Friday, December 16, 2011

beyond the bubble

We’re definitely not in Bra anymore.

I’ve heard this song no fewer than four times since I returned to Baltimore less than 48 hours ago. In that time I’ve also:

1. Worked out on my spin bike while watching LOTR.

2. Huffed and puffed and wondered how the hell this was my daily exercise, once upon a time.

3. Got a Twiggy-esque hair-cut.

4. Winced at the cruel irony of its juxtaposition with my non-Twiggy-esque frame.

5. Received a new winter wardrobe featuring exclusively stretchy waistbands. Thanks, Mom.

I’ve been away from home for seven months, and during that time I’ve met new people, traveled, laughed and ate and studied and ate some more. My old life as a waitress in Baltimore couldn’t seem more far removed from my new life as a professional eater/student/bon-vivant in Bra.

I felt like Rip Van Winkle after waking up from a long night’s sleep yesterday. What is this new yet strangely familiar land I find myself in, where people buy olive oil in clear glass bottles and don’t stop and smell anything and everything? And why are there so many full-length mirrors? Were all the memories of feasts and travels a figment of my imagination?

But no. The place may still be the same, but I’ve changed (and not only physically.) I’ve moved beyond the bubble. Though this isn't quite the "real world" adults keep referring to, it's definitely a preview. And that may or may not be freaking me out.

I'm off to Georgetown today to meet my cousin for our annual rendezvous. While I've been complaining about the unpleasantries of too much foie gras, she's been working with children in the landfills of Nicaragua. Hopefully I'll find some good vintage threads and a better dose of perspective.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

what I ate & learned

lardo di Colonnata on pane calabresebistecca panzanese (from the infamous & crazy Dario Cecchini) – leftover steak sandwich – what to do when you think you have nothing left and want to curl up in the fetal position and cry.

(compliments to Laura for the photos. But seriously, stop taking pictures of me stuffing my face.)

Monday, November 21, 2011

thieves & thanks

On Friday night, my bike was stolen.

I was devastated. We had been through a lot, Tealk* and I. By “a lot” I mostly mean the hill from Pollenzo to Bra. But there was that one time I biked to Barolo, and then another when I biked to Roddi to steal figs for a pie. Aahh, the good old days.

But it was more than just a bike, and more than a means to escape the clusterfuck of the claustrophobic bus ride to school. From June until last Friday I biked every day to school through the farmlands of the Langhe. Though the clear mornings when you could see every ridge of the Alps were rare, every day you could see what was just sprouting or ripening or at its peak. Eating seasonally became that much easier and enjoyable with such potent visual cues.

And as long as I’m waxing nostalgic and hyperbolic…

It’s like the film The Bicycle Thief. Except that instead of representing the ability to support my family in war-torn Rome, my bike was the only the means by which I could hope to fit into my jeans again. So yea, perfect analogy.

I suppose I am to blame, at least in part. I did lock my bike outside a rowdy** bar late at night. And I know, I know: Who bikes to a bar? The thing is, I was just planning on staying for a little, and then one thing led to another and suddenly I was in no condition to bike home. (I actually had every intention to bike home, but I couldn’t find the key to my lock.) So I left Tealk behind, knowing that it would still be there in the morning. Because I live in Bra, and you can do that.

Fast forward to the following afternoon, when I find the key to the lock…easily visible in my purse - oh! cruel, cruel irony! - and head back to town…to find a broken lock, and nothing more. I walked dejectedly à la Charlie Brown all the way home, fighting the tears and thinking, does this mean I’ll have to take up running?

Before I could convince anyone to go on a Tarantino-esque search for Tealk and the doucher who stole it (and left the lock!), my generous roommate offered me her bike. A sigh of relief.

Thankfully my biking capabilities have been restored just in time for my perfected Tartine bread and olio nuovo - which I’ve been consuming in obscene quantities – and a trip to the land of foie gras…France! (Toulouse, to be more specific.)

Bummed by the lack of enthusiasm for Thanksgiving in Bra, five friends and I have planned a long weekend in southwestern France. Our agenda includes: Armagnac tastings, visiting a foie gras producer***, playing in my friend’s castle, French wine, our own Thanksgiving feast, and more French wine (it’s my birthday!)

As expected, one week after stage and I’ve already forgotten my breakdown (as featured in my last post.)

So bust out the spanx, it’s time to give thanks!

* The maker of my bike was “Stargate.” If you understand the reference you should take a long, hard look in the mirror. And then move out of your mom’s basement.

** As rowdy as bars can get in Bra, which is to say not rowdy at all. Actually quite tame and sad.

*** Good idea? Bad idea? Ignorance is bliss…? Maybe it’s better to not eat foie gras?****

**** Did I really just write that?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are.

Ok. I’ll bite.

Tortelli di zucca. Pappa al pomodoro. Bread (sans salt.) Crostini con: cavolo nero + lardo; burristo + quail egg; pomodoro + aglio. Pork loin. Lamb shank. Capon. Chestnuts in ricotta, pasta, dessert, beer. Olio nuovo on anything and everything. More bread (still no salt.) Pecorino (fresco e stagionato.) Salumi. Acqua cotta.* Shall I continue? (All washed down with sangiovese as its meant to be: gulpable and never-ending.)

Dis-donc, Jean. What does that make me? Foodie? Hedonist? Gastronome? Glutton? Fat-ass? Which is the least obnoxious of these terms?

Gastronomic blasphemy be damned. I have some choice words for you, Mr. B-S:

Fuck you.

What if I want to be more than just the sum of all my (squishy body) parts?

The purpose of this program is to give students an understanding of food in all its facets. Food is everywhere and all-encompassing and all-important, an idea which has been regularly drilled into our heads. (Ironically, by coming to this school you are almost definitely already drinking that kool-aid from the start.)

But what if food is too all-encompassing? What if it’s all I do/think about/talk about/rhyme and dance about? (Yes, we made a “sausage-making” and “lardo production” dance. Do you get the severity of the situation?)

But without food, what am I? Surely I must have other interests…?

Clothes are cool. Too bad mine don’t fit anymore.

I used to play sports. As a kid I played piano. I enjoy movies and long walks on the beach?

…So what are the kids talking about these days? What do “normal” people do?

Do I just need new friends? People who are more familiar with this concept of “moderation” that I keep hearing about?

Is lardo di Julia just an occupational hazard of this program? Or an indication of being good at life? If everything I’m putting into my body is so good, how can this be bad?**

My mind reeled with these questions while my stomach churned from the multiple multi-course meals on our latest stage in Tuscany. I didn’t want to post this. Nobody wants to hear about (fat) white people problems. But I felt the need to write something - however hyperbolic and whiny - if only to get it out of my system. Take a deep breath. Move on.

…to the next meal.

*Am I about to be haunted by ghosts of Tuscan peasants past? Isn’t it an oxymoron to have decadent meals based on the quintessential cucina povera? It means ‘cooked water,’ for fuck’s sake!

** Compliments are in order: Katie, Kathryn, Johan.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

there & back again

So the thing is, I came to food school for the vertical Barolo tastings, not to learn the optimal environment of a sensory analysis lab (self-evident much?) Since I’ve already done the former and don’t feel like doing the latter, I guess I should write about my summer vacation. When I first returned to Bra several weeks ago, I sat down, told myself to get it on paper while it was still fresh in my mind, and wrote the following:

It was a summer of foraging and remembering, of sticky grape juice up to my knees and pig feed caked onto my skin, of planes and trains and automobiles and hikes and bike rides, of familiar faces and new characters. It was a summer of bread and pie, figs with Roquefort and marinated sardines with mascarpone. It was a summer of heat and sweat, decadence and dirt, swims and the sea. It was a summer of primitivo and prosecco, gamay and sangiovese and rosé. It was a summer of laughter and discovery, of generosity and conviviality, of recognizing that though I may not know what I want to do, I definitely know how I want to live.

And that was as far as I got.

I realize that my proclivity for laundry-lists-of-things-I-ate really doesn’t do justice to the range of experiences and emotions of my six weeks fuori di Bra. It’s also bad and lazy writing. (Side note: my first idea was to write an “Alphabet of Summer 2011” along the lines of “A is for Auberge de la Môle! B is for blackberries and Beaujolais!” Then I remembered that I’m not MFK Fisher.)

I suppose it’s the combination of the intensity of the experience and the infrequency of my writing that makes me feel the need to condense everything into one post. But in this case I think it’s best to address the two legs of my break separately: first there was Italy, and then there was France. (If I never get around to writing about France, I’ll sum it up in one sentence – I crushed grapes with my feet and ate a bloody filet topped with foie gras and truffle cream. Go ahead and re-read that last part. Now wipe the drool off your chin.)

I spent my first two weeks as a wwoofer (a “Willing Worker On an Organic Farm”, not to be confused with illegal migrant labour) at Tenuta di Spannocchia, where I spent three months last fall as an intern. I was one-third of a stellar Tutto-Fare team, meaning I worked primarily in the vineyards, cellar, and olive groves. Not to brag, but I make overalls, flannel, and a bandana look good.

But I digress.

Memories are a strange thing: never fixed and static, they change every time we access them – either voluntarily as when reminiscing with friends, or involuntarily as when provoked by a flavour from our past. Do we distort our memories by accessing them too frequently and consequently romanticize the past at our own peril? Sometimes. Do we neglect them and allow them to fade, and then are never again fully able to conjure the memory in its entirety? What is more important, the actual experience or how we remember it? Is this a false choice? Where am I even going with this?

As my first extended time back at the farm, these sorts of questions ran through my mind on my train ride to Siena. Sure, the place would still be more or less the same, but many of the people that are inextricably tied to my memories would not be there. And what if Angelo – my singing supervisor – didn’t remember me?

On my first day of work Angelo arrived in style – donning his signature royal blue sweater with his head cocked to the side – to the morning meeting, and after his enthusiastic Giulia chi scrive bene! I breathed a sigh of relief. This place made an impression on me, and I (or my penmanship) made some sort of impression on him. Phew.

Between sipping sangiovese on my sunset perch, gossip-filled power walks, and good eatin’, it was strangely wonderful how easy it was to slip back into that pace and to collectively reminisce. While talking to the new interns I sometimes felt like that guy – the college freshman who drunkenly crashes his high school’s homecoming dance in a pathetic attempt to relive the glory days. But honestly, this summer group was lame, so who cares if I not-so-soberly yelled at them for not knowing what vin santo is. For shame!

Maybe Katie (educational director), Heather/Carrot (fellow intern), and I did talk a bit too much about the good ol’ days, but it felt great to relive those moments and have some details – the ones blurred by time or alcohol - filled in. Being home in Baltimore I felt as though the specifics of my experience had slowly faded away; by the time I was heading back to Italy it seemed I was left with just the essence: what do I remember about Spannocchia? I remember that I was happy.

Calm down, Mom. This is not to say that I’m not happy now, or that I was depressed at home, or anything along those lines. It’s just curious how at one moment you feel you have only those three words to describe a whole three months, and the next you’re describing Paolo’s Halloween dance moves over truffle pizza at Radicondoli.

Of course it wasn’t only about reliving the past, but creating new memories, namely alici marinati and mascarpone. No-cheese-with-seafood! rule be damned, give me toasted bread smothered in mascarpone and marinated sardines! I’ve thrice enjoyed this goodness, and the fact that I just wrote thrice means it’s time to wrap this up and call it a night.

Maybe it’s been the glorious combination of place (either overlooking the sea or watching the sunset over Tuscan hills) and people (almost half of my intern group with some other cool kids to boot) that made that simple snack taste so damn good. Comunque sia, going back to Spannocchia to wwoof, and then again this past weekend for a birthday celebration/farewell to Carrot, made me appreciate even more how powerful that combo can be. Good people in a beautiful place? Sardines and mascarpone? That is how I want to eat, that is how I want to live.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

pie & power

Okso, the thing is I’ve been meaning to write more, but then there was bread. And pie. And chutney. And organic agriculture and papers about organic agriculture. I recently reviewed the paragraph or so I had written about my first two weeks of summer vacation at Spannocchia when I realized that in just a couple days I’ll be having a mini-Spannocchia reunion at Cheese. (That sentence probably only makes sense for my two loyal followers: hi, Mom; yes, I’m still biking. And ciao Katie!)

I’ve fallen behind, as per usual. But seriously, have you seen the peppers at the market? They were just asking to be stewed with pears and apples and non-Italian spices. Actually, they’re so perfectly crisp and sweet, I can eat them as is. Or with bagna cauda. Anyway, the peppers are ridiculous, and somewhere in between late night chutney-jarring sessions and bread experiments I’ve lost track of time. Seriously, mid-September? More importantly, how long do I have to knead the bread in order to get large eyes?

So I’m sort of cheating with this post and pulling yet another copy & paste shenanigan, though this time the credit is all mine (for better or worse.) Our assessment in our Food and Pop Culture class gave us the freedom to analyze food’s role in any piece of pop culture. Sometimes it’s better to have parameters. Any piece of pop culture? Where to start? After break, I thought.

And then at Spannocchia I found my inner I-just-want-to-wear-a-frilly-apron-and-bake-pie all-day feminine self, possibly due in part to the film Waitress. Just as peppers need anchovy-garlic-olive oil goodness, a little/lot of buttery flaky crust doesn’t hurt the late summer fruit abundance. Back in Piemonte, a late afternoon bike ride to a certain town that will remain anonymous town resulted in a discovery of a treasure trove of figs. (Ok, so it was Roddi. I guess figs are pretty much done now, and there’s no use in fancying myself a truffle hunter.) Long story short, I procrastinated on my assignment and made pie instead. Oops.

