Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Last Parmigiana

Looking out my back window, I see all the plants that were alive last week are now dead or dying. Winter has arrived. Before the brutal but inevitable onslaught arrived, I gathered all the last of the eggplants that were hanging. Some were ready, some were not. They were all harvested; gathered for one last Parmigiana of the season.

Earlier last week I spent evenings after work trying to gather what little of the Hoja Santa I could that wasn’t marred by the hail storm. Agonizing work, trying to find the unblemished ones and feeling bad for the others that had been damaged. It was difficult to leave them behind. Now they are all finished.

Some will go on to existence again to add a little flavor and texture to the goat cheese they cover. Reincarnation of sorts. The others will be composted, and will return next year.

The eggplants? They transitioned to a new life as well. A Saturday night dinner, a Sunday morning breakfast, pressed between two pieces of toasted bread. The last Parmigiana.

This past week we lost dear friends. Philip di Belardino, when he took his last breath on this earth, the wine world shuddered. In times when people have divergent views about wine, people like the Wine Spectator’s Thomas Matthews and Alice Feiring have one thing they seemingly agreed on - Pippo’s life touched theirs in a positive way, if I read between the lines correctly. From all over the world, people have weighed in on Pippo’s Facebook page, expressing their love and loss for a man who lived and loved big.

On the home front, another man, not so well known. He was a pediatrician and a wine lover and his two passions were treated similarly. Dean Jacoby loved wine. If he cornered you at a tasting you were going to be there for a while. But so what? It wasn’t like he was trying to press some ridiculous political notion on you. He was just trying to get someone else to love Brauneberger Juffer Sonnenberg Auslese as much as he did, and he was going to baptize you with his fervor. Dear Dr. Jacoby, we will never know how many lives you touched, how many lives you saved. But for those of us left on the vine, those who remain, for now, an outpouring of gratitude for your passion for people and for wine.

My dad, if he had lived, he would have been 99. He lived to see 69 and that was all. He lived too fast, too soon, too hurriedly. But in reality, even for those of us who make it past 69, don’t we all live a little too fast? The younger ones, those who have been young all their life and know nothing else but youth, they don’t give a damn about age. Not today. I doubt my dad did at that age either. Or any of us. Why should we? Life is packed into our cells; we’re growing and heaving with life force.

I once had a teacher who repeatedly said, “There are only two creative forces in life – religious and erotic- and they are one and the same." Odd to think of that in these times, when it all seems like a narcissistic selfie nation. People like Philip di Belardino or Dean Jacoby or my father, and many more who lived their lives giving so much to others. Their Parmigianas were something; they nourished, they sustained life, they brought life to the table. And the wines they shared made all our lives the better for it.

When I see someone posting a picture of a great wine on their website, I ask myself “What is the good that comes from this?” If I see a sommelier posting a bottle of 1990 Conterno Monfortino on Delectable, does it make me feel as good as one of Dr. Jacoby’s silly jokes? When there is a spread of wines and great food on a Facebook page, will it ever come anywhere near the feeling I had when I sat at a table with Pippo and ate and drank and laughed late into the night? Can a bottle of wine, or a meal, posted on Instagram, replace the feeling I had when I was a kid and my dad and I went fishing. Just the two of us?

The last Parmigiana of the year from the garden was had last night. I pulled a bottle of the 2008 Produttori del Barbaresco “Ovello” out of the cool, dark wine closet. Decanted it, and waited for the Parmigiana to brown on the top.

Moments later, the table was set and ready. Months of garden work, years of vineyard work, all leading to this moment. And it was truly a wonderful experience. The Parmigiana was rustic and rich with the comfort that can only come from a dish one has been making for as long as I have been an adult. And the Ovello, it was fruity and mellow, in a perfect state for being so young. The right time, the right wine.

The only thing better would have been if Pippo and Dean and my dad could have been here to share this wonderful bottle of Barbaresco and the last Parmigiana.

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