Friday, June 29, 2007

Where Have You Gone?

As folks pour into Italy for vacation, looking for that special trattoria or isolated stretch of sandy beach, what are they finding?

More and more, we turn to faraway places to re-fuel our oft-depleted enthusiasm for our wells of inspiration. People are worn out from the hustle and incessant pull for their attention. A lunch break, and 50 e-mails show up, 25 requiring some action or response. Connectivity has tied us up in a web of our own making, and one that is hard to untangle. We have our little victories, and our passion gets acknowledged once in a while. But the escape to another place, to stop the world, and step onto a little piazza for a cool glass of wine and a plate of fresh anything. Now that, for some of us, would be like hitting it out of the park.

Here’s my proposal. Don’t plan your next trip to Italy. Yes, get your plane ticket and rental car (optional), but save your fretting over where to stay and where to eat. Now don’t do this in August. But from late September on, how about arriving in Rome or Milan, stepping outside and seeing which way the wind blows you? I wonder how many of us could do that?

What’s my point?

A few days ago a colleague e-mailed me; he was in Florence and wanted to know where to go to eat. I took 20 minutes and arranged a couple of options for him and his family. Nice, not touristic. Bam, done. Later in the day, he e-mails me back, tells me to add another restaurant to my list. He found a different one, on his own. If I could tell you how many times this has happened to me. But it’s OK, Ma, because in reality, they only needed someone to get them out the door. Then Italy would take it from there.

A winemaker friend once took me to a little spot in Tuscany above the Castello Banfi. A little place whose name I don’t recall at the moment. It seemed like a deserted film set, up on a hill. Dusty, quiet. As we got to the end of the road into the village, it dead-ended. There was a dog barking and dust flying, kind of eerie. My host took me through a door that had glass beads covering the opening. No one was inside. We took a seat and listened to some Coltrane-like jazz. About five minutes passed and a gent showed up. He had been running to the market to get a few things. The meal that followed was simple but memorable.

Had this scene occurred back home, how many of us would have waited or even stayed upon entering a deserted restaurant at lunchtime? By the way the patio had a view of Montalcino worth sharing, as the accompanying picture shows.

Sharing, now that’s a whole ‘nother subject. But let me digress. If one takes a trip to Italy with this criteria - that you will stay in the level of luxury you are acclimated to - it's a virtual guarantee that you will not come into contact with Italians and the people and places that make Italy so desirable.

Tracy from Ischia laments on her blog about the wealthy Americans with their Hummer-Yachts who fear of venturing off their platform to experience a typical restaurant or see a vineyard that doesn’t look like a McMansion with vines.

I say Jump! Wander! Lose your Blackberry and find your soul. Go to Italy, open up to your instincts and round the bases. That's if you have the guts to go there and simply do it.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

From: A Moron Re: Amarone

A weaver of fiaschi, not tales

There is a fellow who I run into from time to time. He likes to practice his Italian, lived there for a while. Thinks he’s an Italian. Which is about as much as I am Irish. He likes to say things he picked up in the dialect of the area, near Verona. Really funny, because the guy, well, you never know if he is telling the truth or making up a story. Really don’t mind, if the story made up is good. But seems lately he is running out of material, or memories. So he calls me up and starts telling me about this white Amarone he had when he lived over there, back in the day. Now I hear these kinds of things from time to time. The other day I got a call from a restaurauteur who was looking for a red Galestro, although why anyone would be looking for the red version of a tasteless white wine is beyond me. Oops, that was snob talk. Anyway, back to the Veneto and the white Amarone.

Italians are great improvisers. I remember a dear friend once telling another person about the process of governo in Tuscany. I had just studied it up for some kind a wine certification, so governo was on my punch list. Well, my friend had wrapped his tongue around this tall tale and he even had me going, though I knew what he was saying was dead wrong. Big deal, The Italian says, it doesn’t matter how we get to Rome, we’ll get there, we’ll get there. It might be on the Autostrada, it might be on the Salaria, but we’ll stop for lunch and eventually arrive. Kind of like this posting. We have definitely stepped off the freeway and into the rambling country road on this one.

