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

Letter from Italy: “Social distance must not become the distance of heart and hope” by Enrica Cavallo.

Over the weekend, the Italian government announced that it will slowly begin lifting restrictions on movement across the country. Family members who don’t reside together will now be allowed to visit one another (as long as they wear masks). But restaurants and cafés won’t be resume operation until early June. Today’s “letter from Italy” comes from Enrica Cavallo in Lecce, Puglia. She and her husband Enzo are both lawyers who also run a wine consulting business.

Hello Jeremy,

I’m a reader of you blog and a wine lover, too. I’m sure you already know that — since you are “at home” in Italy — April marks the beginning of the beautiful season: especially in the south of Italy, the weather gets better, the days get longer, the temperatures change from sparkling to mild and people go out…

Actually no, people here in Italy, like in the rest of the world, are not free to go out and move about because of the coronavirus.

Because of the virus, we are living a strange reality. All is suspended. We’ve put our lives on hold. Time is marked by everyone’s fears. We are submerged in a sea of uncertainties. The silence of the streets is compensated by the mountains of news (especially negative). And even those of us who are strong and can swim often are tired and rely on the current.

We don’t want to drown and so we cling like castaways to what brings a little light into the day.

A blooming flower because despite it all, you can’t stop spring from coming.
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Letter from Italy: “Issues in our hospitality industry that need to be addressed as we rebuild” by Francesco Bonfio.

Today’s letter from Italy come from my good friend and one of the wine professionals I admire most, Francesco Bonfio, founder of the Italian Association of Wine Shop Professionals. He lives in the historic center of Siena. He shared the above photo of the Piazza del Campo where the city’s famous Palio is run twice each year.

Jeremy, I don’t need to tell you how terrifyingly painful it is to see Piazza del Campo without a single human being in it. I don’t need to tell you how frustrating it is that it’s highly likely that the people of Siena won’t be able to attend the two traditional runnings of the Palio on July 2 and August 16. They’ll be missing their main reason for living. The last time that it happened was because of the Second World War. It wasn’t run again until August 16, 1945 with Il Drago as the winner. Since that time, it’s never been suspended or cancelled.

Instead, I’d like to take advantage of your offer to share a letter from Italy by addressing the Italians who follow your blog. I know there are many of them out there.

Jeremy, I don’t know if you are familiar with the Italian saying, quando sei martello batti, quando sei incudine statti (when you are a hammer, strike your fill; when you are an anvil, hold you still). I believe it comes from the world of gambling. It means that when luck is on your side, you need to make the most of it by pushing yourself as far as you can. When, vice versa, you are in a moment of difficulty, you need to hunker down and stay put because the more you get worked up, the more damage you’ll do.

Right now, Italians are an anvil.
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Letter from Italy: “A rainbow for the colors of life” by Alicia Lini.

Alicia Lini and her family have been making Lambrusco in Canolo (Reggio Emilia province) for more than 100 years. She’s one of my best friends in the wine business and one of the people I admire most.

April 5, 2020
Palm Sunday
Canolo (Reggio Emilia)

Dear Jeremy,

Here I am writing you a letter.

Nothing is obvious anymore. Nothing is the same, nothing we think of is like it was before. These days, everyone has something to say. But not me.
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Letter from Italy: “I’m hopeful for what tomorrow will bring” by Piero Mastroberardino.

Above: Piero Mastroberardino grows grapes and makes wine in Irpinia.

April 2, 2020

Hardly a month ago, not even the most imaginative writer in the world could have come up with a screenplay like this: Most of the world comes to a stop, at the same time more or less, waiting for events to unfold.

We’re now living at a distance, thanks to technology. And when we encounter another person, during the few moments of the day when we are allowed to leave our homes, it’s a race to avoid contact.
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Letter from Italy: “The day everything changed” by Giancarlo Gariglio.

Giancarlo Gariglio is the editor-in-chief of the Slow Wine Guide to the Wines of Italy, Slovenia, California, and Oregon. He lives in the town of Bra, where the Slow Food movement was founded in the late 1980s.

