Friday, November 23, 2007

Live from Scotland, where Rhona is Rhona and never has a D in it

In a scene which I am sure is distressingly familiar to Vista users everywhere I have sat in a Wifi cafe for the past 25 minutes watching my laptop's battery life plummet even as the Network and Sharing Center's evil icons show their red x and endlessly spinning circle while the Internet icon remains grey and soulless. Anyone still on XP thinking of taking the plunge... Don't Do It. I will be reverting to XP as soon as I'm able. Let some other sucker live through the endless bugs in this system.

Two weeks of reading and feeding, writing, walking, thinking, talking. Scottish weather has not been all bad. A little rain, some wind, enough blue sky. Not freezing, for the most part, though a frost on the grass today and a clear chill on Princes Street as I wander around Edinburgh. Tea has helped, and the odd evening dram. Out to a movie last weekend: Into the Wild, a good enough diversion for the cabin-fevered.
"Applause whilst thou livest, serveth to make thee that fair mark against which envy and malice direct their arrows, and when thou art wounded, all eyes are turned towards thee (like the sun, which is most gazed on in an eclipse), not for pity or praise, but detraction." -- William Drummond, A Cypress Grove (1623)
I don't know, is that supposed to make us feel better or worse about not getting acclaim in our lifetime?

Other reading I've done includes: Auden, Larkin, Hughes; Sean O'Brien, Colette Bryce, Susan Tichy, Sandra McPherson, Leslie Adrienne Miller, Thomas Lux. Wandered into a little prose as well, the Drummond above, also Thomas de Quincey, Confessions of an English Opium Eater, and Joan Didion's Year of Magical Thinking.

And had a lovely trip to the Rosslyn Chapel, which I was for some reason slightly shocked to learn Dan Brown never visited, though they are certainly awash with visitors now, so at least the chapel is reaping some of the benefits which it can put into its restoration fund. It seems they have some bad problems with damp getting inside the stonework, caused by some well intentioned restoration work in the 1950s. Anyway it's an amazing place and I'm happy to have had the chance to see it.

Friday, November 09, 2007

In transit

An interim posting while I stop briefly in London en route to Scotland... Have now left Parma after a week of turmoil and transition.

Yesterday was tiring. I had a couple more parcels to send, one 10kg and the other 5kg. I put the larger one in my suitcase and trundled heavily off with the smaller one perched on top, which occasionally flung itself off into the road from the sheer joy of cobblestones. I got to my destination, the post office on Tommasini, where I took my place in line and after a little wait was told that they were out of the forms to send things superficie, and that it would cost 95 euros to send the smaller package by the much speedier method dictated by the forms they did have.

So off I trundled to the main post office where I took a number, joined a queue and waited my turn. Only to find that they too were out of superficie forms.

Off I trundled to the third post office on via Verdi, where I joined a queue, waited my turn... and they had the forms! So that was that.

I found some tasty treats for lunch, washed them down with a little lingering Barolo (from dear Michele Chiarlo) and commenced packing the giant suitcase. Alas, it was too heavy for my friends at Ryanair, so I decanted a bag of surplus and set off for the only other post office open in the afternoon, way on the other side of town, which I very much hoped could supply me with both a box and a superficie form. And indeed it was so.

Meanwhile, my phone had died and I expended some time and effort cruising Nokia support forums for a diagnosis. Which was no answer at all once I realised that in my zeal for postal services the receipt I would need in order to get anything fixed under warranty was probably in a box of paperwork winging its way to Canada.

So I enter the communications void: no phone, no internet for the next month. I'm sure I'll be sneaking away to the library from time to time, but if things go quiet here in the caff, don't be alarmed.

I had, over the previous couple of days, discovered that for reasons I have either forgotten or never intended, I'd booked my travel to Edinburgh for Saturday instead of Sunday, when the residency actually begins. Which meant either changing the el cheapo ticket (which was not all that cheap, at least not in dollars) or spending about the same on overnight accommodations. But an emergency call to Scottish cousins yielded happy results and I'm one less problem to solve and looking forward to minor family reunion tomorrow afternoon.