Seems that my middle-aged white Amarone yarn spinner claims that he and a winemaker, that he worked with, made a white Amarone. I ask, thinking to keep this on the straight and narrow, if perhaps he got it confused with Recioto of Soave? No, no, that was not it, it was a white grape that went into the blend in the Valpolicella, many years ago, and it was dry and bitter and white. And it came in a demijohn wrapped in straw, like fiaschi. Now, he so believes this that he has to ride it out to the end even if it means going over the cliff. In the meantime, I am almost believing that someone could have grabbed some Vespaiolo or Garganega or Passerina and what the heck, tried an experiment. The professor told me the other day that Amarone was a mistake. By the way, the professor is a real person who is a liaison for a couple of wineries, one based in Valpolicella. I’m thinking of asking him tomorrow if he has ever heard of this white Amarone. But what does it matter, do we really need another bitter, over ripe, dried out Italian white wine, that would probably be overpriced? It was hard enough selling Trebbiano’s from Abruzzo and Coda di Volpe’s from Segesta so many years ago before the computer age.

So where were we?

If my friend is reading this (and he is, he even knows who he is), he can comment. He loves to do that, in fact I often read the comments he leaves on his web site ( No, not you, the other one, this isn’t about you) and they weave a little twilight zone of existence in those few lines that his otherwise flowery posts don’t cover. The invisible world of the internet, this frontal-lobe chit chat.

In any event, if we ever find out if there ever was a white Amarone, or not, between then, we should have something to open. A very quick note.

I recently had a pizza, with a San Marzano tomato topping that was more sweet than savory. At least they didn’t sully it with garlic. For some reason, the Brunello we had with it seemed to work. The pizza was a flat Margherita, a tad undercooked. Brunello and Pizza, why not?

Besides, the white Amarone hadn’t yet chilled.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

The Sound of One Nose Smelling

Between Monterey and Big Sur there is a Zen Monastery. Guests are welcome between May and August, to hike, meditate, eat vegetarian and soak in the natural hot springs. But no electronic devices are allowed. No laptops, Blackberries, Ipods, none of that sort. It’s a great place to turn the world off. Let it go. Give it a rest.

It’s a fantastic opportunity to tune up one’s senses, hearing, sight, smell. Lately, there has been a bit written on the wine Supertasters, reviewers and critics. There is also a strain of Super Smellers, those whose olfactory sensitivity is in uber-drive to the rest of the folks on the planet. It is something I am fascinated with. As a child, my father proclaimed I was a nose that a little boy grew around. It got better as I grew up.

Some of my high school classmates called me eagle beak, banana nose, the Schnozz; those are a few I haven’t forgotten. But I am not bitter. I have had the last laugh, My heightened sense of smell has helped me in my career and passion, on the wine trail.

Almost 20 years ago I read a book, Perfume, by Patrick Suskind. In the book a young man was born who had an enormous capacity for scent. The author described, in almost excruciating detail, the level at which this character could perceive aromas in his world. He was being trained as a perfume maker, and would be considered the greatest in the world (it’s a fictional account). But one passage, in which this boy could smell certain smells from blocks away, blew my mind. For the next few months I would sit in a sales room, a restaurant, an airport, and open my sense up to “see” what I could pick up. It was incredible. Perfumes, body scents, fabric, food, combustion, rotting, vegetal, they were all there. I could pick up a perfume from 20 feet away. My game would be to try and guess the maker. I got pretty good.

At another Zen monastery many years before, on an assignment, a monk warned me of getting attached to any sense, part of their training. At the monastery in Big Sur, while it is a bit freer in allowing one to open up to that kind of experience, one is still reminded to not become too attached to any worldly thing. I copy.

The walk to the coast, through the pine forest, with the resin of the tree and the balmy breeze off the ocean, reminded me of an afternoon in Iraklion, on the island of Crete. A run this week, in my neighborhood, picked up a scent of some kind of vegetation that transported me back 40+ years, to my model car days. Some resin, a dusty aroma and bam, I was 12 again. Too bad I didn’t have those 12 year old legs to get me up the hill I was facing.

There are exercises to heighten you sense of smell. And you can prepare your nose to become more aware and sensitive to the aromas around you.
Take a look at this picture, what kind of smell does it bring to you? A hot, fresh, steaming fried apple pie, with cinnamon. You’re sitting in your aunt’s parlor, and she brings a plate of these fresh from the kitchen miracles. What do you smell? How old are you when you recall this smell? Where in the world are you?

