Monday, May 28, 2012

Anisetta in Palermo

and other remembrances on this day... 
I remember that sinuous ceramic floor, on top of the building on Via Roma. Of all things, why that floor? Perhaps the floor was the safe, the repository for all the memories stored up on the roof overlooking Palermo. All the long dinners, late lunches, cups of coffee in the early morning looking out over the water, watching the ships pull into the harbor. Looking at Monte Pellegrino in the afternoon, in the aperitivo moment. For whatever reason, that odd squiggly tile floor pulls me into the shots. Most of these people are family in some way, most of them are now gone. But here it is, Memorial Day, and one of their kin is remembering them, channeling them, looking back into the past peering into the magic mirror of images my grandfather brought back.

My grandfather was an avid photographer and took his little Brownie camera or whatever other Kodak he had at the time and always took pictures. Now I have some of the negatives, mainly from my dad, who was also an amateur shooter and filmmaker. And what did people do in those days but capture the moment? And there were many more moments with family in those days.

The picture of the family on the roof, with an array of food and wines. Those wines, look at them, what were they? It looks like about five bottles, with fancy labels. No vino sfuso. If they were even all wine? Most likely there was an apertivo or digestivo on the table. Probably Cynar. That’s where I first was enrolled into the wonders of digestive.

Some sparkling wine, maybe sweet. Maybe an exotic wine from the mainland? An Asti? Probably. Or maybe French Champagne. Not too much of a stretch considering the trade the Palermitani had with the French.

An odd shaped bottle in the front, looking like a Marsala. I would hope so. The array of food looks sweet, like desserts. It looks like there might be a bottle of Sambuca on the table. My Sicilian relatives taught me to appreciate anise. On a hot summer day, a potion of mineral water and anisetta would cool off the fiercest heat bearing down on the Conca d’Oro from nearby Africa.

Later on in America our relatives in California would take to the countryside and have huge picnics in nature. Fried chicken was big, and all manner of salads. My grandmother’s capunata would be there, along with any number of dishes from the bounty of California. Wines too, red and hearty. And beer too, for the refreshment factor. Also because it went so well with fried chicken.

They loved getting together. One of the family members in one of the photos, from the Messina family, he is approaching 96. Called me up yesterday. I need to go see him today, see how he is doing. He misses this stuff even more than me.

My mom is celebrating her 98th birthday with her middle daughter who is also having a birthday this week. They will drink wine, my brother-in-law loves wine. Maybe a Pinot Noir from up north. Maybe an Italian red. He came from Greece. I think he doesn’t drink Greek wine as much as he used to.

No, it’s all been disseminated. The Italian Diaspora spread us all out real thin. No large tables on the roof of Via Roma in Palermo anymore. No picnics in San Fernando Valley. Just a quiet meal here and there. Probably better, smaller carbon footprint.

I do miss the music, though, and the stories and all the eccentric personalities assembled when a large family gets together. But the remembrances are sweet, like the anisetta and desserts we once shared many many years ago on the roof in Palermo, upon that squiggly ceramic floor, overlooking the rest of the world and the end of time.

written by Alfonso Cevola limited rights reserved On the Wine Trail in Italy

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