Sunday, August 23, 2020

Italy, a beacon for continuity in the realm of magical thinking

Yesterday a young friend called me from Italy. Not just anywhere in Italy, but one of my favorite places in Italy – San Benedetto del Tronto – on the Adriatic coastline. And not just anywhere in San Benedetto del Tronto, but from the bar at the Excelsior Hotel. And there he was with a dear old, friend, Piero, the bar manager. He was alive. He was well. And he was reflecting the sunny life of summer in Italy. It made my day.

Actually, it shook me to my core. I was elated to see and talk to Piero. I didn’t know if he would still be working, he’s almost the same age as Anthony Fauci. But he was like a constant beacon, a lighthouse, just like I’ve always known him. It was a thread of continuity that reinforced my faith in enduring things.

It was as if all the changes we have seen recently were vanquished to a bubble of memory and sent to a room, to hover all by itself, alone. It would be fitting, seeing as that is much of what many of us have been doing. But the moment in which I saw something familiar, and dear, brought me back to a life of hope.

I haven’t been to Italy in a year and a half. All those plans to go were put on hold, while this storm crashes and keeps crashing upon our shores. I see Italy, if not in reality, at least pretending that things were getting back to normal. The bar at the Excelsior, where one could get a good coffee. Where one could have a chat with a friend, who has seen it all, behind his bar, as the world came to him.

I played along. I pretended. After the call, I “went” back up to my hotel room and put on my walking shoes. And headed out the door, straight to the Lungomare and turned left. I walked to the center of town, to the square, where the Hotel Calabrese sits. Where children were playing. Where youths were engaged in a tennis match. Where a pair of aged men were playing checkers, while the breeze off the sea lilted through the palms, and the full tufts of white hair of the elders. It was a beautiful afternoon, and it was aperitivo time.

So, I strolled to our favorite bar nearby the Florian, and had a glass of water, with a dash of Anisette, made nearby, and a slice of orange. And sat outside and watched the passage of time. Nearby young women were staring at the newly arrived shoes in the window of the boutique. And across the street, the bookstore, long gone, but still there in my memory, announced the latest novel by Elena Ferrante.

One of my local friends stopped by and said hello. He was on his way to the Caffè Sciarra, his favorite. “Yes, yes, we’ll stop by after dinner and have a gelato or a cognachino with you all, by all means.” I knew that would be hours from now, so I bided my time sitting here, enjoying the continuity of a life I only get to touch occasionally.

But it all seems so much more real to me than this world we are living in now. Oh, not to worry, I’m not going to fool myself into some kind of magical thinking. I’m just taking a break from the harsh reality, an aperitivo della fantasia.

Meanwhile dinner time is approaching. Let’s see, what to eat and drink? It’s warm here on the coast in August, and this is a pasta and seafaring dominant food destination.

Let’s start with the traditional appetizer, Olive Ascolane, with a nice Pecorino wine from the region, the Ciprea from Simone Capecci. Ciprea is a full-bodied white, almost with the weight of a red. The wine sees no oak, only stainless steel and long ageing on the lees. What was once an obscure wine is now a DOCG (Offida).

Let’s also have some olive ascolane and squash wrapped shrimp. Maybe a plate of calamari, some grilled gambero and langosto, and some baby clams. As well, a bottle of Trebbiano d’Abruzzo, for Gambero old times sake. Maybe something fancy. Why not? The asteroid is heading our way, supposed to be here November 3rd, what are we saving it for?

I know we’re in the Marche region, and most people never even get to Marche, or their neighbor, Abruzzo. Their loss. Our gain, for those of us who pilgrimage there more than the occasional wine junket. Great weather, fabulous food, reasonably priced, great beaches (which means great seafood) and therein provides the attraction for a crisp clean white like Trebbiano. And Abruzzo is the omphalos for this wine. Trebbiano soothed many a sunburn, assuaged many a plate of mezze manche with tiny clams and helped expedite the finishing off a plate of grilled langosto.

Speaking of pasta, I’m in the mood for something spicy. Abruzzo has long had a tradition of deeper colored rosés. The spicy arrabbiata pasta I’m thinking of having infused in me a love for Cerasuolo d’ Abruzzo. Made from the Montepulciano grape, this is a good fix for folks who love fruit-driven red wines that are spicy but who want to power down from the big red when the weather is warm. Again, not so fashionable in the world of marketing, where the anemically pale Provence style of rosé is currently de rigueur. But one would never know that on the Adriatic coastal towns, where Cerasuolo flies off the tables, and where we like our rosé wines, like our summer bodies, well-tanned.

Is there anything more we can eat? Well, we have one more wine to drink, another white, so something must show up, if only a nice clean, simple plate of grilled fish with olive oil and lemon.

How about a bottle of Verdicchio from Matelica, from La Monacesca? Maybe something with a little age on it, when it gets a (secondary) toasted coffee bean aroma and nutty flavor? I’m all in.

Look, I cannot travel like friends Ian or Roger, or decamp to my Tuscan hideaway like my Texas friend (who will not be named). I’m completely at the mercy of my magical thinking at this point. What, I should follow the upcoming political party convention instead? I ‘d rather weekend in Guantanamo.

Before this fantasy ends, though, we must find my way to Caffè Sciarra, for a nightcap of an aromatic grappa and a cone of pistachio gelato, to gird us for the walk back to the hotel. It’s almost midnight, the dance music is bleating in the little piazza in front of the caffé. The revelers would be going at it until 2021, if they could. I have about 45 minutes left in my tank.

Continuity. The compost of memory. It keeps the good vibrations fertilized and ready for the next season. Maybe like Piero, always there, always a comforting constant, maybe we can just pretend some things will never end, while we wait for this scourge we currently find ourselves held hostage in, to finally cease.

wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W

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