MARCH 2012

Vinitaly Frolics (25-28), ruminating on books (March 14), nice Chiarettos from Bardolino (March 11)

Do you think my notebook undermines my credibility?

March 28 Vinitaly Fair Frolics

I have not included a note on every wine I tasted at the fair. Frankly, that would exceptionally boring.  Here I offer some of the highlights.

Day 1

Villa Bucci Verdicchio 2010 Bright, lively gold. Classic elderflowers on the nose. A pleasing salinity. The wine opens up on the palate like a blossom. Very satisfying.  A long, flavorful finish.

Villa Bucci Verdicchio 1988 A well saturated yellow gold.  The wine is beginning its decline. Still it has a certain sprightliness on the nose. On the palate, butterscotch and citron elements have settled in.

“This is the oldest year I have,” says Mr. Bucci.  “It is a bit too old, I know.  But it is interesting to taste.”

Bertani Secco-Bertani 2009 Ripasso. Bright. Deep-rose infused medium-ruby. A perfume rises from the glass: sour (in a good way) plums and wild cherries. These sensations carry through onto the palate. Silky texture. A nice weave of fruit on the dry finish.  www.bertani.net

This is a limited edition Valplicello Ripasso. In Bertani terms this means around 25,000 bottles.

“It seems that ripasso is becoming too trendy,” says Mateja Gravner, a representative of the company. “So we decided to remind people what classic ripasso is. We are not saying that this is the only ripasso…only that this is what ripasso used to be like.”

1964 Bertani Amarone. Wide clear rim. A salmon pink sheen over delicate ruby. A fresh bright sensation on the nose, with a gentle perfume of mature wild cherries. On the palate the acidity is still alive – an amalgam of fresh tobacco and subdued cherries.  Old but not decrepit.

2007 “3” from Poggio Verrano A dense center of near blue-black tones. An uplifting acidity on the nose. A satiny texture. Again,the tight weave. Firm fruit: black cherries, brambles, black currants – so tightly knit it seems like one integrated flavor. Very nice.

2007 Dromos L’Altro (Sangiovese, 12 months in barrique) Near opaque. Enters the mouth and expands- ripe, clean , mature cherry fruit , shot through with fine minerality. Relatively soft tannins.

“We don’t produce it every year,” says Francesco Bolla, owner of the estate. “Only those in which the conditions are right for Sangiovese.  Our climate in the Maremma is very different from that of the classic Tuscan zones.  And Sangiovese is a difficult grape…it is the first to blossom and the last to be harvested for us. It’s a bestiaccia.”

I am interviewed by a chap from CNN radio.  He says that he will also slap a version of our interview up on YouTube.

That night we go to a drinks do that is supposed to be followed by dinner at a swank restaurant.  Drinks start at 7.  When at 9:20 the aperitivo period seems in no way ready to wind down, Michael and I leave.  We go to the Osteria Carroarmato and have a plate of pasta. A couple is seated at our table and, because we are all sociable people, we begin to chat. We exchange names – they are Mario and Elena. Elena offers us chocolate pieces from her dessert.  And at the end of the meal we discover that they are wine producers in Tuscany and have a stand at the fair.  I hope their wines are decent because they are exceptionally pleasant.

Day 2

I am striding through the fair and run into Bruno de Conciliis (www.viticoltorideconciliis.it ), a producer from Campania and a very witty man.  He asks me to find a good Pas Dose for him.  Hooray.  I love having a mission.

I arrive at the Franciacorta Consortium stand an hour early – an Anglo-Saxon habit that is impossible to break.  I am to tutor a tasting.  Readers of these diaries know that I pull the cork on a good bottle of Franciacorta at least once a month.

The women who “man” the stand are all tall, slim and long-legged, with narrow ankles that taper in to impossible shoes (4 inch heels). I think back to my days in New York City when I, too, wore impossible shoes and snappy silk suits and important earrings.  Now I wear flats, “vintage” silk suits and goofy earrings. It is a natural progression, I suppose.

I am interviewed for some national TV.  We do this in Italian….lord knows how it came out.  The interviewer seems happy.

