20 Slow Food delegates (from various offices) deserted the International office in Bra for the Slow Food Award 2001, leaving the little Piedmontese town at dawn on October11 2001 to reach Oporto, European Culture Capital 2001, at lunchtime. The group returned to base in the late afternoon of Monday 15. What follows is a letter by letter account of those five days by one of the Slow representatives.
A – for Alitalia: the Italian national airline serve up huge delays for the Slow Food delegation on both the outward and the return flight, squeezing the passengers into tiny airplanes (on both journeys) with nursery school-size seats and offering them inedible plastic meals. How to make yourself popular?
B – Bacalhau: the uncontested king of Portuguese national dishes at all meals (official or otherwise) on the reception program: salt cod is always on the menu. During the Gala Dinner I ask whether there is any truth in the Portuguese saying that there are 365 recipes for bacalao, one for every day of the year. One of the guests, the young owner of a little restaurant in Oporto called Sal e pimenta answers, ‘There are many more. At least a thousand. And everyone thinks theirs is the best!’.
C – for Ceremony: the award ceremony for the champions of biodiversity – the Portuguese Slow Food Award presents a lavish scenario. Hosted by Portuguese TV star Manuel Luís Goucha, it offered an impressive and authoritative parterre (at the speakers’ table are Jorge Monteiro, Vìtor Barros, secretary of state for rural development, minister of economy Luis Braga da Cruz, chairman of ICEP Luìs Neto, the secretary of state for fishing José Apolinàrio, the secretary of state for tourism Vìtor Neto and the charismatic Portuguese First Lady, Maria José Ritta), bright traditional costumes, television channels, prolonged applause, eyes shining with tears, hugs, smiles and general displays of emotion.
D – for Douro: the ‘river of wine’ valley – which we visit on the Sunday in seven different groups and as many coaches – has breathtaking views of centuries-old vineyards and hand-built stone walls, winding up the precipitously steep banks, illustrating the history of a severe, hard, dogged and noble winemaking tradition, which is proudly experiencing its most prosperous period today. It is my lot to visit the Real Compagnia Velha, in the Quinta do Carvalho. A young agronomist from the winery passionately describes the historical background of the winery and the local area, in perfectly understandable Porto-Spanish. At lunchtime our coach clings to wild, terrifying routes up to the top of a hill. We eat an excellent meal in a white villa, a circular construction that looks like a cake or a Montébore cheese. The view is magnificent. The wind is blustery. When we leave it begins to rain and going down, as ever, is even scarier than going up.
E – for Esperanto: the delegation gathered in Oporto for the Award is as international an experience of humanity as it could get. In public relations, during the buffets, during informal meetings and chats, during interviews and meals, we get ready (with a lot of enthusiasm and a glass or two of Port for courage) to speak even the languages we don’t know, with exhilarating and sometimes surprising results. On the list of good memories, this rich, cheerful, chaotic Babel of cultures, languages, history and customs is among the top five.
F – for Fourteen: the number of Award-winners this year. Three from Africa, four from South America, one from Central America, three from Asia, three from Europe. An extraordinary cross-section of humanity. 14 unique stories, that deserve to be read and re-read (click here).
G – for Gala: the grand official dinner on the evening of Saturday 13 (photo) is held in the dazzling stateroom of the Alfândega in Oporto, with tables laid for over 600 guests. Despite the huge number of diners, the quality of the meal is exceptionally good, confirming the lucky choice of venue in gastronomical terms.
H – for Hotel: the assembly in the Portuguese wine capital is massive (over 300 guests have thronged into Oporto, including award-winners, members of the Jury panel, journalists, Slow Food members and staff) and is spread over 6 hotels. The better ones, for once, are those with fewer stars. The Hotel da Bolsa is a charming three-star hotel in the very center of the city.
I – for Istituto do Vinho do Porto: during the event the central temple to Portuguese winemaking becomes the meeting point for the Award 2001; here the welcome buffet is held and the meetings of the annual International Slow Food Governors’ Assembly, which takes place on Saturday 13 and Sunday 14.
J – for Joâo Marinho Falcâo: the Oporto convivium leader also in charge of Vinitur, the wine tourism agency which has been responsible for on-site organization and running the complex business of accommodating all the international guests, is unanimously praised for his personal success. It really was not a simple matter to follow the 2000 Bolognese edition in style, but Joâo succeeded.
K – for Kim: this is the surname of two of the three Korean jury panel members (Kim is the commonest surname in South Korea). One of them, Kim Chin Wha, is a cosmopolitan journalist who has just returned from Afghanistan, where he was sent to cover the war, and he astounds the other diners at each meal: on one occasion he shows off his perfect Italian by singing arias from the Cavalleria Rusticana, and on another his perfect knowledge of traditional Arab tunes. Kim Jong Duk is just as interesting: the professor of sociology from the faculty of Masan, and translator of George Ritzer, leads a sashaying ‘train’ of dancers reminiscent of Hellzapoppin’ on the train back from Douro.
