Thursday, June 23, 2011

Calabria: High Noon in the Hills

“Sometimes you need to go forward to go back in time.” That was the word being transmitted to me in a dream on the 21st floor in downtown LA, mere miles from where I was born. I awoke to the sound of traffic below – it was 4:00 AM. It was going to be another long night before I started seeing the light, But I was a million miles away, in Cosenza, on the road to Bucita, in Calabria.

It’s often hard to try and understand why certain pieces of the puzzle are scattered on the table as they are. This week, I found myself walking around the Hollywood Forever cemetery, looking at gravestones. One of the first things we did when we walked into the little Calabrese town was to go into the cemetery and look at the names. The immersion into life (and death) of Calabria forged a life of wine and service in wine. Today as I walked around Hollywood Forever, visiting the graves of Mel Blanc, Rudolph Valentino, and innumerable unknowns, I thought of the symmetry. Not one mile away, I worked for a time after I got back from Calabria, fired up with food and wine and family. Later in the day, I’d attend a wine dinner in an Italian place specializing in Southern Italian wines, with the promise of a rare wine from Calabria. Looking back now, I wonder how these seemingly unrelated events weave into a life.

In Calabria, 1977, September – harvest time. Small villages at the time relied more on what they could produce than what they could procure. There were many busy folk. The ovens were working overtime, prepared for the onslaught of the figs.

That was my Pied Piper moment, the aroma of the figs. Never in my life had I smelled anything so delicious, not until I would drive around Hollywood a year later in October in the late hours of evening and smell the jasmine. Both intoxicating aromas that were Siren calls to me. Odd to compare Bucita with Hollywood – the two couldn’t have been more different – the connection, was it Δημητηρ, Demeter? Whatever the connection, this confluence, if only in my mind – both places have a hold on me – both are connected now and have been long before I ever started dreaming things up and long after I am beyond thought.

Last night a wine, Magliocco, from Calabria, was poured. I was in a crowded restaurant, wine dinner, filled with a youthful pulsation. For more than one brief moment, I dove into the glass. I was no longer in Los Angeles, but immersed in the glorious funk of pre-memory – what a mythology teacher called the primordial slime. All of a sudden, a one sided lecture by an enthusiast over the 2009 vintage of Friuli didn’t matter (did it ever?). The small menu, printed in 8 point type on butcher paper (causing it to be all but illegible to anyone with eyes older than 30) rendered irrelevant by the wafting chorus of the thousands of souls reaching from the glass of Magliocco. Time traveler again reaches his destination. Back in the village. Back to September of 1977

I have yet to meet anyone from the village that knows us or will claim to know any of our kin. We ease our way into the main part of the town, which hugs a hill and holds 1500 souls in place.

It’s nap time in Bucita – no one is moving – so much work to do with the harvest – so pressed for time – even a nap is a luxury – but necessary. Coming up to strangers is not a priority. As we walked to the town, at high noon, we walked through it and all the way to the end of the town to a bridge where we stop. We had come all this way, but with no introduction, in Southern Italy, who would want to talk to us anyway, what good could possibly come from it?

To be continued….


bill marsano said...

Alfonso, you make of your blog a soul's journey. It is good as wine.

Wine Curmudgeon said...

Not sure what it is about cemeteries, but I agree. Wherever I go, I found myself visiting them -- not just for the famous people, but for the rest who got up every day and went work, raised a family and did all the things necessary so famous people could be famous.

laura pellegrini said...

Hi Alfonso,

I would like to thank you for writing a beautifully blog!…
My name is Laura Pellegrini, I was born in Toronto and my father was born in Bucita and my mother was born in San Filli.
I have been back several time, and enjoy everything about these little old towns.
I decided to show my co-works images of Bucita and San Fili today, and came across your blog. Thank you!
I have noticed that you have a photo of my great uncle, Francesco Perri (weaving a basket).
This man was my grandmothers brother, he was an icon of Bucita, he spent most his elderly life sitting at the piazza.
I have several photo with him sitting and laughing, so proud to see an image of him on line.
Thank you for bring me back to beautiful memories.


Alfonso Cevola said...

Hi Laura,

he's also a cousin of mine - so we are probably related....

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