Thursday, February 27, 2020

Interview with the Ancients

#TBT - from the archives
Imagine taking a walk in a quiet place. In it, there were many souls from ancient times. They were from Greece and Italy, Sumeria and Egypt, Persia and Etruria. The voices were silent but the souls were coming through loud and clear, on a Friday afternoon on the eastern edge of Central Park.

I had just interviewed a gentleman about his life, his book and things Italian. But we didn’t quite make a connection. How could you do anything in 15 minutes, except perhaps to size each other up like two bulls in a ring? Not that it was that kind of encounter. I left feeling the need to reconnect with my roots, so I hopped on a subway and headed back a couple of thousand years, to interview the ancient ones.

Q. What were the wines like when you were living?

A. They were dark and musky, and warm. They tasted a little like sour water sometimes and at other times sweet like rose petals.

Q. Who made the wine in your community?

A. We had families who passed the trade down from generation to generation. There were families, like in Chaldea, who had been working with the grape for hundreds of years.

Q. Who among you were the first to taste wine?

The fellow in profile speaks

A. When we first tasted it, it came about by accident. One of the servants had left a vase of grapes lying around in a cool dark place and forgot about it. Several weeks later one of the porters was walking around and smelled this sweet odor. He had it brought up to the dining area and we all took bites out of this fruit we knew, but it tasted very different this time. And the juice in the bottom of the vase we all took sips of. This was something we had never experienced before. So we instructed the porters to pick more grapes and let them sit in the basement in the same manner. That was the first time we had seen it.

Q. How did the news of this travel?

A. Slowly at first, but after 400-500 years pretty much everybody in the known world had an idea of the transformative powers of the grape.

Q. And the merchants, how did they fit in?

A. At first, it was seen as a religious ritual, so the merchants stayed away. A tribe of women eventually wound their way through the empire, setting up trade with the Egyptians.

Q. Many times we hear that the Greeks brought wine culture to Italy. Who knows about that in this room?

An Etruscan princess answers

A. We had already started with the grape before the Greeks arrived. We had been going on for several hundred years. What the Greeks did was to bring some new grape types with them, but not superior to the ones we had been cultivating for 500 years.

Q. It seems Ancient Romans loved wine. Poems were written about it, buildings and temples were erected in honor of the god of the grapes.

A. That all is true, but keep in mind we had very little to eat and drink. We were often sick and food went bad quickly. Wine kept, and it kept us well and our bellies full. And it made us happy.

Q. Did the grape have anything to do with the expansion of the Empire(s)?

A. Other than it went where man went? Of course when we conquered Gaul or the Huns or the Britons, we would plant vines and keep the local people collected and subdued. Wine had a part to play in the civilizing factor of the wild tribes.

Q. Last Question. If you were around today, what kind of wine would you like to see? What would you make?

An older Roman answers

A. Listen, I would round up some of my soldiers and head to Toscanium and set that land straight. I’d bring them back to the Jovian roots and light a bloody fire under their feet. And by all the power of Jupiter, we’d bring them back to the flame of truth and all that is holy about the miracle the gods have sent down from the heavens in giving us grape with which to make this precious wine. Anyone caught disrespecting the gift of the gods would be crucified and struck down, their family sent into exile. To go against the Divine Immortals is the worst sin one could commit against the pantheon that rules our ancient souls.

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