Ten minutes before my tutored tasting is to begin I am told that instead of being a group of English-language journalists it will, instead, be made up mostly of Italian sommeliers.  Well, there goes 5 pages of my speech.  I am introduced by the director of the consortium.  He then goes on to tell the assembled tasters things that are in another 3 pages of my speech.  By the time he introduces me I realize I might as well throw away my speech and wing it.  We have a good time…the 5 wines – from Colline della Stella, Monzio Compagnoni,  Le Marchesine, Bellavista and Villa Crespia  – show well.

“You perform just like an actress,” says one of my charges.  I take this as a compliment.

I am racing through the fair to keep an appointment with Michael and I hear my name.  It is Mr. Librandi.

“I haven’t seen you in a while,” he says. “Come and taste.”

Terre Lontane 2011 Librandi (A blend of Gaglioppo and Cabernet Franc) A lovely burst of frozen strawberries on the palate. Sprightly elements enliven the fruit. Nice.  Price between 6 and 7 Euros in a shop. Good value. www.librandi.it

I go to the Cantina di Negrar dinner. My reason for going is to introduce Gianni Burato.

One evening about a year ago I was walking home and I heard my name, turned and there was Gianni.  He told he had been commissioned to do a new label for a new Amarone.

“I know you are passionate about good Amarone,” he said. “Say something poetic.”

I said I would write something down.  Here is what I wrote: Amarone is a wine that overflows with aromas and taste sensations. It concentrates and captures the sweet burst of cherry blossoms, swathes of summer sun, autumn’s smoky breezes and the mystery of winter evenings when dusk mingles with fog. Once wine lovers have tasted an Amarone, their perceptions will have been changed forever; they will always remember their initial surprise at the wine’s glorious abundance.

“You are my muse,” he said.

So, that is why I am here tonight to introduce him…in Italian.  I really find it nerve-wracking to speak in Italian before a large group of people….but – hey I can do it when I must.

Gianni’s wife Iaia has kindly offered to take us back to Verona.  Gianni has to stay after the dinner and autograph the poster version of the label for the guests.  We arrive home after one.

Day 3

I am at the fair by 9:30.  I have to interview Cristina Geminiani – owner winemaker of Fattoria Zerbina at 10.  I am exhausted.

I taste her 2007 Pietramora (97% Sangiovese, only produced in the best years) Elegance on the nose. You know you are in the presence of a fine wine. Elegant entry that rapidly expands in to juicy mature cherry/tart black berry fruit. Very satisfying.  It would be a wonderful wine with a T-bone steak.

We swing by Fattoria di Corsignano – the estate of Mario and Elena, our chance dinner companions at the Carroarmato.  One of the things that my book loving pals will appreciate is the estate’s back label.  It is based on the bookplate of Elena Gallo’s dad.  (Besides being a last name the Italian word “gallo” means rooster.)

“My father-in-law liked a comfy chair, a good book and a good glass of wine,” says Mario.

Their other labels are very attractive and Elena is very proud of the fact that one of them was chosen for a book on Italy’s most beautiful labels.

Chianti Classico Fattoria di Corsignano 2009 (95% Sangiovese 5% Canaiolo). Black-cherry color. Clear rim. Satiny texture. Nicely defined cherry-like fruit.

Chianti Classico Riserva Fattoria di Corsignano 2007 Vibrant cherry-ruby color. Full. Very silky on the palate, subdued cherry-near-the-pit fruit.  Soft but persistent tannins. Rich. Nice, medium-long finish.

They also have a rooms available and organize cooking classes.  Near Sienna. Very nice people. www.tenutacorsignano.it

Pas Dose a-go-go.  I taste my way through many pas doses and find what I am looking for is the wine that was included in my tasting.  The producer is Colline della Stellawww.collinedellastella.it The company specialized in making Pas Dose.  Their enthusiastic consultant Giovanni A. takes us through the superbly balanced and elegant wines and I am sure that I have not only found the right wine for Bruno but also the right person.  I know that they will get along.

I go to a sandwich kiosk.  As I am standing there a handsome young Italian man says to be: “Aren’t you Patricia Guy (and he pronounces the name correctly).