With the deadline quickly approaching, I was still without any inspiration. While trying to think of which towns’ fruit resources I could next plunder Peter Rabbit-style, it hit me: pie in pop culture. The title “pie & power” came to mind, solely for alliterative purposes; then I thought of what films I had seen to fit that argument. Because that’s how my mind works: force connections where there needn’t be for the sake of a phrase that sounded cool in a sleep-deprived moment of “inspiration.”

So here’s what I came up with. I don’t think it’s my best work by any means. I felt I had to simplify a lot of complex themes and images in order to satisfy a word limit requirement. Also, I wrote it the day before, so I didn’t quite get the chance to figure out what said complex themes and images were. I guess what I’m trying to say is, check out Mildred Pierce and Waitress, make a pie and think it all over, and then let me know what you come up with. That’s what I did.

Of Pie & Power: Portraits of Working Women in Mildred Pierce and Waitress

Nothing says America like apple pie. The arguably universal appeal of pie can be attributed to the delicious simplicity of the crust coupled with the infinite potential for variation: the season, occasion, traditions, or mere whim can influence what filling one chooses. Yet for many Americans, the significance of pie is rooted not in its organoleptic qualities, but in its provocative powers. A freshly baked pie can often conjure strong memories of childhood and nurturing mothers and grandmothers. Proust can keep his madeleines; Americans will have their pie.

But what lies behind the Rockwell-esque images of smiling women and warm pie? What does pie mean to the working American woman? The miniseries Mildred Pierce and film Waitress portray the experience of two women who, though separated by time, social status, and geography, are united by the classic dessert. Both Mildred Pierce and Jenna Hunterson are talented bakers, waitresses, and mothers, yet each uses pie and the craft of cooking in different ways; ultimately, their choices either hinder or enable their own self-realisation.

Mildred Pierce must manage her multiple roles as a mother, partner, and working woman in the 1930s, a challenge made even more difficult after she has thrown her cheating husband out of her house. At a time when it was extremely difficult for men to have steady jobs, Mildred attempts to find secretarial work, a respectable position for a woman of her social class. When no jobs are to be found, she ultimately must make the choice between her “belly and her pride” in order to feed her two young daughters, Veda and Ray. She seizes an opportunity to work as a waitress in what she describes as a “hash house,” a position which alters drastically affects her relationship with her family.

Pride, respectability, and aspirations to social mobility figure prominently in Mildred’s perception of her new job, due in no small part to Veda’s influence. Though her family is a decidedly middle class one living in the suburbs of Los Angeles, Veda carries herself with an aristocratic air, shamelessly deriding the habits and lifestyles of many as “distinctly middle class.” It is no wonder that Mildred hopes to keep her job a secret; the thought of her children knowing their mother wears a uniform and makes tips even makes her vomit. Yet eventually Veda does learn of her mother’s work and confronts her in the first of their many intense arguments: “Aren’t your pies bad enough? Did you have to go and degrade us even more by becoming a waitress?” In an almost spontaneous attempt to justify her choice to her daughter, Mildred explains that she hopes to create something they could all be proud of by opening her own restaurant. It is not enough for her children to have just bread; rather she wants them to have “all the cake in the world.” However, her means of doing so – cooking and selling food – will always be a source of tension.

As a single working woman, Mildred quickly learns the power of food. The series opens with Mildred busily making pies and decorative cakes, which are intended for sale rather than for her children. Though she makes her daughters treats with the leftover dough, they are not the primary intended consumers: Mildred’s baking is her small contribution to the household income, which she must manage as wife and mother. Yet pie is not only a source of income: conversations with her best friend, Lucy, teach Mildred how to use her cooking to get the upper hand in her relationships. By inviting Wally, her husband’s former business partner, over for dinner and preparing him a meal, Mildred is not obligated to have sex with him as she might be were he to pay for her dinner. If she plays her cards right, as Lucy advises, Mildred could soon have Wally in the palm of her hand and paying for her divorce.

Mildred uses her relationship with Wally to set up her own restaurant which specializes in chicken-and-waffle dinners with take-away pies. In planning the restaurant’s theme, Mildred considers food as money: to make a profit in a restaurant, one must cut costs, particularly wasted food. By improving the quality of the pie and giving people what they want – different cuts of chicken rather than the same old piece – Mildred guarantees a steady clientele and immediate success. From the way she runs her establishment, it is clear that the business rather than the art of cooking is first and foremost in Mildred’s mind.

Yet despite the success of her restaurant, Mildred’s job is still a source of shame. When her lover Monty – himself an aristocrat fallen on hard times – describes her restaurant as a “pie wagon,” Mildred becomes furious and accusatory: “You look down on me because I work, you look down on me because I cook food and sell it!” In this way Mildred finds herself trapped by the limitations of her gender. In order to support her family, she took the only job that was available to her; she makes money by cooking, something society generally considers to be the woman’s domain. Yet even when she acquires more authority and money in her role by creating a new and arguably masculine space as the proprietor of multiple restaurants, her work is constantly reduced and derided as a poor woman’s work. Mildred is haunted by such circumstances and the idea that she is only good for her money and her body. But these are not just mere insecurities; rather, the two people she loves and supports financially, Veda and Monty, conspire against her. Monty further fuels Veda’s resentment of her mother by explaining that “a gingham apron is the greatest provocation ever invented by a woman for the torture of men.” Despite her role as provider of her family, Mildred cannot move beyond such simultaneous objectification and disdain.

With time Mildred furthers expands, opening a third restaurant with a seafood and steak theme and even incorporating her business. Her days of baking pies for extra quarters are long gone; she can now order crab, lobster, and caviar for a celebratory dinner. Yet despite her transformation, her relationship with Veda has become more strained. Mildred learns of Veda’s manipulative schemes to exploit wealthy men, sparking another fight which ends in a prolonged separation. Far from being proud of what her mother has created, Veda feels resentment and disgust: with enough money, I can get away from you and your pie wagon and your chickens and everything that smells of grease!

Mildred’s brief reconciliation with Veda is abruptly ended when she discovers that her daughter has been having an affair with her husband, Monty. With her personal life in shambles and her ability to run Mildred Pierce, Inc. challenged, Mildred ultimately returns to Glendale. She has re-married Bart, her first husband, and has given up control of the business which she worked tirelessly to create. Her life seems to have come full circle, yet having lost both her daughters through death and estrangement, Mildred is much worse for wear. Though she had hoped to support her family with food, Mildred is left with only a husband in the suburbs and an uncertain future. As the series ends, the only sure thing Mildred can hope for is a drunken stupor shared with Bart.

