From the "seeing red from sea to shining sea" dept.
Wow, what a day this one was. Last week, while not yet October (the “O” in O-N-D, the frenetic wine selling holiday season) it sure seemed like it. And while it isn’t quite the wine trail in Italy, the young Italians have come off their trail to dabble in missionary work. These are their stories.
Veronica Lagi comes from Tuscany, lives in Florence with her boyfriend. Works for Castello di Monsanto. Veronica is part of the new wave of young Italians that I write about, those who travel the earth, in search of places to put their wine. China, India, Canada, Sweden, America. This week she was in Texas.
8:30 - A text to our sales rep to see if she had samples. Word was the rep had meetings until noon and I didn’t want Veronica to be waiting around a hotel room. I’d find something to do with her. The day before we did a staff training, so I knew she could handle herself well in the streets.
8:39 – Sales rep texts me back, she was on her way to the sales office to see about samples. We would hook up later. I needed to find some wine.
8:49 - All I had in my closet was the 1985 Il Poggio Riserva, probably not a good wine to schlep around. I called Veronica and we agreed on starting the day at 10:00AM.
10:12 – Veronica jumped into my car at the hotel. We had a wine dinner in the evening, so I called the owner of the restaurant to see if he could meet with us at his corporate offices. Sure. Along the way I was talking to Joey the Weasel, aka Joe Strange Eye, and he said I should go by Sausage Paul’s to pick up a bottle of the current Riserva. Great, then we could also have a good espresso. Sausage Paul was there, cleaning up from the night before when we had a rather late night with the Falesco boys. The week was halfway done, but we were all feeling like it should already be Friday. I had a Dr.’s appt on Friday for this crazy nose problem I’ve been having. Dry weather, stress, and one of my childhood ailments had returned, the nosebleed. And with a nose like mine, this was nothing to take lightly. They had gotten severe and regular lately, and this week they were hitting me like suicide attacks in Baghdad. I was going through Kleenex like a sushi chef went through rice. Not pretty.
10:30 - We get to Sausage Paul’s, grab a bottle of wine and an espresso and head to see the Italian restaurateur. About 45 minutes of conversation, the new Tuscan steakhouse project, discussion of a future Tuscan wine dinner with Monsanto when the steakhouse is finished and lots of good stories. The Italians love to visit these iconic Italian restaurateurs. They have so many stories to tell about how they got to America, how they approach their business and this one was no different, This Italian restaurateur is very successful, lives life as a bella figura, and knows it, and why not? It’s part of his DNA.
11:15 - We part and head to a wine and cheese shop. We have 45 minutes before we are to meet the sales rep, but I go over to the shopping center where we are to meet. Veronica is looking for postcards. We scour the shopping center and find not one. Note to self, find a way to sell some cool vintage postcards in this shopping center. I am sure tourists come here often. Good opportunity to make a little (very little) cash on the side. We head into the wine and cheese shop to meet the buyer(s). The main buyer is in Italy with clients, but there are two affable folks in there and we talk. Hmmm.
12:00 – I rush back to the main office, there is a gent from Spain wanting to meet me to talk about the wines of Ribero del Duero. He has a plane to catch so I offer to take him to the airport so we can talk more and drive at the same time. So American it is to do something like that, as the driving, moving thing and also talking, relationship-building thing can often be a bit of a conflict of attention. But we muddle on through. I don’t know why but I think better when I am swerving through traffic. I am more focused and get to the point better. Not sure if my passenger liked my driving all that well. But we did get him to the airport on time. Along the way, one of my bosses called and asked me where I was. "Where are you? We are having lunch for one of our fellow co-workers.” I tell boss I will meet the group at the restaurant, start without me, I will be there as soon as possible.
12:45 – Zipping through the George Bush tollway was a straight shot, if I didn’t get a speeding ticket. At 80+mph, that was a stretch, but it was in the flow of the traffic.
1:10 – Made it to the restaurant, French. The waiter had just gotten there, working off a major drunk fest from the night before and stumbled in, still slightly drunk and very hung over. We order (he hadn’t gotten to them yet!) and settle in.
1:45 – We’ve had wine, soup and some of the entrees start showing up. My doesn't and the server brings me more soup (I hadn’t asked for more, oh well.) Finally the salmon, strike that, the sole showed up at my setting. “I didn’t order this,” I told the server. “Well, that’s what I wrote down,” he offered haughtily. Whatever, it was getting late and I had a ton of stuff to do. I scraped off the crème sauce and pushed the rice aside and managed to work it out.
2:22 - Lunch finished, we ordered espresso. “Short” I advised the server. “Of course, who do you take us for?” he served back. Minutes later a tall espresso, weak and smelling like dirty water, was pressed towards me.
2:39 – I pick up the sad cup of coffee flavored water and went to the bar. The owner, a friend, was there, and I winked that “go along with me on this” wink. To the waiter I slid the espresso on the bar and said, “You screwed up my entrée and I went with it. But you will not screw up my espresso!” The waiter, still hung over, fumbles and asks me why the vulgarity. “Sir, you are guilty of vulgarity with that sorry excuse for an espresso. Now fix it!” And I return to my table. What a long day this had become,
2:52 – After the proper espresso is brought by a now contrite server, the owner appears at the table with two liter bottles, one a home made lemoncello, the other a grapefruit and blood orange infusion of the same style. Frozen carafes from the freezer. Oh, this wouldn’t be good for productivity. I had, easily, ten more hours in this day before I laid my head upon my pillow. But what the hey, the owner, such a pleasant guy, and the infusions were quite good.