Or how about this one, the fish market in Venice? It could be one of many sites around the world, summer is starting, it’s 11 O'clock in the morning, starting to get hot. There are sardines and anchovies nearby, the swordfish and the tuna are also close. They were swimming in the ocean in them morning and now they sit and wait for their transformation. What do you smell? Is it pleasant, or do you have a problem envisioning the aromas in you mind? At this point, you know, its all in your mind.

And that is really an important part of the olfactory sense. We humans like to enlarge our experiences. We aren’t as lucky as the beagle, whose nose has about 200 million scent-receptor cells. A human's nose has about 5 million. The beagle is the super-smeller. We can, however, elaborate with words.

Want to learn more about wine? Grow roses, or visit rose gardens. I have a few that I have gone back to over the years, this one from my alma mater in Santa Clara. I have learned as much from the roses as I did from some of my professors. Honestly.

This is not a big mystery; the wine trail is filed with teachers all along the way. One only needs, from time to time, to turn off the electronic devices and step out into the world. It is one of the ways to learn how to become a super-sleuth in the scent sector. Or you could check into the Zen monastery for a stay.

Further reading
The Nobel Prize for mapping the sense of smell

That Makes Scents - An olfactory lab activity

Friday, June 22, 2007

Keep on Trocken'...

Sec on the Beach
Cool white wine in a warm climate is a great pleasure. While I like fruity Rieslings and dessert wines, right now I am looking at dry wines, the seccos of the Italian landscape.

Picture the Southern Italian scene, Maratea in Calabria or Gargano in Puglia. Fresh seafood, cool water, warm sand. Primitivo doesn’t sound too good at that moment. I’m looking for a bone dry white to soak up the heat. Something for the shoreline of the mind. Delicate, lithe, tanned and toned.

Now We’re Cooking
Inland, perhaps the Sila forest or the Marche foothills, where the climate is a little cooler. Still some fine access to the fresh fish off the coast. There, a white still sounds good, perhaps a Pecorino or a Mantonico.
Pulling a few fresh vegetables from the garden, zucchini or arugula, and making a salad with a nice filet of tuna or chicken. A Grechetto from Umbria or an Ansonica from Tuscany would fit the bill. Refreshing, light and dry. For the next few months that is my mantra. And try to escape the heat.

Back to the Adriatic coast, a few other wines to consider. The lowly Trebbiano I have already written about. It is already in the refrigerator. Add a little Verdicchio, perhaps from Jesi or Matelica. While the Trebbiano is drier and more acidic, the Verdicchio still qualifies.

Clean Country Air
Popping up to the Veneto on the way to Trentino and Alto Adige. One of my favorites is a blend from Maculan, the Pino and Toi. I’m looking at a certain wavelength, what the Germans call Trocken, and the three grape blend of Maculan gets on the boat. Clean, hillside vineyards, refreshed by the Alpine breezes, maintained by Lake Garda.

Muller Thurgau and Sauvignon in the Trentino and Alto Adige also will be spending the summer under the Texas sun. With some of the highest elevated vineyards in Europe, the white wines have an allure, a quiet, seductive quality in hushed tones that echoes across the valley, making the Austrians jealous.

The Great Escape
There’s a quality of these wines that didn't exist 30 years ago. Maybe it’s the yeast, maybe cold maceration, or perhaps just the availability of refrigeration, for the fermentation tanks and the containers that ship them over. We warm the planet so our wine can be cool. Always a trade off.

I can get lost sampling the whites up in the northern hills, and the foods that go so well during this long, hot season here in the Southern Plains.

Photo Finish
This all started with a German wine that was opened recently. It was a simple white, Riesling, but dry, Trocken.

The Vinho Verde from Portugal was also at the starting gate, bucking to beak lose and sprint. Now it’s a simple, but long race to October, to get through the hot muggy summer that just commenced.

While the Italians will be flocking to the coastlines, drinking all manner of wine, I’ll be thinking about them as I polish off a bottle or two of the new wave of great white wines, from the wine trail in Italy.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The Global Brotherhood of the Grape

The Vigneron and the Negociant
It could be a scene in Bordeaux or Barolo, the actual global position isn’t crucial. A man (or a woman) has a piece of property with grapes growing. He’s tied to the land, nurturing and gathering the ripe grapes into clusters and pressing them into service. He puts much of his faith in his agent, his representative to the world, to see that the finished wine goes out to all corners where it is desired. Liquid emissaries. There is often a simple handshake, a reassuring pat on the back, a bond that links this global grape group.

