"The Butcher's Shop' by Artist Bartolomeo Passerotti via Wikimedia Commons

The Best Thing about You is Being Chosen

A teacher is someone who has a true passion and “is never in crisis.”
This is how Fulvio learned a job that he knew nothing about.
Alessandra Stoppa

He is in the laboratory, staring at a horse’s thigh that hangs from the wall, not knowing where to start. Outside, it is snowing. How Fulvio wound up making salami in Almaty, Kazakhstan, is quite a story. After having worked in a bank and in recycling electric waste, at age 36 he landed on the steppe, to do a job about which he knew nothing: producing “real” cold cuts, where the meat is only smoked, or imported.

Before leaving, he had traveled half of Italy, his home country, asking simply, “How do you make salami?” Then he ran into a certain Claudio, in a small village near Cremona. They had never met each other before; Claudio could have taken him for a crazy person, and instead he took him in. They spent a week side by side. “He treated me harshly; he didn’t let me get away with anything.” After hours on his feet, tying meat, he was scolded if he changed position. “I thought he didn’t like me, but I didn’t understand–he was taking me seriously. Before I left, he told me, ‘You will have a tough enough time; if I can help you, I want to do it.’ And he opened the secrets of his work and gave them to me: the amounts, the adjustments, his whole history, just like that. Who would dream of doing this? Someone who has a passion so great that he donates it.

But when he arrived in Kazakhstan, the salami wouldn’t come out right. And so he wrote to Claudio. The answer was two lines long: “To understand it, I need to see it; to see it, I need to be there. I bought a plane ticket.” And he visited him in Almaty. “Then you feel like the king of the world. This is a teacher–someone who shows you that you are chosen, and that being chosen is the best thing about you. It’s someone who tells you that you aren’t missing anything. It’s not a question of talent, taste, or capability. He roots for your ‘I’ to explode. And you stay close. You don’t want to miss anything from them.”

“Them,” because after Claudio comes Sergio. When Fulvio has to start producing bresaola (dried salt beef), he again doesn’t know what to do. He returns to Italy, does some research on the Internet and shows up in a historic butcher shop in Milan: “I wanted to tell you that you are my heroes; I have to learn to make bresaola.” The man behind the counter unties his apron and hangs it up. “Come on.” And he begins to transmit the trade to him. He is even willing to put a webcam in his laboratory to overcome the distance, without worrying about the time difference.

“There’s a crisis, but teachers are never in crisis,” says Fulvio. “They invent strange paths, but they come to the point, because their challenge is the person they have in front of them. They don’t spare you the risk and the effort, but they make you certain of the place where you are”–to the point of tasting your first bresaola and saying, “It’s delicious. Maybe I put too much salt in mine....”