Sunday, June 28, 2009

Ahhh... Pasta!

For years, one of the stops on my physics conference circuit was the Villa Gualino in Turino, a huge resort complex with views of the Alps when the smog of the industrial city cleared. The building had a simple cafeteria with a nice view which provided food, and a bar where we were served coffee between lectures, and beer at night. One of the most memorable components of visits to the Villa Gualino were the people who worked there. The young man at the bar frowned in disapproval if anyone ordered a cappuccino after 11am, and smiled approvingly if you drank espresso and wanted to watch the world cup on the bar TV. His girlfriend worked in the cafeteria, and spoke very little English. Every day at lunch and dinner there was a choice of meat or pasta: “Meat?… or Pasta?” was about the extent of her knowledge of the English language. If you chose the pasta she would smile and say “Ahhhhh!… Pasta!” as if your choice both made her happy and indicated that you were a person of high character as evidenced by your choice. Once I tried to ask her what kind of meat was on the menu. It took me quite a while to have my question understood, but when she did understand, she insisted it was elephant. I think this was the only animal name she knew in English. I had the pasta – which made her happy.

For some reason my field of physics has not had a meeting at the Villa Gualino in many years. But this week’s visit to the Villa Guinigi outside of Lucca Italy reminded me of the “Ahhhhh… Pasta” girl. Pasta was served for every meal except breakfast – and it was terrific – not the plain dried and boiled stuff you usually get – and much better even than the non-dried gourmet stuff you can sometimes get at the expensive supermarkets. I have no idea what they do to make the stuff have the perfect texture that it does – but I really want to find out (being that pasta still remains a staple of my diet, I might as well learn how to cook it right).

Don’t even get me started about how you can get a terrific bottle of wine in Italy for about 2 euro.

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