Pie takes on a very different meaning when crafted by Jenna Hunterson, the protagonist of Waitress. The importance of baking in Jenna’s life is quite apparent from the film’s opening scene in which she asserts, “I don’t want no baby, I don’t want no trouble, I just want to make pies. That’s all I want to do, make pies.” Unable to escape from her abusive husband, Jenna takes refuge in her imagination to create a new pie for each emotion she experiences, from “I hate my husband” pie to “pregnant miserable self-pitying loser” pie. Her pies allow her a form of expression which, for lack of a true confidant, she must otherwise keep to herself. The specificity of the moment in which they were created makes them deeply personal for Jenna, and as such an extension of her self. The giving and sharing of her pies is consequently loaded with meaning. Upon first meeting Dr. Pomatter, Jenna is extremely reluctant to give him the marshmallow-mermaid pie she brought to his office. As the first pie she ever created, it has a special significance for Jenna, and she means to give it to the doctor she has had her whole life. Only after getting to know Dr. Pomatter does she feel slightly more comfortable sharing herself, and so she gives him the pie.

Jenna’s pies are not only personally meaningful, but they also cast a spell over those who eat them. They are described as “biblically good,” and “a thing of expert, a downright beauty.” They are sensual and provocative on multiple levels. Throughout her affair with Dr. Pomatter, Jenna brings him baked goods and pie – such as a “naughty pumpkin” pie – and even teaches him how to make one. By sharing her recipe with Dr. Pomatter, Jenna reveals intensely personal memories of her mother - from whom she learned how to bake -particularly the song she would sing to Jenna as a child. Their affair is not only a sexual one, but a deeply intimate one in which Jenna gains a best friend, someone who cares about her fears and shares her joys.

Jenna’s plans to leave her husband and compete in a pie contest - where she hopes to use the prize money to start a new life – are quickly complicated by an unwanted pregnancy. Thus, her feelings towards her unborn child are overwhelmingly negative; she calls her baby an alien and a parasite and invents a “bad baby” pie. Though she feels her child will chain her to her despised husband, it is ultimately through motherhood that she realizes her full potential. Holding her daughter for the first time ignites a spark in her, empowering her to tell Earl to get out of her life. The film ends with a montage of Jenna and Lulu bonding over pie: Jenna is able to open her own pie diner, which she names after her daughter. Jenna realizes that she can be for Lulu what her mother was to her, a best friend and a constant source of love and support. Singing her mother’s song to her daughter, transmitting her knowledge to Lulu, Jenna unites past and future in pie.

While pie and its meaning ultimately lead to Mildred’s estrangement from her daughter, it brings Jenna closer to hers. The different journeys of the two women in love, work, and pie reflect changing conceptions of traditional roles of women. When Mildred begins to make food outside of the home – the traditional sphere in which women cook – in order to make money, she is tortured by conflicting notions of propriety. Indeed, at a time when most women possessed a certain level of culinary skills, to perform such a common task could be considered degrading. Yet in the contemporary setting of Waitress, Jenna’s baking skills are a source of envy and her pies attract and amaze. At a time when domestic and culinary knowledge is increasingly lost between generations, Jenna’s talents are indeed unique, and consequently respected. But for both Mildred and Jenna, the meaning of pie is much like its structure: seemingly simple yet filled with possibility.

Monday, August 15, 2011

summer reading

In anticipation of my potato focaccia – pranzo di ferragosto – and for an overall lack of inspiration to actually write anything, I’ll use others’ words – in a copyright infringement-free way – in this post. It’s a long one, Mom, but if you can get through it you may be able to forget the worst part of summer – the relentless, unbearable heat – and appreciate it the way I have these past several weeks.

I’ve been meaning to explain why I named this blog A Tomato, an Adventure pretty much since I started it nearly three months ago.

A confession: My name is Julia, and I’m a tomato addict. My tomato intake – which had slowly increased these past few months in anticipation of that perfect summer tomato – has increased exponentially, mostly because of their ridiculous deliciousness, but partly because I know that within several more weeks, I’ll be eating the last fresh tomatoes until next year. I don’t want to talk about it.

Anyway. One of the things I’ve learned so far is that when it comes to food, I’m not a freak, and I’m not alone. It’s a wonderful but strange thing to be constantly surrounded by people who love to eat, cook, and talk about food as much as I do, and do so almost exclusively. We’ve become enablers of our own indulgences both great and small, for better or for worse. Seriously, what group of girls salivates over food porn on a Friday night? I’m not quite sure how I’ll function once I’m thrown back in the real world. I don’t want to talk about it.

But even before coming to UniSG, I knew there were others like me; reading Gourmet Rhapsody – a brilliant novel by Muriel Barbery – even taught me that my case of food obsession is a mild one, and that I do not possess a fraction of the skill needed to convey why I love food the way I do. So I’ll use her words.

The novel is about a famed French restaurant critic who, on his death bed, is in search of a certain perfect flavour from his past. It’s got a rosebud/madeleine-esque quality about it. Written from the perspectives of different people and objects in this man’s life, it explores the connection between nostalgia, food, and memory that I find infinitely interesting. In this excerpt, the protagonist is describing his aunt and his relationship with the glorious tomato.

Her acute discernment swept over the surface of the vegetable garden and measured its climate in a microsecond that no ordinary perception of time could detect – and she knew. She knew as surely and with the same nonchalance as if I had said, The weather is fine, she knew which of these little red globes had to be picked now. In her dirty hand, deformed by work in the fields, there it sat: crimson in its taut silken finery, undulating with the occasional more tender hollow, with a communicable cheerfulness about it like a plumpish woman in her party dress hoping to compensate for the inconvenience of her extra pounds by means of a disarming chubbiness evoking an irresistible desire to bite into her flesh. Sprawled on the bench beneath the linden tree, lulled by the low murmuring of the leaves, I woke from a voluptuous nap, and beneath this canopy of sugary honey I bit into the fruit, I bit into the tomato.

In salads, baked, in ratatouille, in preserves, grilled, stuffed, cherry, candied, big and soft, green and acidic, honored with olive oil or coarse salt or wine or sugar or hot pepper, crushed, peeled, in a sauce, in a stew, in a foam, even in a sorbet: I thought I had thoroughly covered the matter and on more than one occasion I wrote pieces inspired by the greatest chefs’ menus claiming that I had penetrated its secret. What an idiot, what a pity…I invented mysteries where there were none, in order to justify my perfectly pathetic métier. What is writing, no matter how lavish the pieces, if it says nothing of the truth, cares little for the heart, and is merely subservient to the pleasure of showing one’s brilliance? And yet I had always been acquainted with the tomato, since the time of Aunt Marthe’s garden, since the summer when an ever more ardent sun kissed the timid little growths, since the moment my teeth tore into the flesh to splatter my tongue with the rich, warm and bountiful juice, whose essential generosity is masked by the chill of the refrigerator, or the affront of vinegar, or the false nobility of oil. Sugar, water, fruit, pulp, liquid, or solid? The raw tomato, devoured in the garden when freshly picked, is a horn of abundance of simple sensations, a radiating rush in one’s mouth that brings with it every pleasure. The resistance of the skin – slightly taut, just enough; the luscious yields of the tissues, their seed-filled liqueur oozing to the corner’s of one’s lips, and that one wipes away without any fear of staining one’s fingers; this plump little globe unleashing a flood of nature inside us: a tomato, an adventure.

