Saturday, April 01, 2006

a very long hiatus

1. My birthday. Highlights of past birthdays have included wearing poofy ballgowns to class, brutally defeating rivals in rugby (then going directly to celebrate still caked in mud), absurdly tall cakes, trotting around downtown Manhattan in spike heels, sunny days of soccer in the park, blizzards, triumphs, disasters, and more flowers and champagne and dinners than I can recount. Comments here on famous moments in my birthday history are welcome...

This year Via Broccaindossinian M. and I celebrated together, not on our actual birthday but last Saturday. She made the sweets and appetizers, I worked the grill and got the garden in shape for a party.

Here, of course, I have to write about the food. I had a vision of a whole piglet on a spit, roasting slowly from early morning hours into the afternoon. I also had an obsession with the idea that I could mount the wrecked bicycle in the shed in a way that it would turn the spit. It now does, more or less. I found that dismantling and remounting a bicycle is a gratifying exercise. As a lo-tech, found-object kinetic sculpture, my bicycle-spit-turner is aesthetically appealling, but as a girarrosto, sadly, it just doesn't work very well.

Mechanical considerations aside, I still had my heart set on a piglet. First, she had to be found. I visited a butcher in Via Pescherie Vecchie, the market street in the heart of Bologna, who was delighted to allow me behind the counter to see a maialino and discuss her preparation. A 9 kilo piglet would cost around 70 euros and would feed at least 15. I realized that without allies in this crusade, I'd be the one building a fire at 5 am, tending it all day, massaging my piggy with herbs and oil and salt, leaving me essentially tethered to the grill. In the end, I decided to forgo my piglet in favor of a more realistic mixed grill. A very tasty mixed grill.

This is, afterall, Bologna, the capital of Emilia-Romagna, the center of the suinivore's gastronomic universe. The first person to consult for a barbecue is a trusted butcher. Mine is in Via Saragozza, a few steps outside the city walls. Finding my macellaio di fiducia has taken months, but I count the relationship as proof that I have made a place for myself in this city. And while being a foreigner is often a disadvantage in these exchanges, I've found this can easily be cancelled out by being an attractive young woman. I first dressed for the party, then went to the butcher. The conversation began, "I'm celebrating my birthday..." and from there everyone in the shop was chatting and smiling and making suggestions. Our grill had to include pork chops, ribs, sausages, calves' liver for me because I love it, and pancetta fresca. What a revalation -- pancetta fresca! Uncured, unsalted, thick fatty slices of belly grill beautifully to become crispy like bacon.

Back in Via Broccaindosso, M was assembling cakes and savory pastries, the boys were reluctantly waking up to go buy charcoal and wine and guests had already arrived. Friends continued to appear all afternoon from all over Italy. The weather was beautifully springy. The food was magnificent. I had a great time. Thanks to everyone who came.

2. The archives. Plodding away.

3. Walks and bike rides outside the city. There are elderflowers in bloom everywhere, violets in the woods, daisies covering the fields. I already have a tan.


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