“Why, yes,” I say.

“I read your books too much,” he says.

“No one can read my books to much,” I  say.

We exchange cards and he gives me a jar of honey from the company he works for: ah, the wages of fame.

The same day, I am standing in line for the ladies bathroom.  Someone comes across the room, drying her hands, and says. “Aren’t you Patricia Guy?” And then she starts a conversation.  All the while I am thinking: I am now 5th in line….now I am 4th in line.  Now I am nearly at the front of the line.

TIP: If you see someone you know or want to know please do not try to converse while they are waiting for the toilet. Believe me, they will not remember a thing you say.

I head over to my pal Linda’s book launch.  This is a good thing as there has been no publicity for it.  We drink Champagne and have a nice chat.  I tell her that at 5 I have to be on a panel discussing Soave with food and that she should swing by…there will be TV and journalists there….rather than wasting her time sitting up in a secluded table hidden from the passing throng.

I go to Soave and am asked about “contamination” of Italian cuisine by foreign influences.  I say I hated the way Italians used the word “contamination” and I point out the tomatoes and corn (as in polenta) are not indigenous to Italy but were brought over from the Americas….so maybe a little “contamination” wasn’t such a bad thing.  Then we tuck into some really fine Japanese and Russian food.  Yummm

I go to a drinks do given by Guerrieri Rizzardi (www.guerrieri-rizzardi.it) at a beautiful palazzo just down the street from us.  Very nice and low key. I drink a glass of the company’s crisp Soave and then walk to the dinner-function that is on my program for this evening.  By this time I have been running on too little sleep for much too long.

The dinner is to start a bit after 8.  We are seated at around 9.  By 10:20 (the second course has not yet arrived) I am too tired to remain and leave….even though my tablemates are very entertaining. At home I eat what remains of Michael’s Chinese takeaway and hit the hay.

Day 4

Lunch at the Arnaldo Caprai’s Vinitaly restaurant. The food is prepared by Filippo Artioli from Trattoria da Oscar and the Sagrantino di Montefalco ice cream that is served with dessert is made by Tony Cafarelli, an ice cream making genius.  This is the best meal that I have had during the fair.  So often at Vinitaly the organizers of dinners try too hard….rather than keeping the menu simple and scrumptious, they try to add fiddly bits that only end up confusing the flavors.

Among the Arnaldo Caprai wines we taste:

Grecante Colli Martani Grechetto DOC 2011 Straw. Herbaceous/green gage plums. Fresh and appealing. Lively on the palate. A very satisfying wine.  Because Caprai is so well known for Sagrantino, people forget sometimes that he also makes a jim-dandy white.

25 Anni Sagrantino di Montefalco DOCG 2008 Dark ruby. Rich, silky perfumes reminiscent of blackberries and a touch of raspberry. On the palate it has a knubbly texture like raw silk. Excellent wine. Long, flavorful finish.

“This is a great wine,” says our tablemate, The Professor. “But it needs seven or eight years to open up.”

I always visit Masciarelli ( www.masciarelli.it ). I enjoy the wines and, frankly, for me it is a pilgrimage to the shrine of Gianni Masciarelli.  He was an extraordinary person.

Notes on some of the wines I tasted:

Marina Cvetic Montepulciano 2008 Deep dense ruby color, with a blue-black sheen. Mouth-filling. Texture like crushed velvet. Fruit. Bruised, ripe plums and plums simmered with cloves. Very appealing.

Iskara 2004 100% Montepulciano. Long skin contact. 5 years in bottle. Opague, with a deep-rose sheen. Cherries ripe and full. Vibrant on the palate.  The price in a shop is around 23 Euros.  This is a bargain.

March 24 The night before Vinitaly

I go to Piazza Bra to meet up with my pal Linda who is in town for the fair.  As I am crossing the Listone I feel a tug on my arm; it is Ampelio Bucci.

“I had your wine last night,” I say. “We also had a ’95 Margaux – so it was in great company.”

“Come to my stand tomorrow,” says he.

March 23 Dinner at Claudio and Giuseppina’s….Hooray!

