From the archives July 27, 2008
This is the ideal time of summer; lying out in the pool, on my isola, thinking about the little sounds and sights and smells that make up the perfect day in July.
As I take a little nap, under the sun, above the body of water that occupies my isola, I have a dream. We are back in Southern Italy, walking. Somewhere off the distance there is a masserie; they are waiting for us, with wine and lunch. We are just a few minutes late, but we parked the car when the road would take us no further. There is music and the sound of drums coming from the distant winery. They are celebrating the Festa della Malvasia.
This is a yearly event, bringing dancers, artists, musicians, actors, clowns and jesters to this one place in the country, to celebrate the casks and the wine and the middle of the summer. Large women are seen carrying these gigantic platters for the fire; today they are feeding the artistic community and we have been invited by the winemaker.
My friend, Carlo the clown, is already there. We have a psychic communication, he is wondering where we are. But he’s fine, he’s playing with the monkey. My musician friend from California has called me; he is bringing a philosopher friend from Paestum, so he is behind us.
The invitation was only sent a few days before. To get all the players together was a major feat, but this is a dream, all things are possible. The invitation went like this:
Please, all who come, bring a little piece of your past to share, and take home a piece of your future. We have cooks from Naples, so no one should go home hungry. The wine is neither the old, dirty wine nor the new, lifeless wine. We are cracking open the barrels of real Italy; please bring a demijohn to take some home with you. Bring your mother, bring your sister, bring your sons and daughters and lovers. Or bring the priest, for we will all need him eventually. Come as you are, not as you wish to be. The party will last three days. We will not sleep, you’ll see. Do not RSVP. Just arrive when you can. Don’t be late.
I thought it a little strange when I got closer and started hearing all kind of animal sounds. A tent by the side of the building was pitched, a circus had stopped by. The smell of fresh seafood and garlic, mixed with the exotic aroma of capers, saffron and rosemary, filled the air.
Once inside the building we were greeted by an older woman with grayish to white hair, long and gathered in the back. She had a handful of young children surrounding her and her eyes where bright green. She handed us goblets. One of the young children took us to a room where there were pitchers. We were poured some cool, white wine.
Across the hall was a large open room, with tables and music and tiellas of rice and mussels, steaming and aromatic. Jugglers were practicing with tomatoes and squash, packs of trained dogs followed their every move. There seemed to be an order to all of this, although it didn’t seem to make any sense, nor like this could ever happen in real life. And then we sipped the wine.
This was the wine we had been searching for. It wasn’t some baked, tired, brown mass of lifeless juice with an alcohol base. And it wasn’t a mass of vanilla and butter, seamless and uniform, as if it could have come from anywhere in the New World Order of Winemaking. It was perfect. Crisp and juicy, an acidic marmelata to relieve the rice and the mussels of their responsibility to be the sole nurturing force. It was golden, it was sunshine, the tan on the arms of a young woman working in the fields, the little hairs on the small of the back of the newborn baby, the strength of the pizzaiolo, gathered after all those years in front of a hot oven, working his life away for his art.
The food, the circus performers, the exotic animals, they all retreated to the edges of the dream. All that was left was a pitcher in the late afternoon sun by the edge of the water and the sublime silence of a hot summer day; the synchronization of a life searching for that perfect moment, found by accident, over a festival for an ancient grape.
Punchinello Drawings by Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo