Thursday, August 22, 2013

Canaiolo’s tale of love lost

From the dies canulares storybook

It had been a brutally hot summer. Sangiovese came up to me and announced, “I can’t take it here anymore with you. There’s too much tradition, it’s too provincial and it’s just too damn hot. I’m heading to the coast to live with Cabernet. I need someone strong and vibrant, and I need to feel the cool sea breeze between my leaves.” And just like that, she was out of my life.

We had grown up together. We were inseparable. In the early days people said I was the one who had the character, the depth and the lasting power. But the years passed, and Sangiovese seized the ascendant spot in the relationship. I was content to fill in for her. She had the backbone and was favored among the local marcheses and nobles who saw in her a bright fire and an even brighter future.

She took very little with her. She was easily uprooted. I mourned through the dog days of an even more miserable August and limped to an uninspiring harvest along with some of my pals, Malvasia, Colorino, Trebbiano and Ciliegiolo.

“She’ll be back,” Trebbiano said, “just like the time she went off to Romagna.” But I feared this was a different story. Sangiovese was climbing up to the land owners in the Maremma, and they wanted a little dirty rusticity to marry with their refined French cousins. Cabernet was all too happy to romp with Sangiovese in those lush coastal vineyards.

I didn’t know what to do with myself. I was always in the company of others, never a solo player. There was no in purezza in my vocabulary. I needed others.

Colorino occasionally asked me to join him and Malvasia for an evening out. We would sit and talk about the sweet old days. Malvasia was always so sympathetic. Ciliegiolo and Trebbiano would often join, trying to persuade me there was life after Sangiovese. “Just mark two years off the calendar,” Ciliegiolo would say, “and when the day comes you’ll never know she was even here.” Easy for him to say. He was so strong, so versatile, so confident. I was not Ciliegiolo, though, and so I mourned and lamented the loss.

Time passed: autumn, winter and the issues of the seasons. When spring arrived, I’d poke my head out to see what was happening. It was quiet without Sangiovese. It was is if someone had drained all the blood out of me and left me standing in a field, like a dried up stalk waiting for death. I preferred the dread of winter to the promise of spring. But, alas I had no choice. I had to press on.

Over the years, I’d get the occasional card or note from her; she was loving the coast and the attention. She once wrote me that she could truly be a free spirit in the Maremma. The wealthy ruling classes loved her. But then I heard from Alicante that Cabernet had grown tired of her, too, and moved Merlot in with them. Sangiovese lingered, but a ménage a trois was heady stuff even for her.

I heard from my cousin Grecchetto that she went to Umbria and took up with Montepulciano. They would vacation on the Adriatic in the Marche hills.

On a pilgrimage to Assisi, I ran into Sangiovese, in Torgiano. She was having a sip of water. She told me that Cabernet had kicked her out because she was too high spirited and strong willed. He wanted someone more supple, someone softer. And he ran into Merlot’s arms and their affair is still going strong. I felt pity for her. She told me she needed warmth and softness, too, and so she found Montepulciano and they are living a wonderful life in Umbria and the Marche. I missed her, but I wasn’t as raw as I had been years before. We said goodbye, and I ventured to Assisi before returning home to Tuscany.

I contented myself with my group: Colorino and Malvasia and Ciliegiolo and Trebbiano. I was the fifth wheel, but we had some sweet times. I made an attempt at being in purezza, but I wasn’t a monk. I knew my place. I lost my identity with the crowd, but along with it I felt a weight lifting off my shoulders. I had always held up others, blended in, and then when the night was over. They’d all go home to their places, and I’d be staring at the moon, asking “why me?”

And then one day, she blew back into town. She had the look of a wizened woman, the kind that are more attractive to older ones like me because they’ve gotten some character in those facial lines. Still, I guarded my heart. I was no young pup; I’d been around Tuscany for what seemed like ages.

“What are you doing here?” I asked her. “I grew tired of Montepulciano,” she said, seeming tired, sad, even wilted. “He was too soft, too overbearing, too dependent on me. It was always the same vertical position and predictable finish. I needed something more.”

I couldn’t imagine where she was going with this.

“With Cabernet it was exciting, especially after all the years I had with you. You have to understand I needed to find out if that was for me. I was looking for deep love, for commitment, for something new. But Cabernet grew impatient with me, and Merlot was so comely and easy. I never had a chance.

“When I moved to Umbria, Montepulciano was a godsend. He was jovial and mellow, unlike his cousin, Sagrantino, who was so stiff and haughty. And Montepulciano was such a good dancer. But after some years, he grew so predictable that I thought to myself, ‘Is that all there is?’ And so I’m coming home to my place, to those I grew up with, hoping you would take me back.”

Something I thought for years I wanted to hear I now heard as if in a tunnel. The words echoed, and I couldn’t quite make out their meaning. I was stunned. I still loved her, but I wasn’t in love with her. Had I become independent? Was I now was capable of living on my own in purezza? I was enjoying my freedom.

I didn’t know how to respond. So I told her, “Welcome back to your home. If I don’t warm to your entreaty immediately it’s not because I have stopped caring. But a lot of harvests have gone by the crusher, and I have made a life for myself. My friends and I have found a way to get through the snow and the hail and the frost and the blistering heat, together, while you were off living the life you wanted. You traveled. You saw the world. I heard you even lived in California for a time. And there was that period when you lived so scandalously in Montalcino. And now you want to come back here and act as if the last 20 years never existed? I’m not sure how to answer your pleas.”

I took a very deep breath, and waited. And waited. She looked crestfallen, her leaves drooped, and one could see the years had accumulated in her limbs. Finally, not wanting to be mean, I said, “Sangiovese, find your way. No one will cast you off, but we have learned to live our lives without you. It will take time. There’s not a mean one of us in the bunch. But I think it will take time. Set down some roots; see if you really want to come back to our rustic life here. I cannot take you back just now. This time, you must be patient.”

And with that I saw in her eyes the regret of someone who had made a youthful mistake and was now reckoning with its fruits. I still loved her, but I wasn’t going to uproot my life. Not now. Not yet.

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Anonymous said...

Sounds like Tuscany has a new race of people called Tuscanaiolos invading their domain Which should make it a loving place to visit, unless they hang out only with there own bunch, Read your blog it is a "Grape Love Story"' , It was very well written.

XOXOXO love MOM!!!!!

Matt Paul said...

brilliant, simply brilliant

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