Getting your covid test in Italy before returning to the U.S. Notes from both sides of the Atlantic.

The covid testing kiosk in the arrivals area at Malpensa airport in Milan.

As soon as friends and colleagues started to notice that I was heading back to Italy, I started to receive messages about covid travel protocols here in the U.S. and on the other side of the Atlantic.

Here’s what I can tell you about my recent experience during my July 18-August 6 trip (my first in more than eighteen months, a long stretch for someone who regularly makes six or more trips to his spiritual homeland each year).

Nota bene: this is not professional advice or official information on what is required. I highly recommend visiting the U.S. Rome embassy website’s covid page for authoritative information. I also recommend signing up for the embassy’s newsletter and reading their updates before and during your trip.

Before leaving in July, it wasn’t clear to me whether I just needed my CDC vaccine card (I’m fully vaccinated, for the record) or whether a covid negative test result was required as well. I used the United Airlines “travel center” to upload both a negative test result and my CDC card. The covid test had to be administered no sooner than 72 hours before my departure. I did mine the day before.

When I arrived at Malpensa airport in Milan, all non-EU passengers were asked to share the documentation with officials before we got to the passport control. As soon as I pulled my CDC card out of its case, he waved me on. He didn’t ask for identification nor did he examine my documentation. That was it. Next stop was the passport control and after an official stamped mine, I was on my way to the rental car pick up.

I got my pre-flight covid test at a drive-in (not drive-through) outpost not far from the airport.

Again, this is not official information or professional advice. Please look at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention travel requirement page. Here’s what it says: “If you plan to travel internationally, you will need to get tested no more than 3 days before you travel by air into the United States (US) and show your negative result to the airline before you board your flight.”

It’s my understanding that even vaccinated travelers need to show a negative result. There are some exceptions. See the CDC site for details.

According to my UniSG students — I was teaching at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Pollenzo, Piedmont — there was easy-access testing in Bra, the nearby city where most of the students and visiting professors like me stay. And from what I observed while in Italy, there are plenty of options for testing, although it seemed that you in many cases, you either had to call (which might be a problem for travelers who don’t speak Italian) or visit in person to get an appointment.

I was planning on staying at a hotel at the airport the night before my departure. It was easy to find multiple testing “drive-through” testing sites in the area where you could register online. I got my test at the one in the photo above. I had registered online a few days before and was able to print out all the required documents.

It wasn’t a “drive-through” in the American sense but rather a “drive-in” where you parked and someone came out to your car to administer the test. I waited for about 15 minutes before they brought me the result. The health professional who gave me the test had lived in the U.S. and he spoke English to me as soon as he saw my passport. He created a English-language version of my test results (which was super cool of him).

As soon as I arrived at the airport, I uploaded my result using the United Airlines app on my phone (via their Travel Center). I received a text about 10 minutes later informing me that it was approved. And that was it.

At the airport, there were at least two options for getting tested on the spot. One was in the arrivals area (the first photo in this post). The other was in the lobby of the Sheraton hotel (above).

I checked online to see available for the one located in the arrivals area. At roughly 7 a.m., it showed the first availability at 8:33 a.m. As I was walking by the kiosk, a young American asked, in English, what time they opened. 8:30 a.m., said the health professional who was preparing to open the testing spot.

I didn’t look at availability for the other testing center.

The Duomo in Milan on Friday, August 6, the day before I left Italy and returned the U.S.

If you don’t speak English, I highly recommend checking with the front desk or concierge at your hotel. From what I observed, there was no shortage of options. And I imagine that many hospitality professionals can point you English-friendly testing spots.

Traveling, especially right now, can be stressful when you don’t speak the home country’s language. From what I saw and heard from other travelers, there were myriad options. Getting a test was relatively easy for everyone I spoke to.

Get vaccinated, wear a mask, and travel safe!

At the Slow Food University, the meglio gioventù. A last dispatch from Piedmont.

Above: some of the 2021 wine communications and food communications students in the graduate program at the Slow Food University of Gastronomic Sciences in Piedmont, Italy.

Things are a little different here in Pollenzo in Piedmont, Italy, where I’ve been a communications instructor in the graduate program for the last six years. Of course, they didn’t bring me over last year for reasons that we all know all too well.

This year, for the first time since I began teaching here in 2016, in-person attendance is no longer required and many of my 30+ students follow from home. The photo above was snapped yesterday in one of the largest classrooms on campus: the extra space allows the students to distance if they prefer.