This is a poem written by Delmore Schwartz. I’m not familiar with his career or work, but a friend from school shared this poem with us several nights ago. Again, it’s perfect for this time of year, especially coming from two weeks working in the summer heat and enjoying its abundance.

Summer Knowledge

Summer knowledge is not the winter's truth, the truth of fall,

the autumn's fruition, vision and recognition:

It is not May knowledge, little and leafing and growing green,

blooming out and blossoming white,

It is not the knowing and the knowledge of the gold fall and

the ripened darkening vineyard,

Nor the black tormented, drenched and rainy knowledge of birth,

April, and travail,

The knowledge of the womb's convulsions, and the coiled cord's

ravelled artery, severed and cut open,

as the root forces its way up from the dark loam:

The agony of the first knowledge of pain is worse than death,

or worse than the thought of death:

No poppy, no preparation, no initiation, no illusion, only

the beginning, so distant from all knowledge

and all conclusion, all indecision and all illusion.

Summer knowledge is green knowledge, country knowledge,

the knowledge of growing and the supply recognition

of the fullness and the fatness and the roundness of ripeness.

It is bird knowledge and the knowing that trees possess when

The sap ascends to the leaf and the flower and the fruit,

Which the root never sees and the root believes in the darkness

and the ignorance of winter knowledge

—The knowledge of the fruit is not the knowledge possessed

by the root in its indomitable darkness of ambition

Which is the condition of belief beyond conception of

experience or the gratification of fruition.

Summer knowledge is not picture knowledge, nor is it the

knowledge of lore and learning.

It is not the knowledge known from the mountain's height, it

is not the garden's view of the distant mountains of hidden fountans;

It is not the still vision in a gold frame, it is not the

measured and treasured sentences of sentiments;

It is cat knowledge, deer knowledge, the knowledge of the

full-grown foliage, of the snowy blossom and the rounding fruit.

It is the phoenix knowledge of the wine and grape near

summer's end, when the grape swells and the apple reddens:

It is the knowledge of the ripening apple when it moves to the

fullness of the time of falling to rottenness and death.

For summer knowledge is the knowledge of death as birth,

Of death as the soil of all abounding flowering flaring rebirth.

It is the knowledge of the truth of love and the truth of growing:

it is the knowledge before and after knowledge:

For, in a way, summer knowledge is not knowledge at all: it is

second nature, first nature fulfilled, a new birth

and a new death for rebirth, soaring and rising out

of the flames of turning October, burning November,

the towering and falling fires, growing more and

more vivid and tall

In the consummation and the annihilation of the blaze of fall.

So go out, enjoy summer, read more Muriel Barbery and Delmore Schwartz, and gather ye tomatoes while ye may.

Friday, July 22, 2011

alto adige recap

What I had hoped would be a detailed reflection on our trip to Alto Adige will have to be an abbreviated version – between cheese tastings & exams, eating & drinking, this week has flown by and in 24 hours I’ll be back at Spannocchia, eating the best prosciutto ever and subsequently developing my own lardo. Boh. Anyway, this is what I’ve got:

We recently returned from our first overnight stage in Alto Adige – or Süd Tirol - a peculiar Austrian-esque pocket in northerneastern Italy. As it’s only been Italian territory for less than 100 years – it was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire until the end of the first world war – it’s one of the most distinct regions in Italy. Indeed, this is one place where my slightly above average height and cropped blonde hair doesn’t single me out as a straniera. Here the cuisine is Alpine, not Mediterranean: knüdel and spaetzle, not pasta, ghoulash rather than minestrone, smoky speck over the salty prosciutto, and why get gelato when you can eat apple strudel? Ready for a mind-fuck? The bread has flavour. Seriously, this is possibly the only region in Italy (Puglia, I’m not giving up on you yet) that has dense and flavourful bread made with a variety of flours and spices – beloved rye! blissful fennel seed! fresh fig and walnut! There are constant reminders of the centuries of Austrian rule and German influence; I’m going to go ahead and say the bread was one of the most delectable.

The cuisine of the region is perfectly suited to how one might imagine the climate of small Alpine towns to be: nothing warms you up in harsh winters more than hearty stews and heavy dumplings. I can attest that a bowl of canederli in brodo paired with Lagrein reinvigorates the body after a long day of biting cold. But that was November; it’s now July. Interestingly enough, Bolzano – our home base – sits in the middle of valley. While the surrounding hillsides of gewurtztraminer, sylvaner, schiava, and lagrein provide a stunning backdrop, they also create an incredibly humid microclimate, making Bolzano one of the hottest cities in Italy. Go figure. Needless to say, we didn’t entirely appreciate the Alpine cuisine: after sleeping in a puddle of your own sweat (damn you, poorly-ventilated hostel!) and trekking outside all day to various producers, ghoulash seems a punishment, not a privilege. But don’t even think about passing it up, or asking for vegetables. When in Alto-Adige, one must eat as sudtirolese do (or at least the sudtirolese of centuries past; their stylish contemporary counterparts nibble on the various Sicilian and Sardinian inspired fish dishes last time I checked.)

So I come to the title of this post, the human foie gras experiment. A fellow student, Vincent, aptly described our trip in this way. Of German-Hungarian stock, much of what we ate was his comfort food – and it was still too much for him. That says it all. I also felt that we had regressed to infants, as we only seemed to eat and sleep: multiple-course lunches were followed by bus rides to the next location. Stuff your face, pass out during the ride, only to repeat several hours later. Granted I wasn’t eating suckling pig crackling and weizenbier as a child, but you get the idea.

We were exposed to a spectrum of products, lifestyles, and philosophies during the course of our trip, from the acidic graukase to cured lamb meat produced from a breed which was nearly wiped out during the 1930s (Hitler’s attempt to create a pure race extended beyond humans.) From the bio-dynamic to the industrial, we saw, ate, and drank it all – and I have the knüdel-shaped love-handles to prove it.

