Steven Bloom's father started the Collin Street Bakery fruitcake tradition for Steven and his brother when the two were college students more than thirty years ago. The brothers, starved for something that tasted delicious and not institutional, pounced on their respective cakes the minute the packages arrived. Knowing their roommates would do the same given the chance, they had to find some impregnable hiding places for the fruitcakes in between gobblings. "I'd like to think the need to find a secure hiding place to sequester the fruitcake was partly attributable to my missing so many classes," says Steven.
His father continued the tradition when Steven graduated, married, and moved to New York City with his family. "Over the years," says Steven, "as I dealt with life's ever-changing dynamics, several constants remained in my life: weekly telephone calls to my family, going home to upstate New York for the holidays, summer vacations, and the eagerly anticipated, annual Collin Street Bakery fruitcake."
But in 1988, Steven's work took him to Rome, and he figured that would be the end of finding the familiar red tin in the mail, courtesy of his father. Italy was half a world away, FedEx International was in its infancy, and the Roman lifestyle was a whole other world from the get-it-done-now pace of New York City. "I felt fortunate to have the opportunity to live and work in the Eternal City," says Steven. "But there were times when the slow pace of life in Rome could become frustrating. I occasionally suggested that the sobriquet 'Eternal City' had been bequeathed to Rome because it took so long to get things done."
Like getting the mail.
Sending mail from the U.S. to Rome in those days was not for the faint of heart. Rome often functioned in spite of its institutions, rather than because of them, the postal system being no exception. In the days before faxes and e-mails, some U.S. organizations were even known to send their important correspondence to Rome via diplomatic pouch, so uncertain were the mail deliveries.
So by the time the little yellow slip appeared in the Bloom's mailbox one hot day in July the following year, announcing a parcel was waiting for them at the post office, Steven barely missed a beat. He simply wasn't expecting anything. But he went down to the local post office branch anyway, only to be told the package had been sent to the central post office in Rome.
Steven weighed the situation: a 45-minute trip, in a non-air-conditioned bus, in 90-degree heat, to a bad neighborhood. He considered chucking the idea and little yellow slip, but then curiosity overcame the dread and off he went.
"The central post office in Rome is only slightly smaller that the state of Rhode Island and, arguably, just a bit more organized." Steven jokes. It was a maze of delivery trucks from all over Europe, a mass of loading docks, and a muddle of millions of pieces of mail. He clutched his by-now soggy yellow slip, sweating past dock after dock of mail (the building was also not air-conditioned), boggled by the sheer scale of the place. "The space could easily accomodate a Boeing 747 with sufficient room remaining for a three-ring-circus," says Steven.
In the midst of this Fellini-esque scene, he came across a group of postal workers playing cards. Steven handed one of them the soggy yellow wad that was once a delivery slip and watched increduously as the man took stock of the million or so pieces of mail, headed for a shelf, pulled down a package, and placed in Steven's hand the package from his father containing the Collin Street Bakery fruitcake, now eight months old.
Steven's shock of delight at getting his 1988 Christmas fruitcake played itself out again when he rushed it home (well, rushed by Roman standards) and opened the tin. "It tasted just fine," he says.
And so it is that in the Eternal City, hopes of getting the mail can spring eternal. The chain of a cherished tradition Steven's father had begun in a dorm room and continued through a lifetime remained unbroken. Sometimes you just have to wait a little longer for the next link to appear.