#FoodFiction: Verbum

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Questo racconto è il risultato della collaborazione tra SapereFood e Umbra Institute. Dopo aver visitato alcune importanti aziende della regione, gli studenti hanno scritto delle storie di fantasia sperimentando il “product placement”, ovvero l’inserimento di un marchio all’interno della narrazione.

by Kerra PhotiadesInspired by a visit to San Biagio Brewery

Like lively crickets, the chattering din of the seventy or so businessmen and women provided background music to Schwartz’s thoughts. Without turning his head left or right, he surveyed the gracious function room. The hickory hardwood floor ran until it met the plush, deep red of the seating that lined the perimeter of the room. Cocktail tables sprung up from the floor like lily pads on the lake they were currently traversing. His eyes alighted upon each table, observing the body language, the stature of the people gathering round. The decadent surroundings had saved Schwartz from having to bear listening, and with the appearance of attentive interest, to Cammie’s latest grievance with her Facebook following. He tuned back in, contemptuous of the enamor with which full grown men and women embraced social media. Right as he reentered the conversation, though, Schwartz heard Christian launching into “one of his best stories.”

“I walked into the kitchen at the office to grab my tuna wrap and Dave was ranting about a smug client he had just driven two hours to meet with. Usually, you listen, nod, add a filler comment and get on with it, but today, the pattern skewed. Robbin“

Robbin?”

“Right? Robbin says, ‘You can’t be highly intelligent and highly cordial at the same time.’”

“Well that is a sweeping generalization,” remarked Schwartz, more than slightly on the defense. His peppering, coarse hair sat atop a square face, inset with grey eyes. His first name had always sounded to him too diminutive, the name of a smaller man, so he most commonly went by his surname. To the point, half the people standing around the cocktail table accepted the nickname at face value, and had no knowledge of the distinction.

“I’m not finished, so the infinitely timid Robbin bursts forth with this absolute, in a tone with no allotment for negotiation, when Steers enters the scene. I’m watching, sandwich in hand, to see if the boss heard. Surprised by Robbin as well, he bites in with a joke and goes, ‘Which am I then?’ to which is met a few chuckles and a release of tension. And then, in response she declares, “Neither.”

“To his face?”

“To his face,” Christian nodded, half in dramatic pleasure, half in disbelief. “I’ve told you about Steers, and he was in no way different today. He looked at her, dumbfounded, and like a movie, goes, ‘You’re fired.’”

“Unbelievable,” Cammie droned, drawing out the third syllable.

“Which part?”

“Well, all of it, naturally.”

“I know! It’s been on my mind since I left the room, it seems such a strange thing, the whole affair.”

Adrian, quiet till this point, entered the conversation, “Well, do you agree with her?”

“Of course he doesn’t agree with her, don’t be trite,” issued Schwartz.

“Well, hold on a second, I never argued either way. I haven’t actually given it a moment’s thought which side I fell on,” protested Christian, still reveling in his charismatic retelling of the office drama. He’d thought all day about how he would lay out the interaction for the members of the Meredith Rotary Club. He’d played with tone, word choice, chronology, all to maximize the effect of this unusual story, and to picture him as the relaxed comic. Funny, though effortlessly so, always with a good story to tell.

A waitress for the catering company glided over, refilling their now empty glasses of Rombauer. The four middle-aged individuals used the pinch of time to dive into the question posed. Two priorities contended one another: integrity and cleverness. On the one hand, with a question such as this, one wanted to truly know how to feel about it, what the right answer was. In a similar vein, with a question such as this, one wanted to appear clever in handling its shifting parts.

“Alright, I’ve decided,” Christian prompted the conversation, “and I think she’s right.” Schwartz made a motion to interrupt, but he held up a prolonging finger and continued. “On the basis of every smart man, and woman,” he looked pointedly at the ladies of the small group as if seeking a thank you for respecting both genders, “that have looked down their noses at me.”

“Oh, Christian, I’ve never looked down my nose at you!” Cammie insisted, flattening her right hand against her chest in an effort to appear genuine. While she was flattering herself on the assumption that Christian’s look had conveyed his jealousy over her intellect, Christian, Adrian, and Schwartz were respectively confused, amused, and, once again, contemptuous. It was obvious to everyone but our speaker that yes, indeed, Cammie had never looked down her nose at Christian. Not out of choice, though, but out of incompetence.

Adrian couldn’t bear to watch the simultaneous conversations, one a layer deeper than the other, play out in front of her. On with it, she thought, before asking,

“Okay, talk me through it.”

“Talk you through what, that’s my position. I have nothing more to say.” Christian put up his hands in a noncommittal gesture.

“You’re going to write off a slew of people on the basis of emotional dissatisfaction?” Schwartz questioned. Embedded in his challenge was the presumption that Christian simply wasn’t mature enough to handle a discussion of this caliber. In between his critical delivery, and the time it took for Christian to respond, though, Schwartz wondered if maturity was truly necessary. If the nature of cordiality, and assessing the degree to which a person is or is not cordial, relies on the perception of another outside of the individual in question, then it is of no importance if the person is mature or not. He didn’t have time to double back on this new assertion before Christian quipped,

“What, you have a better line of reasoning?” The sophisticated ring of his comeback made Christian proud. Clearly, Schwartz couldn’t pick up on the hint staring him in the face.

“Different doesn’t necessarily mean better,” interjected Adrian, the real voice of reason. She kept an intentionally neutral silence, only venturing when the trajectory begged it of her.