I love going to dinner at C&G’s because the food is always simple (and simply perfect) and the wine….ooooo.

Last time (see October 2011 Diary) I brought a 1988 Quintarelli Valpolicella and a 1996 Dal Forno Amarone that still had Doctor Roberto raving.   (At that dinner he exclaimed: “Cazzo, che roba!”)

Tonight I bring a 1995 La Poja from Allegini hoping for the same great results.  Alas, it was not to be.  The wine seemed tired.  Ah, well. Ya win some, ya loose some.  Fortunately, Claudio and Giusapina saved the day with a Villa Bucci Riserva 2004 and a 1995 Chateaux Margaux.

The latter was fruity, vivacious, satisfying…a wonderful wine…and still very young.

“Do we have any more bottles of this,” Giuseppina asked.  When Claudio shook his head sadly, she shrugged: “Oh,well. That’s life.”

March 14 -15 Hours in a train & a lesson learned

Several weeks ago I received a friendly email from a person I have seen a few times at wine functions.  She is kind to her dog so I am disposed to like her.  She asked if I would come to Umbria for an “international” dinner that was to be partially funded by the European Union, and as such, I had to submit my C.V. and be vetted, etc.  I thought: wow, European Union….international….a vetting process for us high-powered journalists….wow.   I replied that I would indeed look forward to the event.

I cannot fully explain why I thought that being a dog lover and being professionally competent were linked traits.

My presence at this dinner is what made it “international”.

Table Talk: Some yokel declared that he was shocked to see a kebab shop while he was visiting Bolzano.

“We have to defend Italian cuisines from these foreign influences,” he said, clearly expecting a hearty round of “Quite right”s.

I rolled my eyes.  I thought: In Bolzano (in Alto Adige) wurstle (a.k.a. hot dogs), sauerkraut and strudel are served in every restaurant – not exactly what we think of as Italian food.   I thought: tomatoes and corn (as in polenta) are not indigenous to Italy; they were introduced by foreigners.  I thought: aren’t the Chinese credited with inventing the noodles that have become known as spaghetti?  I thought:  Italian restaurants are found in every corner of the globe – they do not need to be defended; they are doing alright by themselves.   I thought: these attacks against kebab shops….hummm….could they really be veiled racism?

You may ask why I did not voice any of these thoughts.  It is because I have learned that in provincial venues the locals are just waiting to sneer the name “McDonalds” whenever an American tries to say something sensible about food.  I just wanted to get the dinner over with and be on my way.

The positive thing to come from this event is that during the 15 hours in travel time (riding on trains and buses and waiting for trains and buses) I was able to re-read The Witches of Eastwick by John Updike.  I re-read this book every 5 years for the thrilling descriptions of landscape and – of course – it is a ripping yarn.  I suppose it is a sign of age but more and more lately I am re-reading good books rather than wading into unknown prose.  Last summer when I had a lot of waiting to do, I re-read 11 Elmore Leonard crime novels.  His witty dialogue always makes me laugh.  I think I may glide through the rest of the Updikes on my shelves then start on the Nabokovs and segue into the William Boyds.  That ought to last me through most of 2012.

March 11 Bardolino – Lazise

We take the bus to Lazise, on Lake Garda, for the annual Bardolino tasting.  I tasted through all the sparkling Chiaretto wines.  These fruity pinks are ideal with lake trout and make sprightly lunch wines in general.

Two producers stood out: Casaretti (the kind of simple wine that could slip easily into a picnic hamper) and Valetti (easy, appealing fruit. Pastel pink in color, it reminds me of the Easter dresses I wore as a child.  Wild strawberry on the nose and palate.)

March 10 Claudio’s Significant Birthday

We (the usual gang) dine at Ai Teatri (www.ristoranteaiteatri.it) .  I taste a Sauvignon Blanc that I like – this is not an easy task. The wine is produced by Jermann.  The pianist, Davide Foroni, is fabulous. He could find a job in a top club in New York in a heartbeat.  (www.davidefornoni.it)

March 8 Durello surprise

I put a bottle of sparkling Durello in the fridge a week ago.  I pull it out today with the intention of mixing it with peach juice for an aperitivo.  Fortunately I taste the wine before I glug in the juice.  It is nice.

