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World Class

These Minnesota college students get an A+ for adventure. Follow along as they explore the world while studying abroad. Our contributors: Daniel Bergerson, Gretchen A. Brown, Elena Neuzil, Ben Palmer and Emily Walz.

How to survive an Italian dinner

The Italian family dinner, at least in my host home in Siena, is fraught with alimentary challenges. If you join our meal, read this guide first.

1. Do not eat for at least several hours before dinner. It’s tempting to lunge for a pastry at 5 p.m., but you will regret it at 8 when you’re trying to stuff yourself with more pasta. If you can, eat very little at breakfast and very little at lunch to prepare.

2. Say “buon appetito” before beginning to eat. This is our prayer before every meal, that everyone will have a good appetite for the delicious concoctions to come.

3. Eat slowly. Our meals last between one and two hours. The food is fabulous – my host mom is a fantastic cook – so savor it!

4. Always have food on your plate. Try to time the completion of your portion to the other people at the table. If you wolf down your food too quickly, instead of being praised for a job well done, you will be offered more food. And because you’re headed straight to Dante’s hell for gluttony, you will eat it.

5. There are more courses than you realize. This is why keeping food on your plate is an essential strategy. If you finish your serving too quickly, you’ll eat more, thus subtracting room in your stomach for the next course.

6. When finished, avoid looking anywhere near the remaining food. If your eyes so much as rest on the pan of pork, at least one person will see it and say, “Vuoi ancora? Do you want more?” And, deaf to your stammering protests, they will vigorously try to spoon more of it on your plate. Look at the ceiling, the walls, the other people at the table, but don’t let your eyes drift below shoulder-level.

7. When you’re finished, you’re not really finished. You thought you were full? Nonsense. There’s still more wine and cheese to be consumed, and several desserts, and oh wait, there’s this traditional sausage that you must try! No, really, just a tiny piece! Your mother’s going to think we didn’t feed you!

8. Dinner only comes to a close when there’s nothing on the table but empty glasses and crumbs, and when someone gets up to smoke a cigarette. My host family usually clears away each course as we eat, so dinner’s not over until the table is no longer laden with food. The conversation lulls as everyone takes one last swig of wine, and someone gets up to go smoke outside. Only now is the meal considered complete, and you may stagger back to your room if you wish. Otherwise, stay and talk and learn about various aspects of Sienese culture until late into the night.

Now, who’s hungry?

(Photo: An aging room for parmigiano reggiano, or parmesean cheese -- a staple after-dinner treat.)

The mothers, the marchers, and me

"Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo." Photo: Daniel Bergerson.

"Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo." Photo: Daniel Bergerson.

¡Madres de la Plaza, el pueblo las abraza!” The chant erupted from the plaza, but I doubt anyone next door took much notice. For nearly forty years the government officials in the nearby Casa Rosada—the Argentinean equivalent of the White House—have heard the same message.

The people embrace the Mothers of the Plaza.

To honor the memory of loved ones who were “disappeared” (i.e. abducted, tortured and presumably killed) by the Argentinian dictatorship between 1974 and 1983, the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo still demonstrate in the heart of Buenos Aires each Thursday. People far and wide have indeed embraced these Argentinian women as leaders in the fight for human rights, and some even march with them in solidarity. On this particular afternoon the co-picketers were calling for an end to violence against transgender persons.

"No more anti-trans violence!" Photo: Roberto Villaseca.

"No more anti-trans violence!" Photo: Roberto Villaseca.

But today a third kind of person joins the mothers and the marchers in the Plaza de Mayo: the tourist.

While the mothers are here to search for children stolen and the marchers to spotlight other human rights violations, the tourists came to snap photos and perhaps clap along for a chant or two before buying a commemorative keychain and marching onward to the Puerto Madero boardwalk (i.e. TripAdvisor’s second-highest-rated attraction in Buenos Aires).

¿Francisco Alfredo Escamez Ruarte? ¡Presente—ahora y siempre!” The protestors called the names of the disappeared and punctuated each with a resounding “Present—now and always!”

There is something grotesque about the gawkers scratching their heads, turning to Lonely Planet, and skimming a depoliticized paragraph that sums up this living resistance to state terrorism. One wonders whether or not such sightseers would know the difference if a tour company paid look-alike extras to don white headscarves at 4:30pm and parade around the plaza for the latecomers who could not squeeze the real 3:30pm march into their itinerary.

"Mothers of the plaza of tourism." Photo: Daniel Bergerson.

"Mothers of the plaza of tourism." Photo: Daniel Bergerson.

Why don’t these so-called travelers put down their selfie sticks and strike up a conversation? Did they wander into the Plaza de Mayo thinking it was the Buenos Aires Zoo? Do those tour buses run on absurdity?

I could count the number of tourists actively participating on the fingers of one hand! And I would . . . if my hands weren’t already busy rubbing my sunburnt neck and switching my iPhone to Panorama mode. Maybe I should not be so quick to criticize the rubbernecking passersby; after all, I am one.

Though that only makes the question, “Why are we staring?” more pressing.


Daniel Bergerson, originally from Orono, is a junior at Columbia University in New York. He is currently studying history, writing children’s stories and traveling throughout Chile — all in preparation to teach social studies in the Twin Cities. Daniel is also an editor at Young Teachers Collective.

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