Masks are mandatory for the staff like me. I wear mine religiously. The students, nearly all of them fully vaccinated as far as I know, generally do not wear them. (I’m fully vaccinated as well, for the record.) After teaching for nearly three weeks with mask on, I have even more respect for teachers in the U.S. and everywhere: in ways I didn’t expect, it’s extremely challenging to lecture for three hours straight with a mask on. Luckily, every classroom is outfitted with a microphone and a public address system that mitigates the need for volume.

Despite all the new-normals of campus life, the experience has reminded me of why we do this in the first place: the students and their journey in discovering and exploring what they want to do when they grow up. For all the homesickness and the hassles of being away from Houston for such a long stretch, the immense reward is the bright light that appears in their eyes as their curiosity is sparked and sometimes satiated.

I wish that everyone could have been in the classroom when my wine communications students and I re-watched some of our wine industry colleagues’ powerful Instagram videos from 2020 calling for social changes in our trade. It was our last hour of class together (although they also attend my food communications lectures).

The discussion that followed not only gave me hope that our work will make the world a better place to eat, as one of my students put it during my first year teaching here in Roero. It also filled me with joy to remember that the students always seem to have an innate sense that compels them to infuse their professional lives with activism — whether combatting climate change, food inequality, or discrimination.

Like Pasolini’s Casarsans, they are the meglio gioventù — the best of youth. And they are what makes this whole crazy world of food and wine all worthwhile.

Your part has ended in light
and I have no darkness in me
to hold your shadow.

Pier Paolo Pasolini
1954

Italian parliament poised to approve bill that would create an “Italian organic” brand and “organic districts.”

Above: over the last decade, organically branded food shops, like this ice cream shop and café, have flourished across Italy.

In late May, the Italian senate approved a sweeping bill that would create a new “Italian organic” brand, officially recognized “organic districts,” and sweeping subsidies for research, development, and monitoring of organic farming practices. The bill would also integrate the organic farming supply chain through government oversight.

The legislation, which is widely expected to be approved by the Italian chamber of deputies, was adopted with one vote in opposition and one abstention.

One point of contention was a brief and arguably vague line in the proposed legislation that would elevate the status of biodynamic agriculture, “putting it on a par with” organic agriculture.

Biodynamic farming’s embrace of spirituality and mysticism, say critics, including Italian senator for life Elena Cattaneo, who delivered an impassioned speech on the senate floor before the vote, make it a discipline not based on science.

Cattaneo, the only senator to vote against the legislation, lobbied unsuccessfully to amend the line about biodynamic agriculture. Her failed efforts were called a “resounding defeat” by the mainstream Italian media. In her address to her colleagues, Cattaneo, known for her groundbreaking work in stem cell research, called organic farming a “niche sector,” noting that it represents a small fraction of Italy’s farmland. She also pointed out that it would provide subsidies to fallow pastures where no food is produced.

The bill, she said, “offers no guarantee of greater health benefits or greater nutritional value” for Italian citizens.

In 2019, when the bill was first debated in the Italian parliament, Cattaneo called organic farming “a beautiful but impossible fairytale.” She and nearly 400 other Italian scientists signed an open letter to the Italian parliament in which they opposed the then nascent legislation.

“In order to justify pricing often double [that of conventionally farmed products],” she said at the time,

    we have been told that organic farming is the only way to save the world and help us to live longer and better. It’s an illusion. There is no scientific proof to confirm this. In fact, the opposite is true: analysis reveals that organic products are not qualitatively better and that large-scale organic farming is unsustainable inasmuch as it produces up to 50 percent less when it comes to top agricultural products. Large-scale organic farming would require twice as much land. In order to convert the world to organic farming, we would have to use hundreds of millions of hectares of currently fallow land, including forests and prairies.

Supporters of the bill see it as part of a wider EU initiative, known as “Farm to Fork,” to safeguard natural resources, to protect the environment, and to create a more robust organic farming supply chain across member states.

“We are extremely pleased that the senate has approved the bill,” said Maria Grazia Mammuccini, president of FedBio, a trade association that has lobbied aggressively for the creation of the “Italian organic” brand. “We have been waiting for this for more than 15 years. This much awaited legislation is finally moving forward.”

On wine and good health in the pandemic circa 1348 (my Georgetown Humanities Initiative lecture).

