Monday, March 22, 2010

Just Call Me Dr. Chocolate

What? Lindsay’s in a program that contains “Communications” in its title, and yet she is so bad at communicating!? I have tried to write this blog again and again, but each time become overwhelmed with the amount of things I want to say and given up. This time, however, I shall succeed. Or, you will be reading something very poorly written, but a blog nonetheless.

The snow has melted and school has begun. On the 11th I was introduced to my twenty-four classmates and discovered that we hold the record as the university’s most diverse group ever, representing sixteen different countries. Everyone seems to be settling into their niche and we are continually learning more and more about each other and where we come from. With them I laugh hard and laugh often, so I couldn’t ask for much more.

Classes are now in full swing and I’m enjoying each day. My nine-year hiatus from anything non-arts-related came to an abrupt end on our first full day at UNISG, when we were lectured on molecular science. ME, learning SCI-ENCE. Fortunately, our professor understood her students so well that not only did she make frequent analogies to butter, but compared micelle cells to Ferrero Roche. What a clever, clever lady.

For me, the best class to date was on the history of chocolate, followed by a tasting of nineteen different varieties. My favourite was made from a rare cocoa bean variety called criollo; smooth and nutty and unlike anything I’ve tried. By the end of those two hours I had pretty much convinced myself that this is my calling; I’ll keep you updated on how exactly I plan to receive my Ph.D in chocolate, but don’t you doubt even for a second that I couldn’t find a way.

I’ll tell you what is not my calling: pig farming. Yesterday we visited a farm that breeds thousands of pigs for prosciutto, and it was like walking into the bowels of hell. The smell was so strong it permeated not only my clothing but my camera too, and now every time I take a picture I am treated to the nearly-palpable stench all over again. We followed this with lunch at a restaurant, which served each of us a large plate of you-know-what. Seeing pigs alive in boxes then pigs on your plate within hours of each other gives one a lot to think about.

I have certainly not wanted for good food since arriving here; only two weeks have passed and I’ve already played host and guest to numerous meals with fellow food-loving students. This is undoubtedly one of my favourite parts of life here, and I’ve learned so much already; how to dissect an artichoke, for example, which we put into a tart with zucchini and four different kinds of cheese. Share this with friends, wine, a lot of chatter, and there it is: my idea of happiness.

The one thing that displeases me is my Italian, or lack there-of. I attend school each day in a familiar, English-speaking bubble, then seize when I return to Italian-speaking Italy and attempt to talk. My comprehension is enough to get by, but my heart longs to be able to stop apologizing for my ignorance and instead converse with people. Luckily the man at Grom, an artisanal gelateria, is more than happy to indulge us in our broken conversation. For this reason, and this reason alone, I will be visiting the shop on a regular basis. Learning the phrase “I would like your largest cone and most magnificently rich gelato, please” will be useful to me in achieving my chocolate phD. I just know it.

Below are some photos of our school (in the Reggia di Colorno, a building of buttery-yellow magnificence), my classmates, and pigs, amongst others.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

First Impressions of Parma

On my way to Italy I've had a fantastic month of surfing various friends’ couches.  Highlights and low-lights include:

-Catching up with friend after friend in Victoria/Vancouver/Norwich/London/Milan, often over a wickedly good meal/brownie
-Spending two weeks in Vancouver during the Olympics, which was indescribably fun
-Paying $100 for $400 seats at a hockey game, then realizing we were sitting behind Cuba Gooding Jr.
-Having “EXPLOSIVES DETECTED” on my hands at the San Francisco airport, resulting in me being forced into a glass cube, where I was sprayed down with something that has probably made me radioactive.
-Having my toiletry bag fall from my backpack in London and get demolished by a fleet of vehicles while I, oblivious, continued to run to the Canadian Embassy to see if they would let us into their Gold Medal Game party. They didn’t, and shortly after I discovered the bag, including glasses, on the road and in approximately 10,000 pieces. Good thing we won that game.
-Went to a club called Toilet in Milan (this lies somewhere in between)

After these and several more adventures I finally made it to Parma, which wore its finest for my arrival. Sky blue and sun shining, I made one last haul with my luggage to the town of Colorno, just north of Parma and home to the University of Gastronomic Sciences. I fetched my key, returned to Parma, and found my new home in the very centre of town, on Borgo San Biagio. This location perk was nothing compared to meeting my new roommates, however. I received hugs upon arrival by the nicest German and South Korean you could ever meet, was fed, and immediately given maps/any information I could possibly need. I am the only one in my program who is living with students in the other masters program, which started in November, and I think in many ways this is to my advantage. Our apartment is large, lovely, and feels like home. My own room is about twice the size of any room I’ve ever lived in, and I don’t think I could own enough clothes in my entire lifetime to fill the wardrobe. From my window I look down into a narrow lane, and up to the tower of the Duomo (cathedral), which would be a literal stones throw away if I had a better arm.

And what do I think of Parma? Despite the last 24 hours of snow (yes, snow), I think quite highly of it so far. It is pretty, not too large, hosts many cyclists, and of course has food on offer in every second shop window. I am looking forward to exploring all of the cafes, bakeries, specialty stores, theatres, and parks, so many of which are at my doorstep.

I find that as long as I try to speak Italian, the people are generally quite gracious. The exception here is bus drivers, who I think may ignore everyone’s questions, not just foreigners. For me, each successful venture in this new language is a small victory, whether it be asking for a residence document from the post office or a loaf of whole-wheat bread at the bakery. I continue to get asked for directions, so if I keep my mouth shut I at least look Italian.

We were meant to start school yesterday, but the snow postponed our orientation until today. Myself and three other students didn’t receive the email in time, however, and so found ourselves together in Colorno nonetheless. I don’t regret this one bit, because I got to meet some of my lovely class-mates and am looking forward to my program now more than ever!

Below are some hastily-edited photos of Parma, my apartment, and my yet-to-be-decorated room. The IKEA (in italiano, “ee-kay-ah”) trip is on Saturday!