SLOW FOOD IN THE WORLD – Mingling at Mescolanze

23 Sep 2003

Rovereto is less than an hour by car from Verona going north, just after the Veneto–Trentino border. Valentina’s Peugeot 106 streaks along the Brenner motorway (at least tries to). The road runs along a flat green alluvial valley, filled by the detritus of the River Adige over the years and now a plain dotted with vineyards and flanked by towering mountains. “It’s like a Vietnamese landscape,” says Vale, as we arrive.

There are 30,000 people living here, more or less like Bra, where we set off from. The size of many quiet towns in the affluent north of Italy, but here you can find some impressive activities: a renowned international dance festival, Orienteoccidente, which has been held for 23 years, a brand-new museum of modern art, the MART, which can hold its own against the New York Guggenheim, and for the last three years – the Mescolanze: Peoples and Flavors of the World food festival, which is the reason we have come to visit for nearly a week.

We have been invited by the initiator and organizer of the event, Paolo Bellini. Imposing in stature with clear, lively eyes, strong reassuring hands and the pale complexion of someone not getting enough sleep, Paolo is the dynamic leader of Slow Food Vallagarina, the local SF convivium. In 2001, together with friends he organized the Patapunfete event, a celebration of world cuisines. Its worthy aim was to promote respect for diversity through the ritual of good food, and at the same time support a community of missionaries in Addis Ababa and the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity.

He coordinated the gastronomic side of things with his ‘buddy’, Rinaldo Dalsasso, another impressive figure, a gentleman chef who looks a tough character with a soft heart, practically Francis Ford Coppola’s double.

I am here because Paolo, a person who truly likes ‘mixing’, was intrigued by Slow Food on Film, the festival of short films about food of which I’m a director: we first wrote to each other, then made arrangements, and here I am to present an exclusive screening in Rovereto of a series of short films from the Bra festival. I have brought 14 of the 21 shorts, a substantial and representative sample from last year’s competition. We will be showing them in an attractive room in the town hall, every afternoon at 4pm from August 26-30.

At 6pm, just as we are leaving the screening, we are waylaid by Street Food in the stone alleys of the center. Cooks from around the world (many from the Slow Food school in Jesi) are preparing an amazing variety of specialties at the stands set up by the staff of Mescolanze. There are Sardinian malloreddu, kebabs in soy sauce from Japan, American Caesar salad, focaccia flavored with Lebanese thyme, Pakistani samosas, and refined Catalan tapas. People are wandering around, looking from one stall to the next, handing over their mescos (the official currency of Mescolanze: one mesco is worth one euro) in payment for mouth-watering snacks with unusual flavors. The occasional person —you can tell from the expression on their faces—looks wary when tasting the unaccustomed flavors, but most people are enjoying themselves, and groups progress from one snack to the next with evident satisfaction.

On Monday (August25), Wednesday (27) and Friday (29), three big pre-booked functions are hosted at the M(eat)ing Point in Corso Rosmini, a large sumptuous marquee full of attractive tables surrounding a large stage used by musicians, the real beating heart of Mescolanze.

The first is a traditional Sardinian dinner organized by Maura Vinci Orrù, a very special housewife from Pabillonis, a village on the Campidano plain, who wins everyone over with her homemade delicacies.

On Wednesday, it’s the turn of Jordi Cruz and his friend and colleague Sergio Pinos Colomera, Catalans from Estany Clar di Cercs, Barcelona. Voted best young chef in Spain in 2003, Jordi is a bundle of energy in the kitchen, where he tirelessly produces creative dishes, both for the dinner and, on other days, at the taste workshops or for Street Food … wherever his dynamic presence is needed. He and Sergio arrive smiling, with their black Mescolanze chefs’ berets pulled down on their heads, and turn out entertaining surprises such as clams with cream and passion fruit. His creative gambles don’t always come off, but he is on the ball and (something that certainly does no harm) he is likeable.

Friday is the gran soirée of Kamal Mouzawak. A theatrical gastronomic journalist from Beirut, as well as an old friend of Sloweb, Kamal introduces himself to the public in a humorous mixed-up Italian, and the food is prepared by two fellow Lebanese cooks, Joe & Joe, whose real names are Joseph Karam from Burj Al Andalus, and Joe Barza from The Chase, two highly talented innovators of a highly acclaimed cuisine. Sitting with Valentina and me at the table are Giuseppe Gagliardi and Nilesh Patel, directors respectively of Peperoni and A Love Supreme, two of the most popular films at Slow Food on Film 2002. The two came along to attend the last two days of screening and to meet the public.

Kamal brings us our food himself and explains what it is: there is a wonderful hummus (chickpea paste with spices), then the traditional kebbé and after that … well, actually I can’t catch what he is saying: up on the stage, a few meters from where we are sitting, the Ensemble Sannin, a talented Lebanese-Egyptian-Moroccan group, has begun to play. The music gets the better of conversation, so we reconcile ourselves to the pleasures of discovering flavors solely through the palate. Anyway people are beginning to dance …

And this is the pattern for the Mescolanze Nights thought up by Paolo, with the food and live music changing each evening. On Friday 22 it’s the turn of “King Naat” Veliov & the Kocani Orchestra from Macedonia, on Saturday Sona Diabaté & Argile with their African sounds, then the Franco-Irish Guichen Quartet, then the Italians of Avarta, followed by Havana Mambo (an evening which sees a real scrum on the floor), and after that the flamenco of Tomas del Los Reyes and so on…

A real feast for the senses then, combining the pleasures of conviviality with the liberating experience of music and dance (it’s no coincidence that Orienteoccidente is held over the same period): Mescolanze reminds us that sharing a meal is primarily a celebration, especially among people from different cultures and ethnic groups. And that healthy pleasurable relaxation is an effective antidote to the stress we experience nowadays.

On Sunday August 31, it’s time for us to load the car and, with a slightly heavy heart, we leave Rovereto for Venice and the sixtieth International Film Festival, where Slow Food on Film (and Corto in Bra, which hosts it) are presenting a press conference.

We take one of the red Mescolanze brochures with us as a souvenir. The graphic designers (Massimo Dalle Vedove and Leonardo Maraner) did an outstanding job and the publicationis a worthy memento of an event we will not easily forget.

Stefano Sardo, a novelist and screenwriter, is the director of the Slow Food on Film festival ([email protected])

Translation by Maureen Ashley

For information on Mescolanze
For information on Slow Food on Film

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