Above: Sandro Botticelli’s “Banquet in the Pine Forest” (1482-83), the third painting in his series “The Story of Nastagio degli Onesti,” a depiction of the eight novella of the fifth day in Boccaccio’s Decameron (image via Wikipedia Creative Commons).

When esteemed wine educator Karen MacNeil upbraided me last year for writing about a wine and its effect on my metabolism, it only reminded me of what a soulless wine writer she is. And her pungent words came to mind this week when I delivered a virtual lecture on wine as an expression of Western culture for the Georgetown University Humanities Initiative.

One of the topics covered in my talk was wine as portrayed in Giovanni Boccaccio’s Decameron. For those unfamiliar with the work (one of the pillars of the Western canon), the backdrop of the 100 tales told by the young Florentine nobles is the Black Death (Plague) of the mid-14th century. The pandemic reached his city around 1348.

In the introduction to the collection of novellas, Boccaccio describes wine consumption habits of Florentine citizens during the health crisis, their excesses and their moderation, and the role that wine plays in achieving good health.

In the work’s afterword, he returns to the subject of wine and moderate consumption.

“Like everything else,” he writes, “these stories, such as they are, may be harmful or helpful, depending on the listener.”

    Who does not know that wine is a very fine thing for the healthy… but that is harmful for people suffering from a fever? Shall we say it is bad because it does harm to those who are feverish? Who does not know that fire is extremely useful, in fact downright necessary for [hu]mankind? Shall we say it is bad because it burns down houses and villages and cities?

(The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio, translated by Wayne A. Rebhorn, Norton, New York, 2013.)

As evidenced in the passage above, Boccaccio and his contemporaries believed that wine, like fire, was “downright necessary” for humankind.

In Medieval Europe, wine was prized for its ability to balance the “hot” and “cold” of foods and dishes. “Hot” wines were ideally served with “cold” foods and inversely, “cold” wines were best paired with “hot” dishes. These were not gradations of temperature, spiciness, or alcohol content, but rather indicators of humoral composition.

The humors of the drinker, and the place and time of consumption, also came into play.

“Once the nature of a given wine was determined,” writes Medieval scholar Allen J. Grieco, “it still remained necessary for a consumer to respect at least four other conditions.”

    First of all it was necessary to know the humoral constitution of the persons who was going to drink the wine. Secondly, it was important to determine what food was going to be eaten with it. Thirdly, it was necessary to take into account the time of the year in which the wine was to be drunk and finally, it was also important to consider the geographical location in which the wine was to be consumed.

(“Medieval and Renaissance Wines: Taste, Dietary Theory, and How to Choose the ‘Right’ Wine [14th-16th centuries],” by Allen J. Grieco, Mediaevalia, vol. 30, 2009, The Center of Medieval and Renaissance Studies, Binghamton University, The State University of New York.)

Boccaccio’s belief that wine was necessary for humankind is widely reflected in the 15-century treatise “On Right Pleasure and Good Health” by Renaissance writer Bartolomeo Sacchi “Il Platina” (see Platina. On Right Pleasure and Good Health, a critical edition and translation of De honesta voluptate et valetudine by Mary Ella Milham, Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies, Tempe, 1998).

Pairing the right wine with the right food (and at the right time and in the right place) was one of the keys, he writes throughout the work, to good metabolism and healthy living — echoes of Boccaccio.

Today, wine scribblers like MacNeil embrace only aesthetic, hedonistic, and commercial values in their reviews and “educational” materials. Nearly universally, they fall short of embracing the human and humanistic currency of wine. They ask only how is this wine made?, how does this wine taste? and what’s its commercial value? without ever addressing the role that wine may play in metabolism and more generally in achieving balanced, good health. They write of lifestyle while ignoring life and living itself.

I can’t imagine a more soulless wine culture. With so many wonderful examples of wine writing over the ages where wine is viewed as vital to human experience, it’s a wonder that the current generation of wine mediators have failed us so grossly.

Maybe if MacNeil and her followers would drink a more human wine, they wouldn’t have such a prickly stick up their arses.

Parzen family COVID-19 update: isolated and vigilant as Houston sets new daily records for cases and deaths.

Tracie and I would like to share our heartfelt thanks with everyone who’s sent us messages to make sure that we are okay. She, Georgia, Lila Jane, and I are all healthy and safe, hunkered down in our southwest Houston home.

We only go out to exercise, take walks, and pickup groceries curbside. We are extremely fortunate to live in a residential neighborhood where it’s easy to social distance when we are outside. And both Tracie and I work from home.

