Dante’s Pizzeria, the Doc’s take: Satan and psychotherapy.

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“I’m a sucker for a good theme restaurant,” enthused the Maestro as I snapped a picture of the front signage of Dante’s Pizzeria in Logan Square.

And it must be said, as far as theme restaurants go, Dante’s pretty much had both me and the Maestro covered: I’m all in for themes regarding old-school heaven and hell; and he’s all in for ancient Italian poetry. Though I suppose it might also be noted that “hot fresh pizza” is pretty much the only real theme necessary to capture both my and his interest, in the end.

Dante’s is a ground-floor joint located on Milwaukee Avenue in Logan Square. It specializes in New York-style slices, floppy and foldable, and very much feels like a neighborhood place. The color palate is red and dark wood, and they advertise their slices and alcohols of the day on a chalkboard behind the bar.

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As far as I’m concerned, however, what really adds to Dante’s gestalt is the wall decor. The place is full of nods to its poetic namesake, Dante’s Inferno. I’m not overly familiar with this particular work; though I did, coincidentally, stumble across an allusion to it last week while watching a BBC documentary titled “How the Devil Got His Horns”. The doc traces humankind’s conception of what Satan looks like and how he does his job in the cosmos, starting with his Biblical roots in Genesis and Job and winding through Dante’s Inferno and the extraordinary epic poem “Paradise Lost”.

As the Maestro and I discussed during this pizza outing– because what else are you going to talk about while having pizza in a hell-themed pizzeria?– I don’t think the story of the fall of Lucifer and his transformation into the Satan who torments us even today (yup, I actually believe that, by the by) is in the Bible. At least, I haven’t yet run across it in my year-long reading of the Old and New Testaments. It’s my impression that Satan’s celebrated appearance in Genesis is actually kind of ambiguous regarding whether the snake that tempts Eve actually is Lucifer-cum-Satan; and the next time I can remember encountering Satan in the Old Testament, he’s hanging out with God and the angels in the book of Job, kind of trolling God vis a vis Job’s faithfulness. But it’s my understanding that the classic story Lucifer’s fall and his subsequent reign as the Prince of Hell, even though it’s most completely and elegantly laid out in “Paradise Lost,” actually has its origins in Dante’s work that describes, circle by circle, torment by torment, the layout of Hell itself– and what kinds of villains are likely to inhabit each miserable level.

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Anyway, the walls of Dante’s Pizzeria are full of evocative images like the mural of a three-faced Satan, who, in addition to presiding over torments and tortures that the Maestro said were fairly accurate to the Dante poem, is also snarfing pizza.

There is also an image that looked, at first glance, like a Satanic or pagan mark, but which, upon closer inspection, actually seems to include both Semitic and Christian iconography (the Star of David and the Alpha and Omega symbols, respectively):

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Next to this you’ll notice a pizza board on display into which is etched a Pentagram, “666” (the “mark of the Beast” in the book of Revelation, which is often associated with Satan), and a serpent (an ostensible allusion to Satan’s role in the Garden of Eden snafu).

Chuck E. Cheese, this is not.

The pizza was pretty good. Both the Maestro and I were on a schedule, so instead of waiting for a specialty pie to be prepared, we ordered slices of pepperoni and tomato garlic basil, which were ready made. The pizza was basic, but basically good– oversized, typical floppy-but-crunchy-enough New York slices that you either have to fold or cut in order to eat. It didn’t blow my mind, but it was quite serviceable. It’s no frills, neighborhood pizza– and I mean that in a good way.

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Conversation revolved around, among other things, my ongoing measures to hold my patients accountable for their progress in therapy, while at the same time holding myself accountable for my role in their success. The Maestro seemed skeptical of my desire to somehow concoct a payment system whereby patient and therapist contract with each other for a set time period (six months, say) and place payment for that time period in escrow; with the therapist only getting paid in increments once the patient achieves certain steppingstone goals laid out in their treatment plan. I like the idea of it being a challenge for the therapist to “unlock” their wages by putting together the motivational puzzle posed by each patient. The Maestro seems to think this might encourage patients to sandbag their own progress to keep their money from disbursing. I have to admit, he kind of has a point. This concept needs more development.

I have no complaints about Dante’s. The memorable decor and local feel make it a place I’d definitely return to, possibly to sample some of their ancient poetry inspired specialty pies. I don’t think Dante’s pizza is as crave-worthy as Bebu last week, but it was a solid outing to discuss Satan and the economics of psychotherapy.

Also, if you haven’t, go read “Paradise Lost.” It’s really, really good.

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