moving forward

Back in May, to mend a battered heart, I fled to Italy with a mission to explore the University of Gastronomic Science in the tiny town of Pollenzo. I have this intensely vivid memory of walking by myself between the school’s old walls on that hot spring afternoon and pebbles crunching under my feet. The smell of spring, where everything is absurdly fragrant, gave me the same sense of euphoria I get everywhere. I simultaneously realized two things; I could do this and that “this” had already begun. It just took my brain a little longer to catch up.

When I got home I spent a month filling out my application, writing 26 essays questions and working my way around a maddening Italian government. I submitted my portfolio like I had hit the red button in the oval office. All I could do was wait….I HATE waiting…

Move forward 7 months… The morning of knowing finally came…early. I sat in my kitchen with Kudra flopped over my keyboard when the email arrived…Twenty-five people were accepted into this program. I was given the random number 198.  I opened the list. 23, 455, 199, … I scanned the list and my heart pounded in my chest….then I saw it, 198. I had to blink twice and look again. Was I really in? Holy Shit. Here we go.. Deep breath.. I am moving to Italy. I am quitting my job, leaving people I love, paying for this how? I will figure it out! I AM MOVING TO ITALY!

Now it is December 22. Winter Solstice. Each day I try to complete some small step forward. I occupy myself with other things but there is no doubt, I am moving away. For one year. People move to other countries or across their own country all the time. I wasn’t doing something extraordinary, but to me, it is everything. An old soul recently told me that my life is a movie waiting to be made. I think life is an ever-changing, slightly maddening, always moving picture show. I am going to have a kick-ass sound track.


The future of food, with a taste of the past

At last we were heading to the heart of the matter. I didnt really think about it this way until we were 10 minutes from the campus and Sami asked if i was prepared.  But it all boiled down to the fact that i was in Italy to see if i wanted to participate in a 12 month masters program at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in the tiny town of Pollenzo, Italy.

I have always had a special place for Italy in my heart because it was the first country i visited outside of North America. The fact that i might call it home for a year is rather overwhelming! Stacey and Sami had to come along to make sure i was making the right decision.

We left Vernazza on the 6am train to make it to Pollenzo by 10:00. Our rather incompetent navigator, Emily, made me nervous. We arrived at 9:53, front door service! Nice driving Sami!

The open house was incredible! Being only one of two Americans in a group of over 50 potential students, I met with current students and professors, got a tour of the library, with subscriptions to every food-related magazine produced in the world, the Italian Wine Bank and dined on exquisitely produced foods right around the valley by local farmers. Sigh…any apprehension i had about this decision evaporated into a glass of fresh strawberry nectar.

While i was being consumed by my future, Stacey and Sami settled into our “room” in the castle. Did i mention that the school is located in a castle, which was built on first century roman ruins? um yeah…. Anyway Stacey luxuriated in the tub, Sami took a nap and i arrived with my head spinning and in need of a shower and a drink, which came complimentary with slippers and a robe.

That evening, we enjoyed an Italian wedding outside our bedroom window and a tour of the Banco Del Vino before dinner.

After being offered a  glass of nebiolo wine, we were set free in the undercroft. Slow Food believes it is possible to drink a wine into extinction so they are storing over 100,000 bottles of Italian wines, organized by region and type. My thoughts were three-fold; my friend Nicole’s penchant for wine and how much she would have LOVED THIS, the masters program includes 18 credits of wine tasting, and that it was always a permanently chilled in the cellars and in the hot summer months, i needed to get a job down here.

Around 8 we meandered above ground for dinner at Guidos, the school’s pre-fixe Slow Food restaurant. Stacey ordered the seasonal pre-fixe and i ordered the classic so we could swap. Sami ordered off the regular seasonal menu so that we could try a few additional items.We asked our waiter to pair our wines for us, as the wine list arrived on the table in three hardbound volumes; one for Italy, one for Piedmonte region of Italy and one for the rest of the world…. Nic, where were you?!

Sadly, my stomach sacked out around the third course but each dish was so beautifully presented and tasted, well it tasted like we thought it would, divine.

That evening, we slept between 1000 thread-count sheets like drug induced food-coma babies and awoke late to sunshine and a massive breakfast. I pocketed 3 jars of honey and a bottle of apricot nectar. Shhhh

About a week before we arrived in Italy, I found a private guide online. We wanted to explore the cheeses and wines of the region. We got really lucky. Corrine was fantastic! She had been born in the champagne region of France and moved to Italy 35 years before when she married a local wine producer. She was also an italian and french teacher and spent half the day, trying to set me up with her ex-husband. I didnt bite on that one… although after 3 glasses of wine, anything was possible…

First stop was Tre Donne, a 100 year old vineyard run by three sisters. We sat outside on the patio as Rosanna prepared our glasses for the Borolo. We enjoyed our wine with a pairing of local goat cheeses. She also gave us a quick breakdown of the wine regions, using her daughter’s puzzle map.
Corrine taught us to smell the wine with each nostril to experience it with the left and right sides of our brain separately. I was the only one who found the wine to be stronger on the left side but no one really knew what that meant.

Next we tasted a sparkling Moscato D’Asti paired with a local chocolatier’s Moscato truffles.

i fell in love with the glasses, Stacey fell in love with Rosanna’s daughter, who also tried to sell us a large rock for 100e.

With a great wine buzz, a bag of truffles and 4 bottles of wine, we headed out through small villages, vineyards and farmland, passed a sign for the Las Vegas Sexy Shop (which we never found) up a steep hill and into the drive of Francesca’s 300 year old farm and my Eden.

Swiss-born Francesca moved to Italy to raise sheep, goats, cows, pigs, horses, poultry, dogs and 6 babies. She makes her own cheeses, cured meats, olives, wine, preserves and i am pretty sure she has also discovered the cure for cancer. She is amazing! i was speechless but had the sense to ask if i could be her sponge when i moved to Italy. She didnt speak any English but after realizing i was dead-serious, nodded her head in quiet approval.We dined outside on onion fennel omelets along with her salami, olives, smoked bresola, at least 10 cheeses and her own wine, as a massive thunder storm roll over us. I much preferred the rapture i felt that day, thank you very much Harold Camping.

Completely blissed out, we slowly made our way back to TorinoWe walked into the small town of Cassello where ferrell cats are loved and Saras need H’s. We ate Buffalo Mozzarella Pizza and italian beers before dropping our little Fiat off. We think she grew to love us.

The following morning, Federico picked us up at 430am and we headed to the airport for home.

During the week,  I laughed so hard i cried more times than i can count. I had several of those moments where the combination of my friends, a perfect spring breeze and good food made me take pause and realize how truly lucky i am. I could not have asked for a better time and my heart is full and happy.

Now i need to get busy on that application!