Yesterday, we learned that another member of our extended family here in the Houston area has COVID-19. That makes three persons in our family who now have the virus. We are praying for their speedy recovery.

Houston continues to set daily records of numbers of contagions and deaths. There are reports, some of them verified by mainstream media, that refrigerated trailers have been brought in to serve as morgues at local hospitals.

Tragically, Texas governor Greg Abbot continues to refuse to allow our locally elected officials to order the two-week lockdown that they have proposed. At least one Houston-area county is now openly defying his mandatory mask order.

So many people in our community — and our country — are suffering and dying right now. All we can do is to continue to isolate and minimize our exposure as best as we can.

Please stay home if you can. Please wear a mask if you go out in public. Please continue to support those who have no choice but to work outside the home.

Thank you again for all the notes and messages. They mean a lot.

Alicia Lini joins me Thursday, July 16 for a virtual wine dinner at ROMA in Houston.

I’m thrilled to announce that Alicia Lini (above), one of my best friends in the wine business and producer of some of my favorite Lambruscos, will be joining me for a virtual wine dinner on Thursday, July 16 at ROMA here in Houston.

Alicia and I first met more than a decade ago while I was working in the wine trade in New York. The launch of her brand was my first major campaign as a media consultant and its success shaped my career for the decade to come.

A few years ago, Alicia asked me to give her hand promoting her brand again here in the U.S. and it’s been another immensely rewarding experience — especially because of our friendship.

Next Thursday, she’ll be joining me for an ongoing series of virtual wine dinners I’ve been leading for ROMA, where I’ve been running media for owner Shanon Scott for a few years now.

These events have taken on a truly magical feel: they are a world unto themselves, where everyone can cast away the worries, pressures, and stress of what’s happening around our families.

They sell out regularly and we have capped them at 25 couples and/or individuals so that everyone can be onscreen throughout.

Chef Angelo Cuppone and Shanon are working on the menu as I write this and I’ll share as soon we publish it on the restaurant’s website and social media.

Alicia and I have shared so many unforgettable moments over the course of our time working together. Here’s the story of how she and I ended up in a green room with Pattie Boyd, the woman who inspired some of the greatest love songs of all time.

Houston wine and food friends: please join us next Thursday for what is sure to be a great evening of Lambursco and classic Emilian cuisine (email or PM me if you want me to hold a spot for you).

Thank you for your support and solidarity. Tracie, the girls, and I are still hunkered down, healthy and safe in our house in southwest Houston. But our city and state continue to report record numbers of daily contagions and hospitalizations. And members of our extended family continue to battle the virus. COVID-19 is real. We are seeing it firsthand. Please where a mask when you go out and stay home if you can. Support those who have no other choice but to work outside their homes. G-d bless America. G-d bless us all.

Wine professionals: please follow the U.S. Wine Trade Alliance as we gear up to fight new tariffs!

Parzen family COVID-19 update: our nuclear family is healthy, safe, and isolated in Houston. Unfortunately, some of our extended family members are now ill and we are praying for their speedy recovery. Many of our friends in Southeast Texas have also been infected. But Tracie, the girls, and I are hunkered down at our house and we’re all healthy. Please keep all affected Americans in your thoughts and prayers. Please wear a mask and stay home if you can. Support those who have no other choice but to work outside the home.

Yesterday a Houston-based wine blogger had the great fortune to sit in on a Zoom call organized by the U.S. Wine Trade Alliance (USWTA). It was humbling to share the time and conversation with some of the greatest wine professionals active in our country today.

On the call, USWTA president Ben Aneff described the group’s efforts to lobby the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) on the issue of existing and potentially increased and expand tariffs on European wines.

Currently, the USTR is considering a new round of tariffs. And it is hosting a comment portal on its site where Americans can express their concerns about how current and new tariffs do and will affect their livelihoods.

Read about it in the USWTA newsletter here, including the timetable for comments and the decision-making process.

Ben and his team are currently working on a new online portal that will help guide wine trade members and consumers across the U.S. as they post their comments on the USTR site. Please stay tuned for that.

As Ben mentioned on the call, the U.S. wine trade wasn’t prepared for the first round of tariffs that were imposed last year. But the newly founded USWTA is now aggressively using all resources available to make the wine industry’s voices heard in Washington. And it needs all of our support.

