation that ensues is interesting. Is Season ....6 ... of Buffy the best, or at least on par with season 3? Is the Leftovers the best Science Fiction show of the past seven years? If I said the OA might be "in the conversation" with the Leftovers, would I be too crazy, or not crazy enough? If I said I was both giddy with anticipation and dreading the upcoming Dune, because I keep thinking that Denis Villeneuve's movies are visually amazing and yet pretentiously hollow, does that make me too wrong, or too right? I don't know. It's all about preferences.

Like the cannoli. It's a terribly overrated pastry. And yet, assuming they aren't lying to me to keep me consuming something I am not enjoying, some people like 'em ... even love them. Good taste is the excuse I have used for leading a bad life, but I always have to keep myself open to the possibility that Sully, in his Bruins Jersey, still crying over the loss of Tom Brady, clutching his Sam Adams in one hand and his Bova's cannoli in the other ... knows more about pastries than I ever will.
 
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payn

Hero
Replace Cannoli with Poutine and you have my version of this experience. I have had the epiphany experience before. I used to think grits were gross (they usually are in Yankee country) then I had real southern grits at a restaurant and it changed everything. So I am a believer that everything can be good, or even great, but you gotta go where they are prepared best. Except Poutine and Rose wine, those just plain suck. Everybody has their grits and they also have their poutine.
 

billd91

Hobbit on Quest (he/him)
I can not participate too much, I have only had cannoli from the range of It's Ok, to It's pretty Good. Never terrible, Never Great. But what other desert is attached to such an iconic line as:

"Leave the gun, take the cannoli" from the Godfather
Iconic and ad-libbed line. It was originally supposed to just be "Leave the gun" but Richard Castellano inhabited his character Fat Clemenza very well, indicating both his priorities and how blasé offing someone was in his world.
 

Janx

Hero
This is great, and the key difference in this piece is that you didn't stupidly say Cannoli isn't Dessert.

You don't like Cannoli. Got it. I'm not big on them either.

You also didn't gripe about this one special ingredient cannoli some guy said he was gonna make, but his place got shut down and it never happened, and in the ensuing years, the guy went on to make more cannoli, but none had that ingredient
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
You also didn't gripe about this one special ingredient cannoli some guy said he was gonna make, but his place got shut down and it never happened, and in the ensuing years, the guy went on to make more cannoli, but none had that ingredient

"You can't make the bagels right without the New York water."
 


Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
"And yet, assuming they aren't lying to me to keep me consuming something I am not enjoying"

You foolishly underestimate the reach and deviousness of the Cannolimati.

At this point, I am fairly certain that not only was Big Cannoli responsible for the assassination of JFK, the so-called ad lib in the Godfather, the fluoridation of the water supply, and the recent grounding of Ever Given in the Suez, but I can guarantee you that the consumption of sweetened ricotta cheese as a pastry filling leads to dropped "R's" and a weird, nearly sexual affection for Dunkies coffee.
 



Blue Orange

Adventurer
"You can't make the bagels right without the New York water."

Apparently it's not the water but leaving them to ferment overnight and boiling them before baking.
 





Mallus

Legend
You almost went full David Foster Wallace, @Snarf Zagyg. Never go full David Foster Wallace. Look how that turned out for David Foster Wallace...

Some unsolicited advice: if you should ever find yourself in Philadelphia, do not share your opinion of cannoli. Dissing cannoli risks bodily harm. Bodily harm is a tradition is a tradition here. Look, we beat the stuffing out of that poor hitch-hiking robot, and it wasn't even capable of feeling pain.

If you do end up in Philly and feel like tilting again at a certain Italian pastry-shaped windmill, try Isgro's on Christian Street (or Termini's in Reading Market - which is a touristy place but still frequented by locals).

You're absolutely right in that art's a relationship. It matters where you are when encounter a work, just as it matter where and when a work comes from. Somewhat recently my wife and I watched Philip Glass's Satyagraha on the Met's nightly pandemic opera stream. We've seen the production before. I listen to it occasionally. But that night, the Satyagraha hit we with a force & clarity that surprised me given that a) I'm familiar with it and b) its almost three hours of repetitive minimalist music sung in language no one speaks anymore, without supertitles. It was revelatory.
 


Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
You're absolutely right in that art's a relationship. It matters where you are when encounter a work, just as it matter where and when a work comes from.

And we can now insert the words "palate" and "taste" (as in, "there is no accounting for...") into the discussion, only semi-ironically.
 

dragoner

Dying in Chargen
Ironically, despite having been born and raised in NYC I never liked bagels, so I can't comment.
When I moved back to the US, it was NYC, and my first job was at a bagel bakery, where I could take home bags of the day olds. It helped feed us all in our crummy little Bowery apartment, but I don't think I have ever really enjoyed a bagel since.
 

MarkB

Legend
This is great, and the key difference in this piece is that you didn't stupidly say Cannoli isn't Dessert.
He did declare the entire concept of fried pastry with a soft filling to be fundamentally flawed, though. Which, as someone who has never experienced cannoli, but has risked many a burned tongue on a fast food fried apple pie, I take issue with.
 

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