Here is a note.

Le Macine Lessini Durello Brut. The wine is made with the metodo classico process: this means that the second fermentation takes place in bottle – just like in Champagne.  Deep honey-yellow color. Clean, fresh nose. Nice weight on the palate. The flavor: a blend of liquid elderflowers and mineral-rich spring water.  The  medium-long finish is lively and flavorful.  A bright and satisfying wine.  Perfect for an aperitivo….but it would also fit nicely with a simple Spring or Summer lunch.

Our pal Graham wrote saying he might bring his Bentley over from the U.K. for Vinitaly.  I hope he does.  I love his car. Michael and I do not own (have never owned) a car.  I let my license expire in 1987…so I am not A Car Person.  However, Graham’s Bentley…..oooomyooooomy.  The last time I was in it was years ago.   We tooled down the highway, the trunk filled with Michael’s Port (his dad had sold the family home and the Port needed a new…ah…port). Graham pushed a button and the seat began to massage my spine.  I fell in love with that car.  Forgive me…BUT…I would live in a car like that for the rest of my days and be a happy woman.

March 7 Bardolino and Indian Medicine…well sort of….

We go to our bank, which has swell meeting rooms, for a press conference about Bardolino’s Big Tasting that is held in Lazise on the shores of Lake Garda every year at about this time.  After the conference we adjourn to a side room to taste healthy Indian food prepared by the Celsius spa and hotel. (see a picture of their Christmas lobby in the December diary).  It is wonderful…and it goes very well with sparkling Bardolino Chiaretto (even if, in theory, the food should be accompanied by Serious and Very Special Tea).  Angelo, the PR man, says he will organize a dinner of this wonderful food for us at some point.   Oh, I hope he does.  But then, he also wanted to know if I would like to go to (what we used to call) Bombay to tutor a tasting.  Think positive that either – or both – of these ideas take flight.

March 5 Franciacorta

I am to tutor a tasting for foreign (that means English-speaking) journalists at Vinitaly.  I taste the wines that are to be included in the tasting and then we – Beatrice  (press coordinator), Monica (agronomist) and Marco (press office) – go to lunch at Solive (www.solive.it ). My-oh-my! I love coming to Franciacorta….but it would have been worthwhile to make the trip for the lunch alone.  If you are in these parts, please give this restaurant a try: great service, homey but elegant atmosphere and Real Food.  Their tiramisu is something close to – excuse me – orgasmic.

We talked about The Artist and Uggie, and food and films and dogs in general….what a swell bunch!  I am so glad they have asked me to do this tasting-talk because I have been a fan of Franciacorta for years (ah, I wrote my first article about the zone in 1999) and it will be a pleasure to try to convey to the journos what makes this area and its wines special.

March 1 I am a Muse….

Gianni Burato, a local artist who did the cover for one of my books and who also does wine labels, rang and asked me to introduce him at an event during Vinitaly at which his special label for the Cantina di Negrar’s top Amarone  will be unveiled.  He tells me that I am his muse and asks me to be poetic.  I tell him that I can only be poetic in English; in Italian I can only be blunt.  He (clearly not fluent in any language but Italian) doesn’t quite get the meaning of what I have just said.  I will do my best. My problem will be that I want to make the intro funny in the Anglo-Saxon way….rather than Serious and Poetic, which is the Italian way.    Oh, well, it will be alright on the night.

February 2012

At the beginning of this month Michelle Lovric sent me a copy of her new book for children: Talina in the Tower.  This is intelligently written:  beautiful prose, witty dialogue, plus enough gore and gruesome Venetian history to satisfy modern children.  Her first children’s book, The Undrowned Child, had imagery so potent that it followed me into my dreams.  She also writes novels for grownups – all set in Venice. www.michellelovric.com

February 29 – Annalisa’s birthday party at the Carroarmato

We are greeted with a glass of 2007 Brut Franciacorta from Villa. This is a favorite of mine.