With change in the air and the once-accepted forms of dissemination being challenged, there will still be a need for the land, the grape and people to move it forward. You might someday be able to order a wine from a Castello in Tuscany and have it delivered 48 hours later to your abode; someone still needs to turn crushed grapes into liquid magic.

The Winemaker
Once, the winemaker was a solitary figure, huddled in his cave, working his alchemy over the barrels. That still must happen. But the winemaker now must know what is going on in his global community. Weather patterns and buying trends, fashions in taste and the pulse of the client, all these are now factors in his process. There must not only be winemaking, there must be vision, inspired by the miracle, but taken to the next level. In part, inspired by world competition clamoring for the attention of the wine lover, the wine merchant and the restaurant owner. No easy task, and one that is not self renewing. After one spends months plowing their fields in the vineyards, the winemaker must often go out into the market and till some more.

The Restaurateur
What must he do these days? Everyone wants you to eat their food, if it is in a restaurant or a retail market. Preparing food in a restaurant is a labor intensive process. Finding labor, these days, is getting increasingly more challenging as a regime seems to be preparing to repel the huddled masses yearning to be free.

The restaurateur’s domain is relentless. There is no respite, no escape, nothing to do but to forge ahead onward through the fog.

The Patronage
The endgame for the finished product, a table in a dimly lit room with a few plates and glasses. Here, the grapes finish their journey with an Ad hoc coronation; no 21 gun salute, no brass band. Amidst the clinking of the glasses and the din of the room, the silent spirit spills into the crevice of a soul here, a partaker there. The journey from the vine to the goblet reaches the promised land of the palate. All this, because of the brotherhood of the berry. A global community making sure this life enhancing phenomenon travels across the planet to your glass, to your dimly lit room, with the hope to spread some light and joy.

The Men in the Middle
Behind the glass curtain are the unseen ones, part visionary, part brigand. These are the charmers, the conjurers, the ones who must find a way to get the ships to shore. A little Columbus, a little Capone. Less dependant on conspiracy and more on improvisation. A group of men and women looking to raise their families and live their life doing something they want to do, because they love it. And it shows on their faces. They have a serenity and a happiness attained from finding their way, connecting with their global tribe.

Photos from the wine trail by the author

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Featured Father ~ A Modern Day Marco Polo

Watch out, Bin Laden, "AK-47 Rossi" is on your tail

Enrico “Hank” Rossi has the wandering spirit. Oh, and he likes to wear black, makes it easy to pack a bag and disappear for months at a time. In the shot above he is at the Pakistan-Afghanistan border testing out his skills. He is my featured father for Dad’s day.

From the Khyber Pass to Lalibela, before it is all said and done, Hank will visit almost everyplace his heart desires on earth. He just returned from a 2 month journey across the Silk Trail, spent last Christmas holiday in Egypt and Ethiopia.

That’s not to say he doesn’t have an interest in Western Culture, big cities, wine, women and song. He’s also been known to lose his way in the City of Lights, looking for Robuchon's latest atelier, or taking a dirt road down an unnamed trail in the Marche, in search of Rosso Piceno and roasted cinghiale.

In other words, Hank is an adventurer. He has an insatiable thirst for cultures of the world and he isn’t afraid to take risks in going out to meeting up with them on their turf, in their ambience.

And while he doesn’t shun luxury, he will walk up steep grades of trail in the Himalayas or climb Mount Kilimanjaro, not expecting a glass of Lafite when he arrives at camp. Sometimes, warm goat milk will be just fine.

Don’t take me wrong, Hank loves good, even great, wine. He has opened up and shared many great bottles of Barolo and Brunello in his cool, modern Turtle Creek flat in Dallas. He loves art and technology and beautiful women (he’s even been know to marry one or two of them); in short, Hank has a lust for life like I have seldom seen in anyone I have ever met.

He celebrated his 65th a year or two ago and that seems to be when he really started making plans to see even more places and be away for even more and more extended periods of time.

