Today's entry is dedicated to Shelley and Food Week at AHIR (At Home In Rome): all food, all drink, all week leading up to World Nutella Day on Feb. 6. The piece is the opening to an article for the annual international insert of a conference management industry trade magazine group. Julia and James are college friends of mine, now living in Boston.
"Julia Meigs often accompanies her husband James to medical conventions, and a couple of years ago they traveled as far as Mantua, Italy. In the introduction to a collection of letters she wrote home during her family's subsequent sabbatical year in Verona, she describes her first taste of dining the Italian way: “We had enjoyed three different wines matching the three exquisite preceding courses at a seated dinner for 70 people. And now the fourth course was arriving, the roasted boar, a huge caramelized confection resting on a pallet garlanded with a rosemary runner interwoven with figs and kumquats — a far cry from the one-course American banquet meal featuring chicken with mystery sauce.”
No doubt about it, meals are a distinguishing factor between European and American conferences — not just the food itself, but the purpose of mealtimes, defined along a spectrum that includes nourishing the body and nourishing relationships. Food in Europe is a conduit to social relations, never nourishment for its own sake, and social relations are the basis for doing business. Would the idea of a sabbatical year in Italy instead of England have materialized over an e-mail exchange while dropping sandwich crumbs onto a laptop computer? Not a chance. A relationship first had to be formed over a roasted boar. That done, James' Italian colleague simply shook out his linen napkin and asked: “Why don't you spend the year here in Italy? I'm sure we could find a place for you at our hospital in Verona.” And he did."
So Shelley -- that's the power of food, Italian style.