Thursday, June 14, 2012

And, scene.

“On your first day of class, I said that you would end this year more confused than when you started. Well, I was right, no?”

Silence. And then: a collective, half-hearted chuckle.

Gifted orator you may be, Carlin, but perhaps acknowledging our grim post-grad employment prospects – and in front of our parents, no less! – was not the most auspicious start to a graduation ceremony speech.

But he had a point. Yes, the transition from the world of UniSG to the “real” one is not likely to be the easiest. But the foundation is there: the seed has been planted, to use the obvious yet no less apt metaphor. Our minds are fecund, Petrini assured us (though this phrase sounded much better in Italian.) The true value of the past year, he continued, lies not in the intelligence of the mind we have gained, but in our much strengthened emotional intelligence.

Silence. And then: sideways glances and smirks shared amongst colleagues.

Bravo, capo, for so deftly glossing over the university’s less-than-stellar reputation for academic rigor.

But perhaps we so easily read into Petrini’s statement because we were already two steps ahead of him. Long ago – I’d say about last July – we realized that the greater learning and growing experiences would happen outside of Pollenzo, in Bra and beyond.

With their gratuitous explanations of that dreaded trifecta of “good, clean, and fair,” the multiple and poorly-timed Slow Food classes did much to challenge our reverence of The Snail, at least as an Organization. Rather, it was the meals and travels we shared that reinforced in our minds what slow food is truly all about: responsibility and conviviality – two values that successfully retain their value, at least in my mind, despite being thrown around quite often.

So, sì, Carlin, in the past year our emotional intelligence has greatly increased, in direct correlation with our waistlines – and inverse to our pockets. Indeed, when I left Baltimore one year ago, that was the only expectation I had: to leave Bra broke and fat, but ultimately happy.

And here I am, in Belgium via Croatia, with frites and herring in my tummy and less time than I would have liked before sending my computer home with my brother.

The Bra is off.  

I wanted to make some attempt – however weak or excessively emotional – to give a sense of personal closure to my year and one final recap for a blog that, though started with the best of intentions, fell by the wayside as soon as the wine was poured and the lardo sliced. But that, too, failed. So I’ve got this.

In the end, my thesis – ambiguously “Words, Walks, & Work: on the Value of Wine Communication” (it made sense while jet-lagged in Abu Dhabi) – was more of a personal reflection than an academic piece worthy of being called a “Master’s thesis.” I’m ok with that, if only because the paper began with hobbits and ended with pork fat, with some random musings of a wine novice awkwardly thrown in the middle. Heavy on the emotional intelligence, light on the actual sort, and in that way an honest reflection of this year. Hell, I even made myself cry a bit at the end, but I’m sure a lot of bullshit sounds profound coming off a 42 hour journey. I haven’t re-read it since.

And then, the “defense” of said thesis, in which the panel remarked that it’s hard to academically critique a personal reflection; also, you failed to mention the wine – what was it actually like?


Indeed. In writing on the myriad ways in which people “missed the point of wine,” I, too, had missed the point. Can I also blame that on jetlag?

Luckily my white lace and four inch high-heeled sneakers bumped me up to an acceptable mark. Ah, to study in Italy, where it does not matter what you do (or do not) say, but how you look while you say it.

And then, the thesis was over; school was over, and it was time to ship out. But not before several carne cruda and negroni fueled late nights.

My friend Kathryn said it best over a final graduation dinner at a local agriturismo, Casa Scaparone. In a sort of “series finale” end to our year, the whole cast of memorable players came together in a way that had never before happened (Mamie eating Dutch appeltaart?! My heart is about to explode.) But we did, and we ate and shared the sort of incredibly honest and satisfying Italian food that people always talk about but rarely truly enjoy. A long table fit for fourteen consistently replenished with multiple courses (and multiple within each course) was certainly not a new experience. But, to paraphrase KT, these moments become truly transcendent when they happen naturally, and you find yourself surrounded by good food shared with your favourite people.

Call it emotional intelligence if you will; or one ridiculous, gluttonous vacation. Or even graduate school. I’ll need more than a couple weeks to emotionally and physically digest it all.