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“You’re Italian? And here we are making pasta!”

“You’re Italian? And here we are making pasta!”

Photographer:Fotograaf: Loraine Bodewes

Prof. Elia Formisano shares a meal with independent sorority Femmes-Tastiques

“Where do you want the prof? On the stool or a folding chair?” Tessa Geraedts holds up the options for Sara Salassa, who is hosting this evening’s dinner in her studio. The folding chair it is. The ladies are putting the finishing touches on the three-course menu: courgette soup with mint oil, pasta with vegetables and beef, and lastly apple crumble. “Will you be careful with the flour? I just vacuumed”, Salassa cautions when Geraedts wants to make a start on the crumble. But there’s a problem. “Error”, says Geraedts. “There’s no butter.” “Can’t we use liquid butter?” asks Salassa, who freely admits to being not much of a cook – “It’s something I’m coming to realise; when I was still with my ex I just followed his instructions in the kitchen.” “No, it’ll turn into one big slab”, Geraedts replies and heads to the shop, luckily just five minutes away.

Putting on a Femmes-Tastiques apron, Oda Schenkman takes over as chef while Salassa sticks a note on the front door with her phone number. “The doorbells don’t work. I considered putting my own one up, but at night there are so many drunken people wandering around here [on the Capucijnenstraat –Ed] that it’d probably be going off all the time. I hope this works.” It does: shortly after, Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience Elia Formisano makes his entrance. He spots the packet of pasta. “Can I help you with that? I’m Italian.” “We’ve made it hard for ourselves”, Schenkman laughs. “And we almost made tiramisu as well.” “Oh yes, that’s a challenge”, Formisano chuckles, adding reassuringly: “It’s been 21 years since I last lived in Italy, so I’m fairly used to it.”

“Not too much”, he interjects as Salassa sprinkles the apples with cinnamon. Is he a good cook? “I do the cooking at home”, he says. “I love fish. I’m from Naples, for us fish is everything. But it’s difficult to find really fresh fish here in Maastricht; I prefer to buy it right from the boat. And there’s not much variation. I like octopus too, which you can’t get here at all.”

The soup is served, the wine poured. The conversation switches from English to Dutch and back again. Formisano doesn’t mind. “At home we speak a mix of everything: English, Dutch, Italian. My wife is Dutch, so I understand everything.” Speaking is another story. “I speak Dutch like an eight-year-old, thanks to my son. Recently I asked for prikkeltjeswater [bubbly water] in a meeting, because that’s what he calls it. Sometimes I don’t know what’s a normal expression and what’s just child speak.”

As Geraedts announces the next course, Sophie Albers enters the room, having been called in to replace another club member who cancelled at the last minute. She has just returned from a semester in Bologna. “Say something about the sorority in Italian”, the rest egg her on. She laughs. “Too hard.” In English then, because Formisano is curious. “What do you do together?” “We have a sorority evening every Thursday”, Schenkman explains. “And we often eat together, or with a fraternity. Then we have fun and er ... ” Salassa, laughing: “Make out. That’s what you mean right?” Schenkman giggles. “You’re not allowed to kiss in our bar. If you do you have to drink a beer with coffee creamer in it.” Formisano pulls a face. “There are no sororities or fraternities in Italy. Student life here is much more fun than how I did it. I went to a technical university with pretty much only men, and everyone was just focused on their studies.” “Did they already protest a lot back then?” Albers asks. This was something she noticed in Bologna. “There were demonstrations almost every day. Whenever I heard yelling I’d think, what’s it about today?” Formisano nods. “In Italy students are much more political than here. When I was a student the political science and architecture buildings were almost always occupied for one reason or another.” Albers: “Here students go to a big city like The Hague or Amsterdam if they want to protest.”

The smell of apple crumble fills the room. Geraedts takes it out of the oven and Salassa dishes it out, ignoring Formisano’s request for a small piece. “It’s not really apple pie; it’s mainly just apples with some crumbs on top. Apples are healthy.” Formisano laughs. His son’s first Italian word, he says, was basta – enough – because his grandparents were always insisting he eat more. Formisano mimics the scene, waving his hands in the air: basta! Albers laughs: “Italians really are into the hand gestures.” Formisano concurs and goes on to demonstrate a few more. Index and middle fingers pointed towards the thumb, hands out in front: “What are you saying?” Hand flapping out from under the chin: “I don’t care.” That reminds Salassa of something. “Do you know The Italian man who went to Malta?” she asks, looking it up on her phone. It turns out to be a YouTube film about a man who goes on holiday to Malta and runs into trouble because of his Italian-accented English; the word ‘piece’, for example, comes out as ‘piss’. Formisano has to laugh. “It’s an old joke, in a new form.”

On departing he is persuaded to say something in Dutch. “I had a nice evening. Maybe I’ll see you around some time.” Salassa laughs. “And then we’ll say: Hey, the Italian man who went to Malta!”

Elia Formisano * 46 * professor of Cognitive Neuroscience * married, one son * lives in Maastricht

Oda Schenkman * 20 * third-year Hotel Management School Maastricht * member of Femmes-Tastiques

Sara Salassa * 22 * third year Health Sciences *member of Femmes-Tastiques

Tessa Geraedts * 20 * second-year medicine * member of Femmes-Tastiques

Sophie Albers * 21 * third-year Arts and Culture * member of Femmes-Tastiques

Score (maximum of five stars), given by Professor Formisano:

Hospitality: 5 stars 

Food: 5 stars “Even the pasta, they didn’t know I was Italian”

Cleanliness: 5 stars 

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