The wines that impressed me most:

1998 Terra di Fanciacorta “Convento della Santissima Annuciato” from Bellavista. Lively, fresh. Mellow, golding-yellow.  I think I have misread the label and another squint.  No it really is 1998.  Remarkable freshness.

It just occurred to me that most of you have no idea what a Terra di Franciacorta is: and why should you?  The name refers to the still wines made in the sparkling wine zone of Franciacorta.  Whites, like the one above, are based on Chardonnay.

“It has been in its wooden case until this morning,” says Annalisa.  This means that it has spent at least a decade resting in the cellar of the Carroarmato, an idela environment for wine.

1988  Masi Campofiorin in Jeraboam. So elegant, like a bolt of silk unfolding on the palate. Freshness comes to greet you. The fruit has evolved into more interesting fragrances and flavors.  It reminds me of wild cherries.

“They don’t make it like this anymore,” says Annalisa.

“Yes,” says a fellow celebrant. “They haven’t made wine like this since Nino died.”

February 21 – Carnival Dinner at the Carroarmato

.

.

.

.

.

February 18 – 19 – Sangiovese in Romagna – Vino, Art and Snow

An excellent seminar on the various soils and climatic differences in the wine growing areas in Romagna.

One of the wines that impresses me the most is the 2008 Thea Rosso from Tre Monti.  It has everything I like in a Sangiovese: ripe cherry fruit, elegant opulence.

“It has the name of our mother,” says David Navacchia.  “When she died we decided that if we made a great wine we would name it after her.”

This is truly a great wine.

2008 Pietramoro from Fattoria Zerbina. A warm wave of fruit (cherries mostly) subtle. The wine drenches the palate in war, fruit, defined by insistant but pleasing tannins. Very enjoyable wine.

2010 Notturno  from Drei Dona. A swirling funnel of taste: warm black cherry fruit and  brambles. Broad and pleasing.

The pack of journalists and some producers go to dinner at San Domenico’s  – always a treat: excellent food, superb service, relaxing atmosphere.  During dinner a journalist drops off to sleep. I am mesmerized by the swaying of his head as it descends to his chest and the momentary snap back that never quite wakes him up. He sleeps likes this for a full 15 minutes.

Rule Number One in The Professional Wine Writers Handbook: Always remain conscious at business dinners.

February 17 Carnival Parade

.

.

.

.

February 10 through 17 Lisbon – Our first vacation in 15 years

Friday 10 – In the taxi from the airport we scan the covers of popular gossip magazines provided by the driver. We learn the word irme from a headline about Kate’s irem Pippa embarrassing the Royal Family.

We go to dinner at a local restaurant.  Jim and Carole are treated like long, lost friends.  A jolly place.

The coffee trolley arrives: a large glass double boiler affair set over a candle. The flame leaps out of control and illuminates the surprise turning to fear in the waiter’s eyes.

We learn the world galgos from the picture of a greyhound on a wine label.

Saturday 11 – We walk through Estrela Park.  I am indescribably happy. If it were a few degrees warmer this park would be my manifestation of heaven.  We gallop along after Jim to the tram terminus. We enjoy a Disneyesque ride to the flea market and stroll through the narrow streets, stopping for lunch at a nice little place with tables against a sunny wall (Tasca Morgandinha).  I take a picture of a man videotaping his beer.  The cheese is superb and we learn the word patinga, which we take to mean whitebait. Then it is off to the center of town and a shot of cherry liqueur at A Ginjinha.  Jim continues to stride out while Michael dawdles in front of signs in shop windows and on street corners.  I know there is nothing I can do to speed him up when he is on the trail of a new language.  However, I am torn between my desire to keep up with Jim and my allegiance Michael.  I pace back and forth between the two men like a nervous Border Collie attempting to keep the flock together.

Jim makes duck for dinner…succulent, superb.

Sunday 12 – To Belém on the tram. We learn the word for dog: cachorro.

We visit the Monastery: loads of arty photo ops and a fascinating timeline that matches world history to Portuguese history.

We race to the ferry and go to lunch in a fine little restaurant. The food is very good and the service is as pleasant as always…and it has the further advantage of having a wonderful English Menu, which features Unlike Lobster, Shellfish in Bark, Supplement of Coal Miners, Tropical Coal Miners and Puppies to the Beckford.