This morning was just a quiet time of packing and discarding. I got myself a taxi to the airport when the driver asked if I knew there was a sciopero. I did, I said, my Italian skills growing ever more marginal, but I can still fly to London, no? He wasn't sure, he said, as it affected trains and planes. Perfect. Just what I wanted to hear, having cleared out of my apartment, left the keys behind, arranged travel and accoms for the following day.

But he pressed on to the airport where all was, thankfully, as usual, and I stepped up to the check-in. The attendant looked distressed: it's over weight! I know, I said, the tyranny of Ryanair's 15kg limit never more acute than to someone leaving town after a year. She was as generous as she could be, but I had to cough up a few more euros before I could collect my boarding pass. Then I discovered (with the help of the security guys) that I still had the forbici that I'd taken to the post office yesterday stuck in a side pocket of my purse. And my belt and boots set off the alarms. And I'd forgotten to take the plastic bag of liquids out of the other bag. And I nearly left my laptop behind. But other than that... a piece of cake!

So, after a mercifully uneventful flight, landing and trip across London, I am packing and re-packing with post-Bonfire Night fireworks crackling around the neighbourhood, and there's still too damned much stuff to take for a month in the castle. But I will get there. Ciao for now!

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Masters of Food Culture

So: we've done it, and here's the proof... with the sad exceptions of Marta, Louisa and Donghyun who could not join us, being in the other three of the four corners of the world.

We'd caught that Colorno bus - here crossing Ponte Caprazucca just for us - one last time yesterday morning...

Climbed the stairs to our second floor hang-out...

And then had a subdued graduation ceremony, probably due to the late night revelries that preceded this particular morning after. There were speeches, from absent friends - Carlo Petrini was in Mexico warming up for the Slow Food world congress...

Unisg's director Carlo Catani, and Slow Food Italy president Roberto Burdese...

After some frolicking in the garden with our diplomas, taking pictures

and being taken,

we returned to enjoy a Spigaroli buffet -

all our old friends were there, the king of culatello, Massimo Spigaroli himself

and lots of lardo,

a veritable blizzard of that puffy and insubstantial bread of Emilia Romagna...

a complete dearth of vegetable matter... ah, Italia.

So, thus fortified, dispersed to various napping venues where we readied ourselves for the last night party which I left around 1.30 I think, the dancing queens showing how it is possible to keep trim and limber over a year of food studies.

And now it's all done, and we'll spend the next few days securing the profitability of Poste Italiane before disappearing into new lives out there in the four corners of the food world.

On the way home this morning from another expensive trip to the post office, I had a farewell visit to my favourite Pugliese specialities shop where I have been buying quantities of taralli over the past few months. It was gratifying to realise I was able, after a year! to exchange a few Italian pleasantries with the shopkeeper. She was thunderstruck when I told her I would miss taralli when I was back in Canada - it hadn't occurred to her these weren't a staple food everywhere, I guess. Hers are particularly good so even if I do find a version elsewhere, well, it certainly won't be the same. There's the inescapable fact that food just tastes different in different settings: so here, with foodie classmates, in a land with well established food traditions, everything will taste quite different than it might on the most carefully-provisioned table in London or Victoria.

So, I prepare to leave with the sadness I'd feel leaving anywhere I've lived for a year. Lots to miss in the new food habits I've been cultivating. We've all noticed dramatic increases in the quantity of olive oil we consume. I've developed quite an Acacia honey habit. The fresh buffalo mozzarella, oh what can compare? And here's one of my absolute delights: Visner di Pergola:

We had something like this in Le Marche, called Visciolato, a dark cherry wine made from the local sour cherries, Visciole. I would love the chance to taste that wine side-by-side with this one, which is absolutely delicious. It tastes like pure cherry juice, with a little kick of alcohol to warm it all the way down. Oh my my my my my.

And, yes, the taralli, oh the taralli.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

What's cookin in Parma?

