A few years ago, an Italian hit song contained the line, “Saturday morning and still at school”. And that’s where I was, at the back of the classroom, last desk to the left, my best friend Fede next to me as always.
“What are you doing this afternoon?”
“I’m going to the Salone del Gusto.”
“Yeah, and I’m going tomorrow as well.”
Good question. Why should an eighteen-year-old schoolgirl spend her Saturday afternoon at the Salone del Gusto?
Like in those class interrogations, where you suddenly go dumb, I hadn’t a ready answer. But one word kept interrupting my thoughts—emotion.
Yet even it failed to express exactly what I meant, so I set to work in earnest thinking about how to respond. Not that it was a particularly arduous task, but, at any rate, my mind began frantically assembling, re-elaborating and seeking to rationalize. Today, a few weeks on from what, for me, was three days of Paradise, I know what I mean and I’m ready to answer the question.
Let’s start at the very beginning. To enter the small world of Slow Food is to find out about the work of all the people who—on the basis of a pleasure as individual and subjective as taste—have succeeded in creating a common, universal value. It is a value that, over the years, has brought together enthusiasts, connoisseurs and the uninitiated of every race, creed and religion, from western fashion-followers to the beguiling exponents of cultures wrongly deemed second-rate. It has been a huge job but it has been carried out so well and on such a broad scale as to raise the profile of the particularities of all that’s local.
That would be a justification in itself, but my answer doesn’t end there. At the age of eighteen, I chose to go to the Salone del Gusto because it stands for the battle we have to fight in the historical era we are currently living in. 1968‘s is the past; it gave us a lot but it forgot even more. If we wish to go ahead, it’s pointless to look back nostalgically to the past. No, we have to take a long, cool look at today, see what’s missing and find a remedy for the situation. It’s not a question of moralism; in my opinion, what the women and men of Slow Food have grasped is that nowadays what is being questioned is the very fountainhead of life—plus, they’ve managed to put theory into practice.
The Salone del Gusto is like a battle—or, if you prefer, politics without the parties, since the goal it’s aiming at can be shared by all humanity. I’m no insider, so I’m not acquainted with the technical side of things. At the Salone, though, it was easy to see how the ‘love of taste’ encapsulates much deeper, well-rooted presuppositions than the ‘sin of gluttony’ alone! No, this truly titanic enterprise comprises the defense of the right to health and culture, immediate, serious help for populations impoverished by exploitation … and the rejection of globalization.
I used to think it was impossible to stanch globalization. When, two summers ago, I told my parents I wanted to go to Genoa for the no global demonstration to actually do something tangible instead of looking passively on, they said no, that wasn’t the way to go about things. My first reaction was anger. Though I’m no lover of conflict, I just couldn’t work out what the alternative might be. But a fortnight ago in Turin, I saw with my own eyes how Slow Food has managed to avenge the debacle of the demonstrators in Genoa.
By helping and subsidizing local firms and raising the profile of the effective quality of their products, these people challenge and beat the big multinationals on their own ground, sensitizing the world at large by drawing buyers away from mass consumption.
Entering the Salone del Gusto, you become part of a philosophy— you take on an active role giving up the active spectator role that’s been pre-prepared for you. Then, I have to add, there are exquisitely personal, arguably less elevated motives that made me fall in move with this Salone. They may not be very interesting, but here they are anyway!
When I made my ‘triumphal entrance’ into Pavilion 2, the first thing I did was to I sniff the air. It may sound daft, but it’s something I always do because I consider it part and parcel of my memory of the event. It might seem unimportant but, apart from the delicious aroma of cheese and vegetables, you could feel a special atmosphere all around you. Everyone was smiling happily; funny, because in Turin the weather’s always miserable and the people are sad. Yes, there was happiness all around and the hundreds of other visitors were like friends. Our common passion prompted looks of mutual understanding. ”Look, we’re sitting at the same stand!” and ”What do you know, we’ve both chosen the same tasting!” were common exchanges. We were all like fifties kids in front of bread and butter and jam!
Never in my life have I felt so engrossed by total strangers. The fact is that listening to the history of Fontina or eating salmon together causes a sort of happy complicity to develop spontaneously.
You can’t imagine how many friends I met in the Cake Lane and in front of the Ligurian focaccia stand. You can’t imagine how exciting it was to bump into and greet people, all surrounded by this selfsame atmosphere. Maybe it’s true, maybe eating well improves you as a person. The truth is I’ve never met such simple, fun-loving, amusing, kind, affectionate people.
I hope readers who visited the Salone had the same impression as I did. On the other hand, I hope that those who didn’t will have some idea of what the atmosphere was like from this account of mine.
Last but not least, dulcis in fundo, I want to mention a veritable ‘Cupid’s arrow’—the people tending the stands. By that I don’t mean I fell in love with some handsome young man. No, I fell in love—and it’s not a euphemism—with the wrinkles on their faces, with their bright, hope-filled eyes, and their picturesque, never out-of-place dress. Above all, I fell in love with the stories they had to tell.
My stomach wasn’t well trained enough to taste absolutely everything, but my ears were pricked to pick up every word, and my eyes peeled to investigate, capture and store any characterizing nuance forever. Each character had stories to tell, all different but permeated by the same passion, anger and disillusionment with waste, by the fatigue of continuing with the fight, the hope and even the love for a dream that, in their hands, has come true.
All of them had had to surmount enormous problems and, in their eyes, I could sense the huge determination that had allowed them to do so. I’d have liked to take them all home with me to listen to them … and to listen to them all over again! The ebullient little man displaying Andes fruit and his big straw hat. The Irish salmon fishermen with his warm blue eyes whose quick-spoken English was far more than my scholastic knowledge of the language could cope with. The irresistible Garfagnana breadmaker who got me drunk on his spelt beer. And, above all, the man who spoke to me about Argentine corn, whose passion in the midst of difficult opened up a whole new world for me. He was obviously tired but he always had a kind word for everyone—and he gave me the best present I’ve ever received!
For two weeks now, a corncob is prominent in my bedroom among the my favorite books and well-worn records.
Fede came to study at my house today. Tongue-in-cheek, she asked:
“What’s that corncob doing here?”
“It’s here because it’s special. Because it contains many, many kernels, but only one is bright green.”
Carol Povigna,18, lives in Pino Torinese and studies at the Liceo Scentifico “Gobetti”.
She is a regular contributor to the local magazine In Collina.