I was in America on February 21 when everything changed in Italy. That was when we became the first in Europe and the first outside of China to discover that the novel coronavirus was something more than the flu. It was something we had a read about in the papers, with a death rate of 1 percent. We tended to minimize the threat and even joke about it. Then everything changed in Italy. And it was immediately clear that despite our excellent public health system, it wasn’t going to be easy to face this disease.
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Letter from Italy: “I’m proud to be an Italian” by Paolo Cantele.

According to a report published just minutes ago by the Associated Press, “Italy, a country of 60 million, registered 2,978 deaths Wednesday after another 475 people died. Given that Italy has been averaging more than 350 deaths a day since March 15, it’s likely to overtake China’s 3,249 dead — in a country of 1.4 billion — when Thursday’s figures are released at day’s end.”

Above: Paolo Cantele, one of my best friends in the world and my client of many years, standing in front of his family’s winery in Guagnano in Lecce province. He calls me “Jar,” my nickname since I was a teenager.

Dear Jar,

It took me a little time to write you because, to be perfectly honest, I wasn’t in the right mood for it.

Writing is supposed to be therapeutic. It’s meant to help you overcome you’re the fears and doubts that grip your brain even as your mind, despite its efforts to remain cool and collected, continues to focus on that damned list of infected and dead.
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Letter from Italy: “We will be reborn” by Angela Mion.

Angela Mion is a wine writer and sommelier who lives in Este in the Euganean Hills outside of Padua. She posts regularly for the popular Italian wine blog Intravino.

Above: in the place of weekly hours, a handwritten note in a restaurant in Este reads “everything will be okay” (photo by Angela Mion).

Close but faraway.

Italy doesn’t know what day it is today as it looks out onto the world from its windowsill, whether from home or the hospital.

We have never felt so equal. We are all being chased by the same invisible enemy that’s upending all of our lives.

An economy, probably in need of a rewrite, now seems a post-war economy.
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Letter from Italy: “We’ve been through two wars. We’re still here and we’re not giving up now” by Andrea Gori.

Sommelier and wine writer Andrea Gori is the current generation of a Florence restaurant legacy: Trattoria da Burde, one of the Renaissance city’s most beloved dining spots. “We’re hanging in there,” he wrote me when I asked him to write a post for the blog. “Italians are fantastic team players.” Earlier this week, in its ongoing effort to curb the spread of Covid-19, the Italian government ordered all restaurants, bars, and cafés to shutter.

Above: There are no lines this week at the famous Uffizi museum in Florence (photo by Elena Farinelli). All public gatherings have been banned in Italy until April 3.

Does 16 days seem like a long time to you? Or a short time? Just 16 days ago, we were counting our covers, ordering wine and meat, we were planning wine dinners. Covid-19 was already here and things had already slowed down as if a spell had been cast over the outskirts of the city where our restaurant is located. Things were slowing down for us but in downtown Florence, the tourist apocalypse had already taken shape three weeks ago. The initial reaction was one of pride enabled by the inability to accept that the entire world had turned its back on us — all at once.
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Letter from Italy: “Hopeful a better human race will emerge (and ‘Nutella Biscuits’)” by Giovanni Arcari.

Yesterday, in its ongoing efforts to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus, the Italian government issued a decree closing all businesses except supermarkets, pharmacies, and health care. The entire country has been under lockdown, with a near total ban on movement, since Tuesday. I’ve asked a number of my friends and colleagues there to share their experiences, feelings, hopes, and fears. Today, I’ve translated a letter from my best friend Giovanni Arcari, a winemaker in Brescia province.

Dear Jeremy,

Here in Brescia, the situation is intense. The hospitals are about to fall apart and the number of infections continues to rise. This is all attributable only to ourselves. We believe we know everything and we have become egotistical beyond measure, so much so that we are convinced that no one can be as intelligent as us. Today, we are facing the unknown and it’s beginning to permeate our consciousness aggressively. It’s something that only unexpected death can manage to create.
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