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Remembering Emilios
CONTINUE EMILIO'S 

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A few months ago Dave Balkin got a digital camera . For no particular reason, he started shooting portraits of customers at Emilio's during lunch. The camera doesn't require film. Before long he had over 100 images on his hard-drive. The images are huge, almost a megabyte each. But Dave's computer has a 15 gig harddrive, enough to hold 15,000 oversized photos. Then Dave got a color printer for $99 and began making 8 X10 prints of these portraits that, thanks to modern technology, look fabulous. Dave figures it costs about a dollar to print each one.

"It’s just fun," Dave says about his latest hobby. "I suggested Emilio might want to give the photos to people who came in the store. My goal is to take a picture of everybody, then maybe take a picture of everybody in Portsmouth."

Emilio hung the pictures all around the tiny store wherever an unused speck of wall space could be found. Some people took their pictures home, but most wanted theirs to remain in the growing gallery of patrons, like members of a very exclusive club. An iconoclast to the marrow, Emilio just couldn’t resist creating his own version of the photo project.

"This one guy said to me – Hey Emilio! Who are all these people on the wall? – And I looked at him and I said – These are all the people who owe me money!"

He laughs a hearty Emilio laugh and, as another customer comes in, he tells the story again. A running gag can last for months here. I suggested that Dave’s photo gallery will someday be a precious artifact, a detailed colorful record of life in the city’s last Italian grocery store. The giant photos are dense with detail. Seen full-sized they reveal every item on the shelves – boxes of Amaretti di Saronno, colorful bottles of vinegar and oil, imported olives, canned plum tomatoes, artichokes, dried mushrooms, bitter European drinks, pasta in every shape, strange and wonderful utensils, garlic presses, ceramic dishware amid candies with odd sounding names.

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It’s all recorded digitally now for posterity, and the picture taking still goes on. Don’t ask me why, but these photos are a comfort. Long after the smells and sounds fade, we’ll have them.

Dave has taken pictures of Emilio behind his wooden counter against the hulking head-high deli case and beside the giant scale and shiny slicing machine. There are shots in the back kitchen with the ancient stove amid the worn pots and pans.

"Someday," I said to Emilio as he threatened another vacation, "a hundred years from now, a cyber archeologist will discover a cache of Dave Balkin’s computer photos. Professors will analyze them and Strawbery Banke will spend a million dollars rebuilding this room exactly as it is – right down to the labels on the cans. Tourists will stream through to see a perfectly reconstructed wax copy of Emilio. You will be immortal!"

"I could use the money now," Emilio says unimpressed, lifting the wax paper off a stack of square slices of cold pizza. "How about a pizza with lentils and spicy beef?"

"I don’t like spicy beef," I say. We’ve had this discussion before. "I never get spicy beef. In 20 years have you ever seen me eat spicy beef?"

"C’mon," Emilio insists for the thousandth time, "It’s good. You’ll like it."

 

Copyright © 2002 by J. Dennis Robinson. All rights reserved. Photos by J. Dennis Robinson / SeacoastNH.com.

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