Busy busy. We started classes on Wednesday. A morning of introductions where we met the faculty and staff of the university, counted our nationalities (11) and listened to 25 highly condensed life stories The teaching and administrative staff gave us a flavour of the year ahead including our field trips (stages) to France, Spain, Crete and different parts of Italy. After an introductory lunch in the ALMA cafeteria (provided by its cooking students) we had an afternoon of Italian lessons – a fairly typical mix of excruciating embarrassment and hilarity.
That evening the group was invited to an impromptu welcome gathering in Colorno where we had, naturally, a pretty stunning selection of nibbles – heavy of course on the cheeses and cured meats. Most of the students live in Parma, and it’s going to be a challenge for us to get together in the evenings with buses stopping at 6pm and taxis running €25-30 a pop. We are learning about the interesting and somewhat time consuming experience of calling Parma’s taxi dispatch service late at night, and how sometimes random the taxis’ arrival can be.
Day two we plunged into language classes and in the afternoon had a presentation by Cinzia Scaffidi, director of the Slow Food Study Centre in Bra. Among the many programs and projects of the movement she described, we warmed to her discussion of the Slow Fish event we’ll be taking in next May, in Genoa.
Thursday ended with American Thanksgiving dinner (Giorno del Ringraziamento) for 60, courtesy the students of the Italian masters’ program, one of the cooks and the ovens – big enough to hold two 30lb turkeys – of ALMA, and the owners of the Pub in Colorno. During the meal I asked the director of the Colorno campus, Carlo Catani, if it was true what I’d heard, that we could expect on average to gain 5kg over the course of the year. Of course not, he scoffed: on your stages (field trips), you will be much too busy to eat!
We’ve started receiving books as well – Jane Grigson’s Vegetable Book, and Italian Cuisine: a Cultural History by Alberto Capatti and Massio Montanari. And on with the first lecture on cheese technology today, which was a crash course in the fundamentals of organic chemistry. Head spinning with talk of peptide bonds, triglycerides, protein domains and butyric and linoleic acids… I’m well ready for the weekend now.