When he was a young father, Hank started a business that he didn’t necessarily like. But he worked it hard and he prospered. And then he turned it over to his kids, gave them a great basis for a living. But all along, I got the sense that his heart wasn’t really in the work, there was something else that kept him engaged. He was training for life's big adventure.

I would liken him to the tortoise rather than the hare; he is a marathoner not a sprinter. But what a run it has been.

I sometimes live vicariously through him, especially with all the travels to places that I might not always have a desire to visit. Me, I’m happy to go to a little fishing village along the coast of Italy and stay there for a week or two. Not that he hasn’t also done that. Last summer he and his wife Phillissa rented an apartment in San Benedetto del Tronto, in the Marche, on the beach of the Adriatic, for 2 months. One of my favorite places on earth. That time I was “un po invidia.” But not for long.

So what’s my point in this today? Nothing, except to acknowledge one who is without fear and one who knows that time is a precious commodity. The lesson I take from Hank's life is, we should not waste one minute of it. Live life to the fullest with a sense of urgency, this is not a dress rehearsal.

Climb your mountain.

Happy Father’s Day, Hank!

Hank’s Blog

Friday, June 15, 2007

Vines In Exile

An Italian immigrant family, new to America, plants some grapevines that they brought from their homeland.

100 years later a land developer in Northern California buys the property for a housing development. The vines, struggling and surviving, all these years in exile, now face the ax. They had a long life, their family is long gone, now part of the American experiment. So?

What should we do with these vines? If they came here today they would be here illegally. Maybe they brought disease within their roots, a type that isn’t right for this landscape. Sure they have adapted, and survived, often for years without care or attention. But they are in the way; they are not part of the future plan for the place. So why shouldn’t they be taken out?

In places like Cucamonga, Hollister and Napa, the immigrant's vines are losing out. Old dreams replaced with newer ones.
Cabernet is more profitable in Napa, so out goes the 100 year old Petite Sirah vines, dry farmed, hearty characters. In come the McCabernets.

Mataro and Zinfandel in Hollister, must it also go back over the fence? Urban sprawl needs houses for the American citizens.

Barbera and Calabrese vines in Cucamonga are declared enemy combatants, they are here without papers and no one knows how they got in. But they must be sequestered and all this must be sorted out.

In the valleys above Santa Barbara, vines were planted by undocumented Sicilians. Damaschino, Carricante, Perricone, all must go. This is a premium area for the elite whites, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.

In Italy, they find a neglected vine, resuscitate it, and voila a new heirloom is brought back into the family. A pile of rubble, maybe there since 65 AD, sits until someone finds a cave underneath and an ancient city and culture is brought back to life. It happens all the time. Over there.

I visited my Alma Mater the other day. There is an adobe wall in the garden area. It was from the 1700’s, in an area where the wine was made. This wall has been restored, propped up as a reminder of the toils of others who made our present lives so much more comfortable. It happens, in little doses, often for symbolic purposes.

The sense I have gotten, these few days on the edge of the Pacific, is that the ways of those who came before us are worthy of retaining if it doesn’t get in the way of who we think we are and where we want to go. Is that any different than they way this culture acted towards the indigenous Americans in the past? How far away must we send them? Should the Calabrese grapes and the Sicilian immigrants be returned as well?

The Charbono of Ernie Fortino, the Barbera of John Filice, The Mataro of Bob Enz, have we treated these vines and humans like the treasures they are? Or have we declared them to longer be of interest to us, have we put them on their Trail of Tears?

Has the California that I grew up in long disappeared under the wall of time?

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Sitting on a Hill, Looking at a Sunset

Monterey, California

Many years ago a teacher told me if I wanted to meet someone famous or important, that I should get in touch with that someone. I did that with a photographer, Wynn Bullock, whose photographs are on this posting.

I called him up and he told me to come and visit him. We talked for several hours. He was a philosopher; spoke a lot about dark and light, the spaces between the film grains.

I learned a lot from him, not just about photography. To him, photography was a means to seeing the world, seen and unseen. You didn’t need to have a camera.

When I last saw him, he was talking like he was preparing to transition from this life to another. I thought he sounded like someone who was dying. Maybe it was just a young man looking at an elderly person, thinking that it was inevitable.

