Monday, January 19, 2004

Skiing again yesterday, and I’ve come back with a miserable cold.

Over lunch I got talking to an Italian friend about pasta. “The thing is...” I said, “..the Italians take the shapes of their pasta very seriously: they talk, with all seriousness, about preferring spaghetti over penne, for example. Yet the differences are minimal”. She was laughing out loud at this point, so I thought she could see what I was getting at. But she then proceeded to defend the facade:

“They are different.”

“Hold on...”, I said, “..different is having potatoes or rice or cous cous or polenta or noodles as your carbohydrates; tagliatelle instead of fusilli isn’t different – it’s the same thing in a different shape.”

“Why do we need all these other foods when we have so much variety in pasta?” she replied. I clearly wasn’t getting through so let it pass. But once again I’d come across Italian insularity and increasingly it’s beginning to piss me off. A student of mine last week said that, as far as he was concerned, there is only French cooking and Italian cooking; the rest is all rubbish. Idiot.

Anyway, the conversation moved on slightly; “..and its all so plain” I said. “Where did this idea that plain pasta, or maybe pasta with the tiniest portion of pesto, was interesting food? It’s boring, not matter how well you time the removal of the pan from the heat”. My failure to comprehend was put down to my Englishness, and frankly I find that slightly insulting: I’m perfectly capable of tasting what’s good, what’s interesting and what’s not, and if you stopped smirking for a while at the idea of ‘English’ ‘good’ and ‘cook’ in the same sentence, you might find out that I am, in fact, rather talented in the kitchen.

Establishing that I liked pesto, my friend said I would find excellent pesto in Liguria. I thought about this for a moment and then asked “Why there?”

“Because that’s where it’s from; it’s a local speciality”, she said.

“I know...” I replied, “..but so? You can transport pine nuts, basil and olive oil a few hundred miles down the road without causing any damage, so why do I have to travel to Liguria to have good pesto?”. She looked at me like I was an idiot.

“Because...”. She paused, holding out her hands, fingers together, “..it’s a local speciality. Yes, you can get good pesto here, but moreso there. They have a feeling for it.”

“What?!” I exclaimed, “I’m sure if someone can do good pesto in Liguria, then somebody else can do it here.”

This caused a friendly tirade of abuse; “Where is your heart? Don’t you have any feelings? Don’t you ever feel anything? At the end of your fingers? What do you feel?”.

Maybe it wasn't wise to go for the facetious answer at this point. But it was so easy, obligato, in fact: “The fork”.

“Arg!” Hands were swiftly placed together and quickly waved back and forth in that praying gesticulation so enamoured by Italian centre-forwards. “You feel nothing. You are heartless”. The conversation ended, and Italy once again retreated into itself.

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