Of course, throughout the week we blamed our binges on the fact that this was an educational trip; you eat more when your grade depends on it. Yet, left to our own devices for a free lunch before our bus ride back to Bra, several classmates and I created an epic, impromptu picnic that sticks out as one of my favourite meals in Alto Adige. After taking a ten minute funicular ride over vineyards and mountains (and me nearly pissing myself out of fear) we hiked to “natural pyramids.” Unwrapping the various goodies purchased at the market, we created a spread of at least eight different types of bread, cheese, speck, fruit, nuts, pastries, and one lone, token tomato. You have trained us well, UniSG. A beautiful summer afternoon in the mountains with good food and better company: this is really what it’s all about.

So cue Alice Cooper – we had our last class of the summer today! Tomorrow begins my month long vacation, starting in Tuscany, then continuing in the Mezzogiorno in one of my favourite Italian cities, Lecce. After a brief respite back in Bra I’ll be heading to France to harvest some grapes, hopefully rounding out the trip in Provence. I’ll have limited internet access, Mom, but I’ll be sure to keep a record of all my eating/drinking/other activities.

Ci vediamo a settembre!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

ode to stretchy pants

Though I realize this detracts from my whole “this is a legitimate Master's degree from an accredited university!” argument, here is my first attempt at a gastro-limerick. We had ten minutes to write some sort of poem in our first writing class - can you guess at what time I wrote this? (That’s right, just after a giant potluck lunch.)

Compliments! elastic waistband

I revel in feasts long and grand

Though filled with regret

Of course you can bet

I still wear you – tight jeans be damned!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

non è pane di Bra

You know what’s awesome? My latest loaf of bread. Not only is it delicious, it’s a great way to procrastinate (I’m one writing assignment and two classes away from break.)

I’ve been experimenting with different flours, and this combination (very little white, some whole wheat, rye, a bit of kamut & flour) just may be the best one yet. Throw in some erbe di Provenza – sage, thyme, rosemary – and mixed nuts & seeds, and ecco – a dense, flavourful bread.

This is no pane di Bra.

(The M is for Mijo – a classmate whose birthday is today)

Sunday, July 10, 2011

will the real slow food please stand up?

In between all the eating and drinking* I go to school. Here’s proof.

This is an adapted version of the paper that my colleague, Laura, and I wrote on our experience at Panetteria Fagnola. The project was for an anthropology course; what was supposed to an exploration of a food space ended up being hour after hour of bread and treats (not complaining), establishing a sweet honey connection (apologies), and a fascinating discussion on Slow Food with the artisans themselves. It’s a bit long, so feel free to skim, Mom; you may want to skip over the “academic” parts – can you tell we had to somehow incorporate our course readings? Comunque.

“Vorrei lavorare bene con materie prime più naturali possible e sopratutto che garantiscono qualità e igiene per poter essere sinceri nei confronti dei clienti.”

I want to work well with the most natural ingredients that guarantee quality and health so I can be sincere to my clients.

Gianfranco Fagnola, the current owner of Panetteria Fagnola, epitomizes a philosophy that has been passed down for nearly a century - a dedication to food and integrity which one still finds today in his modest bakery in the outskirts of Bra. A humble man, Gianfranco defends quality over quantity while promoting an environment of genuine exchange and working ceaselessly to keep his independence in the face of increasing bureaucracy. Gianfranco is part of a growing but fragmented group of producers who are working to redefine their roles as artisans. Based on our fieldwork, we believe that it is artisans such as Gianfranco who practice the true essence of slow food - in a way that Slow Food as a business no longer does.

Our methodology took on a congenial tone from the beginning. We first met with Emanuela, the pastry chef, who quickly swapped opening questions for a barrage of “taste me” treats. This, we soon learned, would set the pace for the rest of our study. We returned three times to the panificio, each time with a specific goal in mind: to observe customers, interview la mamma, take pictures, draw diagrams, etc. Instead, each time Gianfranco took us by the hand, led us to the back and sat us down for yet another round of treats and talks. Our interviews were lengthy (amounting to nearly 9 hours), and involved several informants, including Gianfranco, Emanuela, Mirco and Dario. We communicated in both Italian and French, languages shared by informants and researchers. In order to preserve the spirit of their own words we have included their direct quotations in their native language in italics.

The strong connection between past and present at Panetteria Fagnola is clearly visible in the sign that hangs just above the display of freshly baked bread: a picture of Papà, working the wood-fired oven that was used until 1962. The same image adorns the panificio’s business card, proudly handed to us by the current titolare - il figlio di Papà, Gianfranco. Opened in 1923, the panificio was the creation of Gianfranco’s grandfather, an Argentine immigrant returning to his Italian roots. Having learned the craft from his cousin, he instilled in his business an important philosophy: growth through learning. Though the neighbourhood has changed, Gianfranco assures us that the spirit is still this same. When his nonno died, his father took over; major renovations were subsequently made and the bakery grew to the size it is today. In 1987, Gianfranco’s father passed away, leaving his wife and sixteen year old son to handle the business. After a brief stint in Law studies, Gianfranco retuned home to take over his family’s craft. Like his grandfather, he learned from those who surrounded him in classes, trips and fateful encounters, allowing him to take over the panificio in 1994. After decades as the oldest running panificio in Bra, a turning point came in 1999: Carlo Petrini sampled his bread and told him that it was, in fact, not any good at all. Gianfranco explains that è una brutta cosa sentire che non sei bravo, però così impari e diventi più bravo - and so he did. (it sucks to hear that you’re not talented, but this way you learn and become better.) By traveling more and joining the Richemont Club, a professional bakers’ association, he has since dedicated himself to the improvement of his products. In 2003, Gianfranco, tells us, mi sono reso conto che bisognava fare altre cose, e non solo pane. Non si può fare tutto bene. (I realized I needed to do other things, not just bread. You can’t do everything well.) And so a new member was added to the Fagnola family: Emanuela, his pastry maestra.

Walking into the panificio today one finds a variety of breads and baked goods. An avid fan of non-traditional ingredients such as kamut and rye, Gianfranco often experiments and produces a rotation of over 40 different specialty breads. Naturally, the ubiquitous pane di Bra, has its place here, too: square, circle, hollow oval, in a twist or simply the pane biova, il tipico piemontese, he produces it all and his customers respond in kind. Gianfranco also produces piadine di kamut, pizze, foccacce and enough grissini to supply a majority of the restaurants in town. Emanuela’s confections - from tartufini di cioccolato to baci di dama and biscotti alla camomila dominate the other half of the panificio.

Of course, to truly understand Panificio Fagnola is to understand the people behind it. Though Gianfranco is undoubtedly the heart and soul of the operation, he is still a sum of his parts. La mamma, as everyone calls her, has been the face of the panificio for as long as anyone can remember. She refers to her son as the titolare and speaks in piemontese to customers whose names she has never bothered to learn. Arrogant and reserved, she stands in sharp contrast to Gianfranco. The kitchen is the shared domain of Gianfranco and Emanuela, whose drive, humility, and openness make her the ideal right hand woman. Apart from brief smoking breaks, she was the only person we observed to be constantly working. At her side is Mirco, a pizzaiolo from Turin who hopes to learn the craft of dolci during his time as an intern.