Go into your wine cellar, go to your wine rack. This weekend, open a bottle of something really special, something you have been saving or perhaps spent a lot of money to acquire. Forget how much you could re-sell it for, open the darn bottle, with friends or family.

I don’t have a lot of words, the picture of the typewriter pretty much says it all in this moment.

The images were recorded in California, but they could be Italy, or anywhere.

More later this week.

Photographs by Wynn Bullock

Sunday, June 10, 2007

A Poem Pressed into Service as a City

Far from the vines and the work of the farm is the place where much of the wine goes: the city. And while it is great to get to Italy and head for the agriturismos and castellos and spiaggias, from time to time, the urban pilgrimage must be made.

Rome always seems to be along the way, a place to get caught up on the time zone, grab a meal, visit a spot or two and move on. But Rome is more than a layover. For me once, it was a whole summer: I fell in love with the Eternal City.

Fellini made sure I would come back, once I saw his films. Odd, I probably know Paris better, but Rome has a few secrets of mine stashed away in the ancient neighborhoods.

Could you spend a week there? One could spend a lifetime there and never completely know the place. There is an erratic rhythm to Rome. It doesn’t always hum. But a Saturday night, making the passeggiata, arm-in-arm, with all of Rome is an experience I wish everyone could have. It is like walking with history, with the old citizens from thousands of years ago, as well as the new pulsating life to come under the cobblestones. Rome could exist on its own, transplanted to an island or another planet, I am sure of this.

I rarely go there these days. I have less time and patience with the mind-numbing tourists that block a painting or complain about a line into a cathedral. And when they are turned away because they aren’t dressed appropriately, please. I would rather just be in a cool little cafĂ© with a fan and a liter of Colli Albani Bianco poured from an earthenware pitcher.

Not to say it isn’t a casual city. For sure, there are folks who use Rome as their living room, bedroom, even bathroom. But it’s all in the delivery and the intention. There are Romans who see the city as their home, literally, and they use the parks and the trattorias and the churches to live out their lives. A mixture of ancient layered with whatever we have dreamt up lately, it all goes onto the buffet for the pranzo.

A party among Romans feels like a celebration among souls who have spent many lifetimes among themselves. There is a familiarity and a cousin-ness that makes a party seem more like a family reunion. Really the only place on earth I have ever felt that. Perhaps one could say the Bay Area of Northern California in the late 60’s-early 70’s, but so far only a generation of that, not 90 or 100 generations of the kind of energy I feel in the hills of Rome.

And the food and the wine, not just from the surrounding areas. Also from distant cultures and epochs: foods from the Jews, the Greeks, the French, the Africans, and on. Rome is a city where, if you go into a small trattoria, you might find a wine list not only with wine from the local region or Italy, but even from vineyards in France, and beyond. Everyone goes to Rome, even born-in-a-bubble American politicians, though they never stay there long enough to have the spirit of the place (or the history) rub off on them in any beneficial manner.

For years my favorite place to stay would be the Raphael, between Piazza Navona and Piazza Pantheon. It is a small hotel, away from the traffic and the noise of the modern city. The rooms often look out onto a private garden; there is a sense of serenity in the space. One of my joys would be to get into the room after traveling from The States. I'd take a shower in the Roman water, a baptism of sorts in the soft embrace that the ancients would have known. Then a short, sweet, nap. A blessed slumber. Just enough to get disoriented in the late afternoon, and take to the streets in search of dinner.

Fortunato al Pantheon, a short walk from the hotel, would always have a plate of artichokes or string beans, some appetizer thing fresh from the sea, an out-of-this-world pasta or gnocchi, and a roasted fish with lemon and olive oil. There, one can order any kind of wine, so perhaps a bottle of Gavi or Prosecco to start, moving into a rosato from Tuscany, and either staying there or going to a light red like something from the Maremma or from Valtellina, or perhaps Campania or Sicily. Fortunato will guide, so one doesn’t really need to study up on it. In fact, for me, the beauty of Rome is to simply arrive. The city will cradle you upon its bosom and fill you with all the knowledge and experience that you will need for your time there.

On my first trip to Rome, I was as helpless as Romulus and Remus. I landed on August 15, Ferragosto, a national holiday. There was no place to exchange money, and I had no Lira. I walked around the Stazione Termine, the train station, and found a small pensione, with a lady who took me in and rented me a (shared) room with a bathroom down the hall. I still have fond memories of landing in a foreign country, unknown by anyone, and being treated with kindness and hospitality.