3:12 – Heading out, the waiter sufficiently tazed into compliance, a rep from another company, quite drunk, wants to talk. He and his colleague (girlfriend?) are sitting at the bar getting their drink on. And he wants to talk to me about coming to a retail store and doing an expensive Italian wine class. The lady is dressed seductively, but not improperly for our business, but I am just not in the mood to talk to her male friend. I guess I had the sign still on my back that the waiter had put, the one that say, “He’ll take anything”. Yes I will. To a point. And I had reached that point some time ago.
3:40 – Back in the office, for a moment, to gather my stuff. Somewhere in town my Italian rep is working and I have been setting up meetings with clients from my remote/mobile bunker. I remember there is some paperwork to finish up. Before I know it’s 5:30, the dinner is at 6:00.
5:45 – Walking to my car I feel liquid dripping from my nose. I am wearing a pink shirt. I get in my car and turn it on. Waiting for the car to cool. I apply compresses; the nose is in full bleed-out mode now. I am trying not to panic, but the folks at the restaurant are calling me asking me where I am.
6:00 – I notice my pink shirt now has blood on it, so I must go home, through rush hour traffic and clean up. Meanwhile my nose hasn’t stopped bleeding. I call, text, let everyone know I will be at the wine dinner. But I will be late.
6:22 – A car behind me screeches, the brakes squeal, smoke from the pads, the whole deal. The driver comes within inches of rear-ending me. The adrenalin starts my blood to pumping again. Now my shirt isn’t pink, it’s blood-orange red, kind of a tie-dyed look. I am three blocks from home.
6:45 – I am home now and one hour into this mother of all nose bleeds. I have done everything, counted slowly to 300, applied a cold rag under my lip. Pinched my nose. Nothing is working. I have gotten blood all over the house, my whole world is blood covered. And I am late for the wine dinner.
7:15 – Finally, it is over. I am cleaned up, the mess is contained. But all I can taste is salt and blood. It reminded me of a Spanish wine I once tried. And I hated it. I head to the wine dinner.
7:30 – I am seated at a table with lovely folks. They have had the first course, snails. They were finishing the second, a duck with some kind of berry sauce. I tell the server I will just have the next, the entrée, the steak.
7:38 – The duck appears. The cherry reduction reminds me of something I had being trying to get rid of for an hour and a half. I am sure it was wonderful, but I couldn’t even look at it. I moved it around the plate and the waiter picked it up. Why did he bring it, I wonder, I told him I didn’t want it (I smell a trend here, servers who don’t listen?).
7:55 – The steak appears. With a gob of foie gras and laced with truffle oil. Even with my nose severely hampered by what it has just been through, the truffle oil got through. Now, folks who know me know I once had a run in with truffles, essentially I got a lifetime’s worth of truffle exposure in a few days. I am so done with truffles. But truffle oil, that’s a layer of hell I reserve for Al-Kaida insurgents, someone like a Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Not me. I did my sentence. But truffle oil is still flowing in Texas. So I buck up, tear off a few bites and serve my sentence. The wine helps. Too bad the Sangiovese is so bloody red, though. I am in full overwhelm with the earlier trauma. But the night is young. There is still dessert.
8:30 – Mind you, the wine dinner was lovely. The company was delightful. The wines were spot-on. I just wasn’t in a great space. But I do love my desserts.
8:40 – A mind boggling Vin Santo appears and I start to get a view of the Pearly Gates from whatever level of Hell I had risen out of. And then the dessert showed up. A panna cotta with a cherry/berry reduction sauce. Again with the bloody allegory on the plate. I was defeated, spent, vanquished. I surrendered. But I just couldn’t look at one more glob of coagulated cherry coulis.
9:45 – After tableside conversation, I move to take Veronica on the town for her last night before she goes home to Italy. I head her up to a friend’s pizzeria in an ancient tack shop. On the third floor they have an ice bar and Tuaca and Patron on tap. Light clear, cool, soothing alcohol salves, followed by beer. And hour or two of that, listening to same laid back Texas music from the band on the outdoor patio overlooking this little Western square started to mellow me out. This is the Texas the Italians like to see, but they always get committed to doing wine dinners. I know it’s part of the work and the commitment, I understand. But once in a while you just gotta find time to let a little Texas worm it’s way into one’s heart.
11:30 – Getting late, but I offer to show our young Italian Dallas by night in the car, so we head off in search of the city with the lights. Past the grassy knoll, the historic place where a President perished so many years ago. Down into the deepest parts of the bluesy side, Ellum. The glitzy art district, where the Johnson’s and the Pei’s and the Renzo Piano’s, the Rem Koolhaus’s, all the bright and pretty architectural jewels of the so very wealthy city on the Prairie. This dry Prairie, where many have dreamt large and shed tears and blood for their dreams.
12:15 – A full day. A lifetime in a day, but we made it. To wake up another day and try again. To dream, to bleed, to be alive. But I am still positive, oh so O-positive.