Eerie symbolism or lighthearted public art? These appeared in the Piazzale della Pace just before our graduation. Turns out they are part of a gastronomic festival...

Yesterday was a long long long day for everyone at Unisg but particularly for the academic panel who had to sit through 24 oral presentations, including 3 of them by video link, using skype. The scope of what we had all done for our internships was huge, and it would have been entertaining had it not been so gruelling. Handicapped by a 45 minute late start, by lunchtime what with one thing and another we were running about 2 hours late, and we started a further half hour late after the break. By the time I started my presentation at 5.55pm (scheduled start time: 2.40) the panel and the unfortunates farther down the alphabet were looking decidedly peaky.

Those of us who were finished just barely in time to catch the last bus to Parma (6.15) ran down the stairs, our gleeful bubble rudely popped when we found the gates to the courtyard chained and padlocked, with no escape, cruelly in sight of the bus stop, where our orange beauty sat idling. Luckily, someone with keys emerged just then for a smoke and released us. We sprinted across the cobblestones to the bus's shut door; we knocked and waved at the driver. He waved back. A comedian, just what you want after a blinding day of over-running presentations...

We did eventually get back to Parma, and had an over-indulgent meal at La Filoma which I'd been wanting to revisit since my first meal there just about a year ago. Here's my seasonal booty, faraona, guinea fowl with, if memory serves, a bit of culatello in the middle and some buttery mushrooms next door.

Then followed an overindulgent farewell to Tabarro, our class winebar, opened to us for a private party:

Speaking of overindulgence, we made a farewell reunion celebratory finale visit to Ristorante Mosaiko on Saturday, where I sank into bliss with some foie gras on ricotta pancakes....

and ended up with just too much to choose from for dessert: a pear and almond slice, a chocolate of all chocolate tarts and a smidgen of heavenly tiramisu.

Sunday, November 04, 2007


I happened to hear a song on the radio yesterday, that I've been hearing all year: Somewhere Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World and I looked it up to discover the singer, Israel Kamakawiwo Ole, has been dead for a decade. The single was only released last year which explains its late arrival in my lalala. Other than his gorgeous voice and great tunes, two things took me aback when I looked him up. One was the enormous girth of the man - it was this girth which ultimately killed him at the age of 38 - and the other was that he and I shared a birthday. Well, here's his greatest hit:

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Another countdown

Commencing the last seven days in Parma; my final report is done, and must only be presented at Monday's all-day marathon back on campus. Then there will be graduation festivities of various times. A few more visits to my friends at Poste Italiane and I'm outta here.

Not the most enthralling week. Monday was enlivened by the visit of an aspirapolvere salesman - my first door to door salesman in Italian. He was, he swore, more eager to show me the wonderful cleaning abilities of his product than to sell me anything, but left swiftly when I said I would not be living there much longer. I would have thought the complete absence of carpets would be a bit of a drawback too, but never mind.

The rest of the week I can't really account for; a couple of coffees with people, and a lot of report writing and packing of boxes, half maddened by dodgy internet connections. Yesterday a long walk in the twilight in search of a quad band mobile phone to replace my more limited relic; I ended up in the horrific churn of Esselunga (its name means 'long S' - just like its rather unattractive logo) and with the help of the kind man at the electronics counter managed to achieve my objective and leave quickly. Happier still when I managed to find the English language settings on the phone and get it operational.

Today I've been reading something of relevance, as I cook my way through the remaining dry goods in my cupboard. It's a continuation of earlier reports that British shoppers throw away a third of what they buy - which when you think about it, as Wrap has, is like throwing one of every three bags of groceries straight into the garbage. I would be hugely surprised if other developed-world shoppers throw away anything less than this; I haven't seen anything that reports on Canadian food waste, but I did find a report from 2004 that said Americans don't eat half the food they produce, although other reports suggest a more conservative one-quarter waste rate. Which I frankly don't believe. Be that as it may, I've enjoyed the challenge of using things up. Leftovers cuisine: can there be anything more random?