Sunday, June 09, 2024

Fettuccine and Forastera with a Sicilian Surrealist

Una favola continuava

It was 7:00 PM and Giorgio’s residence was about 15 minutes away from the pensione I was staying in. But I wasn’t that familiar with Rome, and we didn’t have GPS in 1971. So, I gathered my myself, a little gift I had gotten In Sicily for his wife, and my camera, and headed out. I thought I should probably take a bottle of wine, and earlier in the day I had gone into a shop which sold wine, beer and liquor and looked for something appropriate. I knew little to nothing about wine, despite the fact that my dorm mates  at university had last names like Mondavi, Sebastiani, Heitz, Pellegrini and Filice. My uncle back in California was a wine merchant and he told me a little about Italian wines.

The store had what I would now call a selection of tourist recognizable wines from places like Umbria (Orvieto),  Lazio (Est! Est!! Est!!!) and Campania (Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio). The white wines all looked more amber-like, so I tried to find one that wasn’t as dark. On a display I found a white wine, simply called Ischia Bianco, from the eponymous island that was a popular day trip for vacationers.

The owner of the shop was born in Ischia and had a summer home there. Why he wasn’t there at this time of the year was beyond me, but maybe he had his reasons. “Ah, I see you are a young man of discerning tastes,” he said with a slight English accent. “I just brought this wine back from my island, and it is the freshest wine in the shop. Only Ⱡ900 (lira – about $1.50 US at the time). It’s made from a local grape, Forastera. ” So, I took a chance and picked up a bottle, what the heck.

Arriving a few minutes early at my dinner engagement, the old man was downstairs waiting for me. He seemed excited. “Oh, good to see you, I was wondering if you would show. Young people today can be so unpredictable. My wife has made casalinga  papalina, her very own fettuccine. I don’t know what got into her, maybe she is a little bored with me and needs some different energy in the house. In any case, welcome. And please, let’s go in.”

Once in, I gave Giorgio the bottle of wine. He shrieked! “Isa, he brought us a bottle of wine from the island of monkeys! Do you think he’s trying to tell us something?” Isabella walked out into the drawing room, apron upon her, a bright smile lit up the room. “Oh, good, we could use a little monkey business, what with all this heat and the tourists and the dust of this Eternally infernal city.” She was quite the wordsmith herself.

She glanced at the bottle and said “It looks quite good. And it is fresh, 1970, not like those old hags you bring home from Piedmont and Tuscany.”

I gave her my gift from Sicily, and Giorgio intervened, “Remember, dearest one, beware of Greeks bearing gifts.” Isabella looked puzzled. “He comes from Sicily, which we all know is a hotbed of Hellenic heinousness.” I assumed he was being alliteratively bittersweet, like a rhetorical negroni. The older Sicilians in my family also talked like that.

She took my gift, a very small piece of pottery from a Sicilian workshop. “Oh look, Giorgio, the young man has brought us a Picasso!” Indeed, it wasn’t, although it did bear a resemblance to the Spaniard’s style. Giorgio took the piece in his hands and studied it. They both thanked me.

Meanwhile, the pasta.

In Italy, when the pasta is ready, everything else stops. So there we were, the wine had chilled, the pasta had boiled, everything was ready. Giorgio motioned for me to sit between him and Isabella. I was to be their trophy for the night. It was just like being in Sicily with my Aunt and Uncle, on the Via Roma in Palermo. I was only 20, but I was spending a lot of time with people 50 years older than me. What did they survive, what did they know from all those extra years that made them wiser and more complete as human beings? These were the questions I was asking myself. Little did I know how quickly 50 years would pass, and that some of the answers would come to me in ways I would never expect.

I knew not to take seconds of the pasta, which was excellent. But like my aunt had taught me, there would always be more. Isabella removed the plates to the kitchen and Giorgio went to another room to get some red wine. While they were gone, I stared at a most unusual painting, in that there was a figure who seemed to be looking at me and in a scene which was very, very recognizable. I knew that place and that face looked very, very familiar.

Giorgio came in with a couple of ancient bottles of red wine, his old hags. One, a 1958 Barolo from someone called Conterno, Giacomo, I think. The other from Tuscany, even older, a 1954 Nipozzano. “I brought these out so you wouldn’t be the youngest thing at the table,” he joked. I think he enjoyed the Ischia Bianco, as he seemed to have a weight lifted from him. Or, it could have been Isabella’s marvelous fettuccine, her homemade papalina.

“I went to the butcher today, and we will have some Brasato al vino rosso to go with these wines. You don’t mind?” Here is an older man, an artist, welcoming me, a stranger, into his home, his wife cooking and him opening up bottles of wine to go with it? Why on earth would I mind? I told him that he and his wife were being most gracious and I really didn’t deserve this, but that I was most grateful. That seemed to suffice as a response.

Little civilities we used to do in 1971.


To be continued…

wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W
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