L – for Leça: a football team in Matosinhos, near Oporto. We pass their stadium every day on the coach, our thoughts momentarily turning to the matches of the Italian football championship: a remote, far-off thought in these hectic days.
M – for Maria José Ritta: the Portuguese first lady’s speech precedes Carlo Petrini’s official address at the award ceremony. Clear ideas, surprising synchronicity with the Slow philosophy, open awareness of the themes of biodiversity at risk and farm food economy to be refounded, charisma, savoir-faire and also the gift of succinctness. An important presence.
N – for Navdanya: the organization founded by Vandana Shiva, member of the Committee of Honor and an important charismatic presence at the Portuguese edition of the biodiversity award, works to preserve native Indian seeds and reintroduce completely organic farming, in which the fertilizers and pesticides are wholly natural. The movement is especially active in the Dehra Dun area (in the Uttar Anchal region): as well as creating an organic farm Navdanya has converted 35 villages in the nearby hills and 100 families in the Dehra Dun valley to eco-compatible farming.
O – for Oporto: Slow Food communications in Italian about the Award have ignored the correct spelling of the city’s name, preferring “Porto”, which is more international (and therefore more user-friendly) and has immediate and pleasant references to wine.
P – Port: the famous national wine. We discover all its virtues and all its versions (Vintage, Tawny, White), its history and its great successes, which tell us about a wine and economy which are constantly progressing. All according to George Sandeman, our host at the grand lunch (literally among the barrels) held in the family winery, originally founded by his great-great-great-grandfather (of the same name) back in 1790, in London.
Q – for Quinta: The Portuguese word quinta means farm and on Sunday October 4 the Slow Food delegation split up into various groups to visit a number of them (all Port wineries) in the Douro Valley. I personally visited the Quinta da Carvalho near Pinão, where we were treated to a fine lunch of mixed salad, baked bacalhau, wild boar, rice and chocolate mousse, all washed down with the fine wines of the district.
R – for Ribeira: the picturesque district in the old center of Oporto, where the highest number of bars and nightspots are to be found. We can’t leave without making one or two happy nocturnal forays along these narrow streets, with the damp cobbles and mysterious bars of a seaport, oozing with stories waiting to be told. Staying out late is just a moment. Returning to the hotel, just a word.
S – for Special: the Slow Food Award gives a special mention to José Esquinas, an FAO executive who has always worked for the protection of biodiversity. ‘After more than twenty years of hard work, an agreement has been reached on the text of the International Convention on Biodiversity and this is largely thanks to him: now the most important task lies ahead – having the Convention adopted by the various nations of the world. The countries which accept it will commit to respecting it and perhaps people like these award-winners will at last begin to have an easier life’ (Cinzia Scaffidi, Slow Food Award 2001 in Oporto). There were also five special Jury Awards which went to India, Morocco, Mexico, Guinea and Portugal.
T – for Train: the trip to – and especially back from – the visit to the Douro valley, on a train totally occupied by the Slow Food group, provided with a rich buffet and (a peculiarity of Portugal) swiveling seats that make the carriages rather like little sitting rooms, soon turns into a festive, unpredictable and explosive experience reminiscent of a Fellini movie. People from 40 different nations, of all races, ethnic groups, cultures and religions, are gathered together in celebratory mood, to sing traditional songs, dance (including a ‘train’ of dancers within the train) and let their hair down, roaring with laughter like children, making friends, improvising stripteases, proposing toasts and joking. Unpredictable – and unforgettable.
U – for USA: the American group is inevitably smaller than expected, given current events, and their presence is valued all the more in the context of this Award, which more than any other reiterates the importance of brotherhood and tolerance among mankind, and does so simply and cheerfully, by celebrating the gestures of these small, determined heroes of labor.
V – for Verde: as in the vinho verde of Portugal, a white table wine with an unpretentious past and a present desire to be relaunched; and like the green caldo, the famous and delicious Portuguese vegetable soup, which could not be excluded from the menus during our trip.
W – for World Cultural Heritage Site, UNESCO’s recognition of the old historic center of Oporto.
X – for Xabeque, a type of merchant ship, once a common sight in Oporto’s Porto de Leixões.
Y – for Yutaka Baba from Japan, one of the many Slow Food enthusiasts who traveled all the way to Oporto at their own expense. Just to be there.
Z – for Zelig: the holy patron of Biodiversity.
Stefano Sardo is a member of the Slow Food Internet Office
Photo: the gala dinner (T. Turner)
Translated by Ailsa Wood