As we wait for the new USWTA portal to come online, please:

– become a USWTA member here (by filling out the form, you will be added to the mailing list);
– read the USWTA guidelines for commenting on the USTR site (extremely important);
– please follow the USWTA Instagram and Twitter and please join the Facebook group;
– share, retweet, and repost USWTA media, and encourage your employees, colleagues, and peers to do the same.

Parzen family update: Houston in crisis but we are healthy and safe.

It happened to our sisters and brothers in Italy. It happened to our fellow Americans in New York. And now it’s happening here in Houston where we live.

COVID-19 is overwhelming our city’s health care system, Houston-area hospitals are already beyond capacity and they are expecting an even greater surge early next week. People are suffering and dying all around us, including many in our family’s social circles.

Thankfully, our governor has finally come to his senses — how could he not at this point? — and has made masks mandatory for nearly all Texans while in public. The order was long overdue: in late April, his executive order made it impossible for local government officials to issue their own public mask requirements. But we are just grateful that it’s here.

Tracie, the girls, and I are in isolation and we are all healthy and safe. And everyone in our immediate Texas family is also healthy and safe.

We have been extremely fortunate and will remain vigilant.

Thank you to everyone who’s written to us to check in. Those messages really mean the world to us.

G-d bless Houston, G-d bless Texas, G-d bless America, and may G-d bless all Their children across the earth.

Please stay safe, no matter where you are.

Parzen family update from Houston.

On Friday, local media here in Houston reported that ICU capacity had already hit 100 percent and health officials are expecting an “‘unsustainable surge capacity’ of intensive care beds by July 6 [Monday].”

Also on Friday, the governor of Texas ordered all bars in the state to close, restaurants to reduce capacity, and hospitals to stop performing elective surgery.

The bottomline is that Houston has become one of the world’s pandemic epicenters. At least one health expert, a locally based international authority on infectious disease, has said that Houston may become the “worst affected city in America.”

(For those wanting to understand how we got here, I highly recommend this New York Times “Daily” podcast featuring the paper’s Texas bureau chief, Manny Fernandez. As he says and the end of the interview, it really comes down to “world view.”)

Tracie, the girls, and I are safe and healthy. And everyone in our immediate Texas family is also safe and healthy. Even as things started opening up here at the beginning of May, we have remained vigilant and have been very careful about avoiding exposure.

We are very fortunate to live in a residential neighborhood where we can walk and exercise while maintaining social distancing. We do all our grocery shopping using curbside pick up.

Tracie and I really appreciate the concern and the thoughts and wishes from our friends. Thank you for that. It means a lot to us. We have been very lucky throughout the crisis and we will continue to stay safe. Heartfelt thanks for all the messages we have received.

Amatriciana for Amatrice: Slow Food founder calls for restaurateurs and diners across the world to support Amatrice in year-long campaign

best amatriciana recipeAbove: my friend and client Tony Vallone’s Amatriciana here in Houston.

In Italy yesterday, Slow Food founder Carlo Petrini proposed that “every restaurant in the world” serve Amatriciana for the next 12 months and donate €2 for every dish served directly to the Amatrice municipal government (see bank info below).

The village of Amatrice (AH-mah-TREE-cheh), known for its production of salumi and its celebrated Pasta all’Amatriciana (ah-MAH-tree-CHEE’AH-nah, long noodles dressed with tomato sauce and sautéed guanciale, cured pig’s jowl), was virtually destroyed in this week’s devastating earthquake in central Italy.

Petrini’s proposal, “A Future for Amatrice,” is a long-term fundraising initiative intended to provide sustained aid to Amatrice and its residents even after the “emotional wave of the moment has passed,” he wrote in a statement released to mainstream and social media.

Here in Houston, my friend and client Tony Vallone was already a step ahead of Petrini: yesterday, he began setting aside $2 for every dish of Amatriciana he serves (above) to be donated to Italian Red Cross relief efforts.

Ammado is the official micro-donation for the Italian Red Cross: here’s the link to donate.

You can also donate through the Italy-America Chamber of Commerce Texas (another client of mine). The Chamber is taking donations through PayPal and will donate funds collected to Italian Government relief efforts.

And if you want to send money directly to the Amatrice municipal government, here’s the bank code provided by Petrini in his statement: IT28M0832773470000000006000.

The destruction of Amatrice and a string of picturesque hilltop villages in this week’s catastrophe is a tragic loss for the Italian people and the world at large.

See the op-ed published this week by political commentator Beppe Severgnini in the New York Times.

“And in the space of just one summer’s night,” he writes, “Amatrice is all but gone.”