An "Eat-In" makes me think of a fat kid's response to a protest. While others might have a sit-in, the gastronomically inclined would rather have a party and eat-in. Our Eat-In was a university sponsored dinner party, a celebration to welcome new students to our collective table. Here are a few stories that do it justice.

Bike Rides

The bike is yellow. It is too small for me in a pair of brown, knee-high leather boots. My heels scrape the cobblestones with each pump of the pedals, and then he calls to me, with childlike exuberance, “Is that as fast as you can go?” Far ahead of me, a Swiss Italian is speeding down an empty alley way on his own bike. In the middle of a night, he races me. Now, the city seems devoid of people, an apocalypse hour, everyone else is at the party in the center of the town, under the set of Roman arches, where there are twenty tables heavy with a hundred trays of steaming food, steaming in this late October night. I pick up speed. I look up. Heaven-ward, in the several inches of sky between the apartments there are galaxies gleaming down to our little city. We are riding at the same pace now. Or maybe he has slowed. Behind us, under the halogen glow of the lights under the arches sit my three golden tarte tatins, creamy half-moons of apples bronzed with butter and sugar over top of an accordion of pastry sheets. And beside them is a pewter pot, lid stuck tight with the heat of the dish, but aromas leaking out; caramelized onion; sweet and deep, cumin; spicy and floral, and roasted chicken; earthy and fatty and rich. Along with a thousand other smells, trailing after us, propelling us forward, another call to faster speed towards our destination. Hurry up! Is that as fast as you can go?

Grocery Buying

It was the Ugandan girl's turn to explain what she was making and what ingredients we would need to pick up. "Fulor. Carrots. Oil." She said, listing off the ingredients on her fingers, as though she might forget one of the three. The Italian turned to me, as third party interpreter was already needed. "Fulor? What is foolur?" He asked aggressively in his equally strong accent. "Floor." She simply repeated with the intonation that a sixteen year old girl might use to tell her mother that - Obviously Justin Bieber is so cute. Then looking back at me, then him, then me, finally making a hand gesture that swept the table. I stared and squinted my eyes, "Can you use it in a sentence?". "We use Fulor to make my dish". "Ma dai!" the Italian swore, getting up. This was already too much for him, "What kind of dish is that? What can you make? Carrots and oil?". "And fulor!" She added. "Are you sure that's all you need? Nothing else? Are you sure? Not… meat?". "Oh, yes." Validation spread on the Italian's face. "Do you have... salt?". She asked. "Of course we have salt!" The Italian spat. I reached for a napkin. "Maybe we should, go to the store, and you can show us the, fulor?" I asked.

At the Maxisconto - our local, discount Italian supermarket, we arrive; a haughty Italian, a snotty Ugandan, and a Canadian, wearing an invisible blue beret, fifteen minutes before the four hour pausa. We are already racing our deadline, so we split up to grab our ingredients and prevent an international incident. In the checkout line, I find out the fulor is flour, but am still confused as to how carrots and flour will come together to make a dish. The Italian mumbles into my ear, "I am not coming back to the supermarket. You make sure her dish works".

We arrive at our kitchen, today generously loaned by one of the best restaurants in the city. The room is full of gleaming metal surfaces and industrial tools. Uganda is silent as she gets to work, measuring ingredients out by sight and then brushing them into a silver bowl. A mash is produced, a golden muck at the bottom of the bowl which is being kneaded by hands and eyes that know no hesitancy, while the Italian and I peer over, nervous and curious, making our own dishes. She turns the stove top on, heats the oil in the pan until it glistens, and then takes a handful of the glob mixture into the pan. Then, in the pan, something recognizable emerges, again and again, layers of orange disks stack onto a plate, and it is almost comically how recognizable they are. Now, proudly, she motions for us to come over. ''Taste. Chapati''. She says, ripping off a piece of the soft dough. They are sweet and savoury and fatty all at once, soft and airy and moist. I am reminded that the most delicious and comforting foods are sometimes the simplest, and I reach for another bite, taking in the sweetness from the carrot, and fat from the frying. Conflict resolved. If only we could solve all problems so quickly and deliciously.

Celito Lindo

Once it was significantly late and Italians could consider it dinner time, around eight, students began to gather with dishes they had cooked in groups or by themselves, under the long set of Roman arches in Piazza XX Septembre. The student association had set up long tables that went the entire length of the arches and entering it was a melee of people hugging and kissing one another in that European way of greeting that is so much more familiar than our North American style. This whole process took another thirty minutes, familiar but time consuming, and the student association president began toasting the night on a megaphone. Carlo Petrini makes an appearance, as he is apt to at most of these events. Somewhere between a rockstar and one of the people, his mystique follows him until a few of the new students shyly introduce themselves, only to find themselves deeply engaged in one of his speeches, nodding emphatically, sipping some Barolo, or better still, dancing and singing alongside him. He is a distinguished looking man; carrying the authority and gravitas of age; in a neat grey white beard and elegant suit and smart scarf, loosely draped around his neck, yet also youthful and energetic, encouraging more singing, more dancing, more chanting, louder, louder, louder still, more than we had thought we could.

We were a rowdy bunch, chants and songs started at the far end of the tables and caught and carried the length of the room almost as soon as the man with the microphone put down his speaker. One song stands out in my memory, a song which many of the European students sang with passion and vigor, as though it was a national anthem, as though they were defending their honor by singing it. It was Celito Lindo, a Mexican folk song that most people know the general melody, but couldn't sing the words. But no, here were 300 students singing the entire song, verses and all, to the song, repeatedly, one, two, three times, like they studied it in school. That night, the reasons for singing those particular songs were a mystery to me, but like welcoming the incoming class of undergraduates warmly with food and wine and an early October dinner party, the folk songs just seemed in place as well. They wrapped us together, the chords becoming more familiar with each passing repetition, and I hummed along.