Monday, August 15, 2011

rip bialetti

The first week I was off at college I knew I needed to get a job.  I was eligible for work-study funds, and in order to cash in on that grant, I needed a qualified employer somewhere on campus.  In the stairwell of my residence hall, I saw a flier for the Italian Academy.  It was the first thing I'd seen advertising for employment, so I called them up and got an interview. 

I ended up working there for all four years of college.  The Italian Academy for Advanced Study at Columbia University in the City of New York (this is actually how I had to answer the phone . . . every time) is a cooperative endeavor of Columbia University and the Italian government to house and stipend post-doctoral fellows for a year of research.  It's a beautiful old Italianate building on the Columbia campus, and it became my second home.  Some of the perks of this unbelievable job: 

*a film series every fall and every spring.  I got paid to show up of an evening, sip Prosecco and eat chunks of Parmiggiano-Reggiano cheese, and take money from people.  Then I continued to get paid to watch an amazing old subtitled Italian film in a stunning teatro.  Did I mention I got paid for all of this?

*I got to work at events like the following:  the Italian Prime Minister came to speak with both his wife and his mistress.  There was lots and lots of Prosecco for all.  I also got paid for this.

*Long lunch breaks, wine in the afternoons (this is an Italian custom . . . enjoying a glass of wine at your job!?), getting sent down to Little Italy on the company Metrocard to pick up the Italian films from Evergreen Cinema.  I really learned the city by doing all the little errands for the fellows and the staff.

*Learning what it means to work in a professional environment.  I had to wear business casual, I had to offer guests Pellegrino or espresso and take their coats.  I am embarrassed to say that I regularly showed up in sweatpants for my first semester there.  After a stern talking-to by my unbearably chic supervisor Olivia D'Aponte (a half-Italian Brooklynite who ended up leaving to travel around the world with her fiance), I straightened up my act and got some suits and heels.

*When I finally did graduate and leave, they gifted me with the most generous surprise:  dinner for two, whatever we wanted, at a spendy Italian restaurant down the street - charged to the Italian Academy's account.  I took my very good friend Zack, and we had a meal to remember.  We finished up with an affogato, which is basically like an Italian espresso float.  A scoop of vanilla gelato drowned in rich, strong espresso.  Yum. 

When I graduated and set up house for myself, I knew I needed an espresso maker.  I had no funds to buy a nice big electric one, so I got a Bialetti.  This is a trusty Italian-made stovetop espresso maker.  It works somewhat like a percolator:  you put water in the chamber below the pot, fit in a filter basket filled with ground coffee, screw the whole thing together and put it on the heat.  The water is forced up through the coffee and into the pot, and you pour it out into your cup once it's all done.  It's brilliant and elegant in its simplicity. 

It was my way of bringing a little bit of the Italian Academy into my home.  I have used it nearly every morning for the last five years. So, the other day, when I took it apart to wash, I was so saddened to see this:

The inner rubber fitting has melted!  It's time for a new Bialetti.  It's not the cost I'm worried about - these little suckers are only about twenty or thirty bucks.  It's just that I'm sentimentally attached to my Bialetti.  It's been with me through some hard times.  But I suppose all things must come to an end.  Arrivederci, Bialetti.

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