That Rome still exists. You might choose to stay in a 3- or a 4-star hotel, but one can find an overlapping sense of an ancient cult, maybe Cybele or Dionysius. Don’t think of Rome as merely a hotel stop before or after a trip, or just a repository of museum artifacts. It is a vibrating, living city that has had more experience being a city than most urban areas on earth. It is the birthplace of ancient love and drama, with a little tragedy and a lot of patina. For the traveler along the wine trail, it is a place to stop and savor timelessness.

wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W

Friday, June 08, 2007

Buen Retiro ~ Breeze, Buzz & Zibibbo

The Sicilians are laughing at me. We Americans, who take ourselves so seriously, have let life pass us by, once again. The car is packed, the beach house is ready, they stand by the car waiting for us to show. It’s time to go to the beach, it’s time to go to the “island”. But there is work to do, and wines to sell and taste, and markets to develop and, and, and the heart pounds like the ball at Times Square, waiting for the hammer to drop and smash it into a thousand pieces.

The lights dim, the crowd looks up, and the death-defying act plays out with no net. Some choose the beach and the others, we seriously self-absorbed Americans, we choose to work, to push the limits, to taunt the muse with our obstinate work ethic. Or is it rote, is it not knowing what to do with the time if there wasn’t some task, some challenge, some irresistible opportunity to sell, sell, sell? Conquer the world, again, this time with Italian wines? "Cu Sgarra Paga*" isn't just for the tightrope act.

The Italians have got this right. Go to the beach, go to an island, get away. Go away is more like what I have been hearing, but I’ll take the hint. It’s time to take a haiku, grab a towel, hit the beach.

California is a closer hop than Pantelleria or Ischia, so back home we go. I have a little visit to make to the Alma Mater, for a little graduation day luncheon and toast in the Mission Gardens with a few old friends. Then over the hill to Monterey; this is my dream, my fantasy island.

A deserted stretch of beach, the Pacific happily waving in the background, a group of students and the master. She’s the little old lady in the white cap. What would Imogene say? She’d probably laugh and tell me to take my camera out and start taking picture of things, that’s our meditation. And with digital technology, less silver, less chemicals, just spending more time out there among the essence. So, whether it’s Cannery Row or the salt mines of Trapani, one can zone out and take some respite, the buen retiro that is needed from time to time.

That is where the California of my mind seamlessly weaves into the Italy of the same shared pathology. It’s most likely flawed, but hey, it’s my fantasy and it counters this casual-Friday existence we’ve fooled ourselves into. We don’t work 4 days, many of us don’t just work 5 days. How about half a day or more on Saturday and 3-4 hours on a Sunday? And how about this, if we didn’t where would this duck soup of an industry be? Even more in the tank? Probably not, except for those of us who take ourselves too seriously. But seriously folks...

I remember telling my Pop that it wasn’t about the money, it was about the passion, the art. Well, OK, I got my wish, it wasn’t about the money. But right now, the sun is crackling around the edges of my towel and the water is cool and blue and deep.

A dry Moscato, made from the Zibibbo, a wind blowing off the water up into the hills, the fig tree dripping with fruit, the bees swarming the flowers and the ripeness of the island. All the area is buzzing, humming, nature conducting the ripeness movement. Breeze, buzz and Zibibbo, sitting under the portico, in a shady spot, a couple of figs, a few slices of prosciutto, a chunk of Caciocavallo, happy mandolin music chirping out Bella Luna, “De plane, boss, de plane, she has landed.”

Drag yourself away from the work, the world, the drama, from time to time. My Sicilian family didn’t wait for me, they left, as they have for years. If it is Mondello or Monterey, get thee to a beach, to that unreachable place, before they pick your pieces out of a car with a pair of tweezers. Maybe the great Wallenda can walk across the tightrope without a net, but why do that when a plate of figs and cheese and cured meat waits for you on the patio?

Me, I’m going to Point Lobos, to stare at the tide pools. All with a lilting Sicilian song in my head, keeping the wolf at bay and the work gremlins away. "Surdu mutu orbu sugnu**."

* Who Fails, Pays
** Blind, deaf and dumb am I

All Photographs by the author
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