Though he would be the last to admit it, it is Gianfranco himself and his three guiding values of humility, professionalism, and exchange which have made Panetteria Fagnola the institution which it is today. Though he graciously accepted our praise, he was equally insistent on qualifying it: yes, the piadine are fine today, but they need some more salt; the humidity is no good for the dough today, he probably won’t sell that bread tomorrow. Is such perfection tiring? Absolutely not: mai avere la presunzione di essere arrivati. Devi guardare sempre avanti. C’è sempre da imparare. (Never be presumptuous enough to think that you have arrived. You must always look ahead. There’s always something to learn.) Anything less would be complacent, lazy and dishonest to his valued clients. Yet such humility was delicately balanced with his pride, which was felt more towards the institutions he was a part of than any personal efforts; proud to continue in his father and grandfather’s traditions, and proud of the Richemont Club and its commitment to excellence.

Along with creating a better product, Gianfranco also strives to achieve a higher degree of professionalism in the shop. Taking cues from his experiences in French boulangeries, Gianfranco considers a sense of order in the form of queues to be one way of doing so. Additionally, he would like for his personnel to be able to better communicate the products to his clients so as to enable a more active discussion. The importance of this healthy exchange between himself and his clients, he believes, cannot be understated. While he admits that too often people critique others because they are jealous, in its most constructive and positive sense criticism is not only welcome but necessary: dobbiamo saperci criticare. (We have to know how to critique one another.) Having honed his craft from his fellow bakers abroad and in Piedmont, Gianfranco hopes to give back to others in an equally valuable way. Rather than a cheap source of labour, Gianfranco recognizes that he can teach Mirco - whom he repeatedly calls bravissimo - just as much as he can learn from him. His enthusiastic welcome to us is also indicative of his appreciation of others’ talents. Upon learning of our baking aspirations, he immediately invited us to come whenever we wished for a formal lesson; when we brought him a fresh sample of our homemade bread, he praised our effort while providing the critical perspective needed for growth. Slightly taken aback by such an encouraging reception, we asked if we could expect this from other producers. Gianfranco seemed slightly confused by such a question: siamo così perchè non abbiamo niente da nascondere. (We’re this way because we have nothing to hide.) There is nothing to hide, only to share; to not be generous would be unnatural.

As a native of Bra and self-proclaimed artisan, it was only a matter of time before Gianfranco discussed his views on Slow Food. His personal philosophy seems to undoubtedly support that of Slow Food; but would he consider his bread to be good, clean, and fair, the three standards by which Slow Food judges all products? His humility prevented him from admitting that his bread was good. Though he is undoubtedly proud of his work, he notes that it is more important to consider each day separately, and what he would deem “good” one day could be unacceptable the next. To admit that his bread is good and will always be good would be folly; rather, he considers himself to be forever in pursuit of a better product. However, after spending several days with him and eating more bread than we thought possible, we can confidently conclude that, yes, his bread is good.

The question of fairness was easily answered with an anecdote. On a busy Saturday morning a new customer asked for a loaf of kamut bread, but left empty handed upon hearing that it would cost five euro. A week later, the same woman returned and bought the loaf; after comparing prices and quality of kamut bread in multiple bakeries in Bra, she concluded that Gianfranco’s was indeed the best loaf for the best price. The only real injustice in his bakery, Gianfranco chuckled, was that he worked too much.

When asked if he considered his bread “clean,” Gianfranco went on a tangent about the hygiene of the baking space and the strict regulations which they must follow to guarantee it. Thinking it was a misunderstanding, I clarified what I meant by the term – the use of ingredients that are free of pesticides, generally organic, and that did not harm the environment. He rolled his eyes: non vendiamo la poesia. (We don’t sell poetry.) It is very difficult to use products entirely free of pesticides and coming from strictly local sources, he reasoned. Were he to limit his flours to those found only in Piedmont, he would lose much of the very diversity which distinguishes him from other bakers. Does he try to use as natural ingredients as possible? Absolutely. But to dismiss his products for the small traces of chemicals present in some of his ingredients would be to miss the point. And thus began his critique of Slow Food, a thorough discussion of which, he explained, would require the presence of Dario Pozzolo, il maestro di miele.

Within a half hour of Gianfranco’s call, Dario Pozzolo arrived - clearly an extended member of the Fagnola family - and introduced himself as well as his work as a devoted apiculturist for the past fifteen years. In addition to his production of honey from the Alta Montagna, Dario also judges competitions and teaches educational courses to people all of ages throughout Piemonte. Though notably more comfortable recounting his achievements than his counterpart, Dario nonetheless emphasizes that it is his product, not himself, that matters most. Finishing each other’s sentences, Dario and Gianfranco acknowledged that Slow Food has been un bene grosso (a great good): its focus on the promotion of artisanal products has created a movement with significant momentum, partially enabling their own success. But, they stress, in the course of its twenty year existence the organization has lost sight of its original values and has, to their anger and dismay, become solo un business. In short, Slow Food no longer represents true slow food. Similar to Nabhan’s experience with the Seri of Mexico, for Gianfranco, this is “a lesson nested in place.” To understand his view is to understand Bra, and the context it provides for both artisans and Slow Food alike. Native braidesi, the pair are proud of their roots and moreover of the bounty of their land and the talent which it has produced. They consequently cannot understand why Slow Food has traveled extensively to search for small artisans in distant countries yet ignored producers who personify their philosophy in Bra. Slow Food as a business has promoted niche products such as yak’s cheese from Nepal as the ultimate expression of their philosophy, despite the fact that Italian and Swiss cheesemakers were called in to teach the Nepalese how to make it. When organizing educational events Slow Food has contacted well-known personalities who can attract large audiences - such as Andrea Paternoster - to lead the tastings, whose high admission price creates a generous profit. Thus, between the foreign artisans and gastronomic celebrities, Dario laments that chi è di Bra non è considerato. (whoever is from Bra is not recognized.) While Dario has repeatedly reached out to Slow Food, offering his knowledge and talents, even as a volunteer, he has never received a response.

His pride wounded, Dario continued to discuss Slow Food and the bitter taste it has left: there is not only the missed potential of a mutually beneficial relationship between himself and Slow Food, but between his fellow producers and the talent which Slow Food attracts at its University. For Dario, Slow Food has successfully recruited students from around the world, charged them an obscene tuition for an “education” in which they will learn solo un cosino. Using their “knowledge” abroad, they will propagate the business of Slow Food. Once his initial anger subsides, we detect the true sadness behind such conviction: è peccato perchè non conoscerete la vera realtà dei produttori. (it’s a shame because you never know the truth of producers.) This reference to their work as a reality - una piccola realtà (a small reality) as Gianfranco repeatedly calls himself - begs the question: Who has the right to call a product a Slow Food, and what value is gained in such a label? Several types of Dario’s honey are protected and sold by a Slow Food Presidium, yet he sells the same quantity at the same price, and makes the same amount of money as he did before the Presidium label was slapped on the jars. Moreover, the prospect of substantially increased profits is of little import to him: he makes honey because he is passionate about it, and he sells honey to pay for his house.

