Wednesday, September 24, 2008

In Gps We Trust

Rome, Rome, Rome, always the beginning and the end of so many stories. In the recent events, it was the point where we started the circle and finished it.

Coming into Rome from the airport was so much easier than it was the first time; just turned on the GPS-she-devil device and plugged in the hotel address, and 30 minutes later we arrived at the front desk. Not like the time in 1990 when I had my wife, Liz, jump into a cab and I followed her to the hotel. After wandering around the city for two hours.

Driving in Rome is an interesting challenge, one that seems to have become more intense in the last 30 years. Italy, too, has become less civil and angrier on the road. And then there are the motor scooters and two wheeled space invaders that plague today’s Rome. But that’s the way of a city, even one as old as Rome. Wisdom doesn’t come so easily.

The 2008 harvest is underway and in the coming days I’ll be posting notes from what I saw and touched, drank and thought. This year the harvest report centers on Central Italy, with Tuscany and the Maremma on one side and the Marche/Abruzzo on the other, like a teeter-totter between Sangiovese and Montepulciano. Other grapes as well. But we won’t be going off too far into esoterica on this trip, no, this isn’t the time for too much autochthon. This is a time to batten down the hatches and lean out, make it through the present cycle, which is not without its challenges.

I have a friend who is starting an import company right now, and mainly working the NY-east coast. I wouldn’t want to be in his shoes. But to his credit, he understands that the relationship with the restaurateur is more important than holding the hand of the winemaker. It’s a buyers market, and like my 20 new best friends, wine salesmen in Rome, told me last week, it's all in how you bond with the customer.

Interesting find in a neighborhood that I like to stay in, Parioli. A little spot called La Balestra on the Via Simeto 2/F. Not on anybody’s radar, no reviews, just a great neighborhood spot with good service, clean food, fantastic wine prices. I will post about it later.

Another place, on the other end of the trip, was in Monteporzio Catone, in Frascati country, a place called I Tinelloni, found as a result of a Slow Food recommendation from a book Sausage Paul pressed into my hands before I left. Definitely worth a post as well.

The wine trail led us this year, from Rome up to the Tuscan Coast to Castiglione della Pescaia. We climbed over and into Firenze to meet up with an old friend, and then trekked over to the Marche/Abruzzo coast at San Benedetto del Tronto. A couple of day trips from there, one during a wet afternoon to forage for mushrooms over white tablecloths. Fish on the coast, meat in the hills. And then back to Rome via Monteporzio Catone.

One story. On the last day, we were about 40 km from the airport, with traffic no more than an hour. I set the GPS for the quickest route, not the shortest (I had learned that the hard way when we went from Castiglione della Pescaia to Firenze, over every last hilltop town).

But then we got into the traffic flow, and flow is a kind word, more like a molasses surge, I knew we were going to have a tale if we didn’t miss the plane.

Roman drivers are singular in their ability to ferret out every last drop of pavement in which to claim their driving space. They are aggressive, meaner than a junkyard dog, sometimes not paying attention, and ultimately forgivable in their ability to recognize another who just has to get to the airport on time.

I drove the wrong way on a street to jump in front of a traffic line and get myself back in the direction that the polizia told me to go. I gave people a wave to go in front of me and got the finger by someone behind them because I didn’t give it to them as well. I got honked at mercilessly by an ancient Roman because I was blocking the road, never mind that I had a red light. He had to turn right. Guess the poor old guy had to pee. In any case, the polizia, who just gave me directions, turned their heads away as I crept past the line so the vecchione could get on with his turn. I had scads of bottle rockets, Vespas and other two wheeled insects buzzing all around me, you think I was a pile of oregano in bloom the way they were swarming the car. But I made it through, without a scratch. Two hours later.

What it did to me later, as I was resting in the plane, was to give me the royal boot back to America. “So there you have it Italian Wine Guy, we took care of you one more time. You slept in nice beds, had great food, saw wonderful countryside, and drank delicious wine, from the carafes you love so much to the finest vintages. Now go back home and try to sell some of this stuff. And don’t come back until you do.”

Oh yes, I got my due. And now it’s back to paying my dues.


Anonymous said...

You survived to tell the tales. I am looking forward to them. They say NYC is a leveler, but Italia is another planet of levelers.

Anonymous said...

Welcome Back!!!

Anonymous said...


Parioli is lovely; I used to spend time there heading to Villa Ada for the many free concerts Rome hosts there during the summer. And the traffic! Of course, I was buzzing around on a scooter, cheating death certainly but also getting where I needed to go.


Unknown said...


Anonymous said...

See the point that streets are no longer the best way
that proves
when in Rome
start walking

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