“In the men’s room I learned a new word,” says Michael. The word is muito (very much, as in muito obrigado).

We cross back to the mainland to visit the Belém tower. Then we hot-foot it over to the pasticcceria de Belém for special pastries. There is a long line in front of the place. We elbow our way inside and join a cue for table service. All of Lisbon is here today. Nice cakes….excellent cinnamon.

Monday 13 – On the way through the Vasco da Gama mall, we learn the word bonito from a poster advertising Adam Sandler’s new film.   I can now point and shout: “Cachorro bonito!”  (Handsome dog!) And I do just that…repeatedly.

“You know,” says Michael. “If we were here for two weeks we would be speaking the language.”

“You, maybe. I would only be able to talk to people about their pets.”

The Oceanarium is a wonderful place to visit…be prepared to spend at least 4 hours there.  In the special sea turtle exhibit we enter a Plexiglas bubble inside an aquarium.  Slumped on soft couches we watch fish flit and glide through the water above us.  Again I am indescribably happy.

Michael discovers that the Beckford on the restaurant menu refers to Billy (as we, his new found friends, call him) Beckford, a fabulously wealthy English eccentric who built a fabulously eccentric house in Sintra.

Tuesday 14 We go to Sintra and stroll around the town. Do not snub the Tourist Office: nice brochures and excellent T-shirts.  Oh, I can just see some of you rolling your eyes when you read the bit about the t-shirts…

Then off for a taxi ride down to the restaurant by the beach.  Fine sand, black boulders, gusting winds and an unruly ocean.  Very beautiful.

Once again lunch is rib-sticking chow, simply prepared and pleasantly served: just right for a vacation.

The sugar packets bear the sentences (in Portuguese):

One night rumors will become reality

One night I will make the earth move for you

One night I will dance to seduce you.

The Best New Word award goes to chão, which means ground (soil, floor) as in “chão tremor”.

The taxi that comes to collect us is driven by a chatty man who tells us that his car has over a million miles on it.

I ask him the word for the sound a dog makes and demonstrate my woof.

Latido.  Portuguese is a difficult language,” he says “There are a lot of words that sound similar. Like the word for pinch-pocket: ladron for a man and ladra for a woman.”

Jim makes excellent baccalà for dinner.

Wednesday 15 – Carol, Michael and I head to the Fado museum, then up the hill to the tile museum.  Carol spots a sunny café and we hop off the bus and amble over to a collection of tables in front of the Solar dos Bicos. Michael regales us with the differences between the words bica, bicha and bicos. The latter refers to the nipple-like projections that cover the façade of the house next door to the bar. Carole humors us and lets us take the tram back to the apartment. Our driver is a very angry man.  When a taxi stops on the tram line I think we may be in for a spot of Tram Rage.  Instead he whips out his pen and viciously takes down the taxi’s license number.

Tonight we head to A Morgandinha de Alfama (right across from the Fado museum), for chow and fado.  I am hypnotized by the Portuguese-guitar player. He seems to be finger-picking and strumming at the same time. I fear that if I stayed here I would become this codger’s groupie.

Thursday 16 – Back to my favorite park to watch the dogs and to amuse their owners with my carefully prepared questions – Quantos anos? Nome? – and exclamations – Bonito!  Dog owners don’t really care how badly you speak a language as long as you are babbling about the beauty of their pets.

I return to the apartment and we learn the latest installment in the Blogger Budd vs. Point-Man Parker Saga, and discuss the merchandising potential of the as yet fictitious  thisblogger.com site.  Jim broke the story about Robert Parker’s representative in Spain being involved with a shady character.  Parker has threatened to sue but as yet has not done so for the simple reason that everything Jim wrote was verifiably true. I will not go into the details.  If you like type Jim Budd into Google and the whole story will unfold.

On this trip I learned that Jim is an excellent cook, that I like Vinhos Verde, that Michael cannot travel without a dictionary and that Carole must be encouraged to take guitar lessons.

February 4 Dinner at Auntie Leo’s

.

.

.

February 1 Snowing in Verona!