Dario is not the only producer left disillusioned with Slow Food’s marketing campaigns; the small group of artisans producing lardo in Colonnata have also seen their craft and values distorted at the hands of the “niche-marketing of ‘endangered foods’” which the Presidium effectively promotes. Though undeniably the result of peasant ingenuity and craftsmanship, lardo was still perceived as a “common element in local diets” until the publicity it attracted through Slow Food’s efforts to protect it from the homogenizing forces of European Union hygiene laws. Its consequent transformation into an “exotic” and “gourmet” product - which fetches a high price - as well as a “logo for the authenticity of [Slow Food’s] politics” - which does not justly compensate the producers themselves - is an irony which the lardo producers of Colonnata have denounced and divorced themselves from. Gianfranco, too, consistently distanced himself from the business-oriented organization of Slow Food. Despite this distance, however, we felt the values of slow food to be constantly transmitted throughout our time at Panetteria Fagnola. Yes, there is an undeniable carbon footprint involved in the importation of some of his ingredients, but does that negate the overall value of the final product? Do we not learn more from the five minutes discussing and tasting a frolla than in a trip to Eataly to buy, without gaining any understanding of its origin and production process, a Slow Food Presidium product? Questo è il vero slow food, (this is the real slow food) Gianfranco explained as he spread a local cheese and Dario’s honey on his fresh walnut-anchovy loaf.

Too often the debate is framed in black and white terms: all artisanal producers are good and all industrial products are bad; to be considered “clean” one must use only organic ingredients; producers must be entirely in line with Slow Food philosophy or not at all. Gianfranco and Dario warned of the dangers of such a strict division and its refusal to acknowledge and understand the complexities inherent in their craft. Gianfranco referred to the supposedly artisanal panettone sold at Eataly which was injected with preservatives and additivies to boost flavour and preserve shelf life. Dario stressed that without the use of some pesticides, his bee colonies would inevitably collapse. He is not alone; even the certified organic apiculturists employ such practices, though they would never admit it. Dario emphasized that the most important thing for him is to reason with his own mind and to preserve his own identity rather than follow Slow Food dictates. Is such preservation of individuality and diversity not what Slow Food was originally about?

In this way Gianfranco and Dario have effectively articulated Judith Butler’s critique of “simplistic binaries.” Using the logic of Hughes’ observations in gender studies - in which the concept of a woman derives from the the concept of its opposite, man - one can argue that the value consumers associate with artisanal products derives significantly from their clear opposition to the surfeit of industrial products in the market. Gianfranco understands that this force is indeed real among a large segment of consumers, who are content to pay more money for a product solely because of its organic certification or “authenticity.” Yet through education and a lively exchange between producers and consumers, Gianfranco strives to move beyond the false choice between the small, pure artisan and the massive, corrupt industry. Though at times Dario’s rhetoric seemed based on this dangerous dualism, he himself has worked within the Slow Food system - through his Presidium honey - and continues to offer his knowledge to Slow Food educational courses, despite his past rejections.

In light of such convictions, what sort of future does Gianfranco foresee for Panetteria Fagnola? His understanding of his work is such that he cannot separate himself from his product as he considers his bread to be a reflection of himself: il prodotto deve parlare per me (the product must speak for me.)As Barthes states, an “item of food sums up and transmits a situation; it constitutes an information; it signifies.” Gianfranco understands that his bread trasmits the piccola realtà of his craft and panetteria, and the wealth of knowledge he has gained at home and abroad. Paradoxically, by making it all about the bread, Gianfranco has made his panetteria mean much more than the bread itself. He sees no true gain in the expansion of his shop, feeling that the associated loss of constant and genuine exchanges with his clients would be unbearable and corrupting. The only growth that interests Gianfranco is personal, so that he may translate it into his bread for his clients’ pleasure. When people consume an industrially produced bread, or buy a product based on a Slow Food endorsement, Gianfranco would agree with Barthes that this product “takes on the characteristics of an institution, [thus] its function can no longer be dissociated from the sign of that function” Bereft of any true value, the aforementioned panettone purchased at Eataly signifies the deviation of Slow Food from slow food in the name of business. Moreover, it just doesn’t taste good.

Gianfranco’s symbolic rather than literal adherence to the Slow Food philosophy - at least in its founding vision - will continue, but not for any grand ideological reasons. Gianfranco will continue to work long hours so that his clients can choose from a diverse selection of fresh bread each morning. He will continue to travel so that he may learn and enrich his beloved hometown. Most importantly, Gianfranco will remain a true artisan by personally greeting and communicating with his clients, thereby maintaining his piccola realtà. Gianfranco is content to live in un’isola felice (a happy island), somewhere beyond the tainted waters of Slow Food. Through our time at Panetteria Fagnola, we recognized these two different realities, both equally convinced of their of own missions: to remain small with integrity and humble passion, or to grow in hopes of doing greater good for more people. One can argue the merits and weaknesses of each position but one must remember that this is no story of David and Goliath; it is with a healthy amount of exchange and respect - and maybe even a frolla or two - that the two can reach an understanding that will defend and create what both sides ultimately want.

And scene.

Tomorrow we leave on our first real stage. Destination: Alto Adige. I spent a couple days in Bolzano just after leaving Spannocchia; it’ll be great to see the city again in a different season (and without my prosciutto thighs) I’ve just realized that this essentially kicks off my summer – apart from two cheese exams (!!) next week, school’s out for the summer. And though I’ve really enjoyed the past two weeks of class, my travel plans have come together to create what could be an epic month. As of now, I’ll be wwoofing at Spannocchia for the first two weeks, then catching a flight to Puglia to meet some girls from school with the specific intention of eating as much burrata as is physically possible; hopping a ride back to Bra to then go to southern France to wwoof (and consequently hating myself for my inability to remember anything from my seven years of French class), and finally/possibly rounding out my trip with my burrata-buddies as we take on la cuisine provençale. It’s a good thing I’ve packed stretchy pants.

*tomatoes, white peaches, apricots, rye-kamut-farro-whole wheat bread, grissini, lardo, more tomatoes, caramelized onion ravioli, carne cruda, more peaches, yogurt, hazelnuts covered in honey, more bread, veal brains, and cow face. That’s been my diet in the past three days. Oh, and then some booze. Whoops.