Into the Foothills

Streets of Bra

Following a brief return to Rome last week to retrieve baggage and greet friends, I am now in my new home in Piemonte – aka the Great North.  Although we never crossed a border during the 5.5 7 (thanks, Google Maps) hour drive up, I am fairly convinced it is a different country up here.  Because the streets are, well, clean. And have clearly delineated bike paths. On which people cycle and jog. For exercise.  And I can understand what everyone is saying. Not because they’re speaking English, but because they’re speaking Italian! Just not, you know, with a heavy Roman accent.

Quite specifically, “here” is Bra, a small-ish town about an hour south of Torino (home to the 2006 Winter Olympics).  About 5km away from Bra (I think that’s like 2.5 miles, but two years in Europe has still not given me any kind of conception of the metric system) is Pollenzo, aka the ancient Roman town of Pollentia (no word yet on if that’s where polenta was invented), and aka the summer residence of the Savoy family (the first and last royal family of unified Italy).  The administrative offices and stables complex of this summer residence (what, your beach house doesn’t have those things?), is now a fancy multipurpose building housing the University of Gastronomic Sciences, the Banca del Vino, and a hotel and restaurant.  But that’s about it for Pollenzo, so, nearby Bra provides much of the support for the university, including residences for most students.

The first few days up here were about getting acclimated to the city and the cleanliness, and tracking down housing, with the help of my loyal assistant, Dad. I scored a sweet one-bedroom right in the center of town, complete with green shutters and a crotchety looking old nonna hanging laundry out on the balcony below mine.  We also managed to squeeze in a few meals of traditional Piemontese cuisine – vitello tonnato, cardi con fonduta, salsiccia di Bra, and Barolo-braised everything.

Following a few pre-school gatherings with classmates, class started on Wednesday. After a good two hours or so of going around the room and introducing ourselves to one another, I can safely say that everyone in my Master class in Food Culture and Communication at the University of Gastronomic Sciences really loves food. As our class of 28 hails from 17 different countries, I was worried we wouldn’t have much in common, so for the time being that fear is alleviated.

The University is very closely affiliated with Slow Food, and much of our introductory time this week was spent learning about Slow Food.  I am curious to see how this relationship factors into the rest of the year.  I strongly support the idea behind Slow Food – a universal food system that is Good, Clean, and Fair, but I hope that our classes are more objective and comprehensive, and not all presented in relation to the organization.

Real classes started on Friday with Sustainable Agriculture in the morning, and Molecular Basis of Taste in the afternoon.  The program is structured around various visiting professors coming and teaching us for a week or two, so instead of a standard semester or quarter-based class schedule, we will have one class in a series of 3 hour blocks over the course of a week or two.

Class on Friday was followed by a belated Thanksgiving celebration – hosted and organized by FC-9, the Master class that started about 6 months ago.  The Food Culture and Communications Master program is divided into 3 concentrations, which start at different times throughout the year (our class, FC-10, focuses on Media, Representations and High Quality Foods), so we have the added bonus of there being two other Master classes already on campus to do such things as show us around, tell us about Giolitto the cheese guy, and host al fresco Thanksgiving dinners featuring two types of turkey, liters of wine, and a regular smorgasbord of potluck side dishes.

Alright, off to fix my water heater. Again.

Castle towers (um…school) by sunset


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