“Let me propose someone to you,” initiated Schwartz.

“Go ahead,” he answered.

“So Julie and I went on a vacation to Italy a few years back. We’re driving through Tuscany and Umbria, stopping for assorted wine tastings, when the owner of a Chianti vineyard mentions this Italian brewery in Nocera Umbra. We thought, craft beer in wine country? Crazy.” He took a minute to take a sip of the Chardonnay in his left hand, and gauge the attention levels of his peers. Schwartz scratched his neck, and continued, “We visited San Biagio and met the owner, Giovanni. Salt of the earth. He showed us around the brewery which was born out of an abandoned monastery. After, he led us into the hotel and spa they had built on the adjacent property. It was so beautiful and welcoming that we decided to spend a night there. It was just us and a few other guests, so they arranged a beer and food pairing. One of the best beers I’ve ever tasted. They all have Latin titles in keeping with the monastic tradition, and the one I speak of was Verbum: soft like honey, but carbonated with the kick of hops.” His eyes sought out the memory of taste, as they held a measured gaze across the burgundy function room. He chuckled before adding the play on words, “I don’t think I’ve ever loved a word so much!” alluding to Verbum’s English equivalent. The joke fell flat, though, on his lesser intelligent peers who possessed no knowledge of the Latin language or word cells.

“What does beer have to do with smarts?” smirked Christian, determined to focus the attention back on him. While Schwartz was droning on, he was imagining how people might be picturing him at this moment and landed on: He knew how to entertain and, keep a crowd, if you will. He eyed the two woman mirthfully before adding, “Seems to me like they’re on opposite ends of the field.”

“The point is that amidst generations and traditions embedded in the history of Italy surrounding wine, Giovanni chose to brew beer. Not just your low-grade PBR, either, but several high quality brews. He must have offered eight or nine different beers.”

“Well, I agree with Schwartzy here,” interrupted Cammie. As she spoke, she attempted a dazzling gaze, which was more of a gawk, with the man in question.

“There is nothing to agree with; an opinion has yet to be laid down,” he emitted through a forced smile, seeking distance in the cozy, intimate setting of the yacht’s interior.

“Oh, don’t be coy now darling, I’ve seen enough Facebook posts to know what’s coming next. You’re about to take Christian here’s opinion and laugh at it.”

“Alright, you two we’re in public,” chortled Christian, misreading the banter playing out before him. With a suppressed eye roll, and a corresponding tensing of his lower back, Schwartz smoothed out the tablecloth, rubbing at a stain from the hors d’oeuvres. Patience was never among his strengths. He couldn’t help but think how Christian was an absolute lunchbox when it came to social situations. Well, when it came to all situations, really, except those that required saccharine charm and empty platitudes.

“So the guy opened a brewery in wine country, and? That’s not intellect, that’s just a good idea that worked out. And I haven’t heard anything about his personality.” Christian declared.

“I think we can more easily assume that someone is kind and cordial, especially someone in the restaurant business, than that someone is highly intelligent,” Schwartz laid down, growing irritated at the Devil’s advocate standing opposite him. “I’m simply proving his mental stamina.”

“Can we, though? Assume people’s good nature, that is.” asked Adrian, eyeing her peers before adding, “And I feel the need to clear up apparent versus actual cordiality. As in, is it enough for someone to, in all social interactions, give the idea of being cordial, or do we mean something more?”

“Ah, Adrian, don’t think we don’t see what you’re doing with your intentionally confusing language,” Christian tsk-tsked.

“No, I think she’s right to set out the definition. There’s no reliable measurement to prove actual cordiality, but just the appearance of it doesn’t seem enough.” Schwartz answered. He sighed, “But I guess it’ll have to do for the sake of the argument.”

Adrian knew that it didn’t terribly matter if the terms were precise due to the lack of precision in the participants. The individuals standing around the table were not capable of this discussion, especially in the venue in which it was taking place. At Schwartz’s latest input, the four men and women settled into a natural quiet. The background chatter provided a safe enough space wherein the silence wasn’t threatening.

“Simply put, I don’t think the fortune of a risky idea qualifies someone to be highly intelligent. Where’s the degree, the job, the meat and potatoes?” Christian began, at this point itching to have the conversation over with. Who cares?

“Are we limiting the definition of intellect to formal education? To a Forbes list of successful careers? Tell me how talent, innovation, and the creation of a beautiful product don’t demonstrate the highly intelligent mind of a kind man,” challenged the Dartmouth graduate, not letting up. “If anything, it demonstrates a plasticity of intellect. Giovanni possesses multiple strengths, and none of them involve the read and regurgitation that is so popular among your idea of the intellectual college grad.”

“If we were talking about natural intellect, then I would have agreed with you from the start,” quipped Christian.

“Excuse me?”

“Why are you so serious about this Schwartzy? It’s just a fun conversation among friends,” reasoned Cammie. At the word friends there was a brief moment where each individual imperceptibly held their breath, knowing that it simply wasn’t the case. They were individuals in separate spheres, with separate daily routines. Had it not been for the Rotary Club, they would never have interacted. He ignored her question.

“It appears, then, that we’ve been talking about the wrong thing the whole time,” remarked Adrian. Each of the people circled round the linen draped cocktail table looked up, looked at, looked down. They weren’t sure how to handle the unsettledness that had snuffed out any concomitant conversation. Someone clinked a glass at a table to the left. A Mark Johnson took the stage to applaud the guest of honor; a name they would remember for the next few hours and then never again.

Umbra Institute

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