August is a month for reading. It is not a month for tasting wine.  When the weather is hot and humid the last thing I want to think about is wine, the consumption of which will only make me hotter and damper.

I have spent the month reading, as I have every summer since the age of eight, when, after being burnt to a red and painful crispiness by the Kansas sun, I retired to the shade with a tall glass of ice tea and a stack of novels.

First, some links to my novel- writing friends.


Simon Mawer ( The Girl Who Fell From The Sky  (UK title) Trapeze (the US title) The Daily Mail has described it as “…utterly gripping from start to finish.”  A couple of Simon’s books have been short-listed for the Booker prize.  He is a witty and charming fellow.

Russell Atwood, thriller writer and producer of Ghost Story extravaganzas in New York.  I have known him since he was 12 and I was…hummm…I must have been 24.  It was friendship at first conversation. I never thought of Russell as a child.  After all these years I still feel the same pleasure in his company.  His first novel was East of A. Find descriptions of his books at:

Michelle Lovric writes historical fiction set in Venice. The curtains in her Venice house match the color of the water on the Grand Canal….ooooo.  She writes for adults and also has a series of books for intelligent children.  Her site:

Lyndsay Faye has written two well-reviewed historical thrillers.  I hope she gets a movie option.  She and I are both Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes and Baker Street Irregulars. When we first me she said: “Oh, you’re one of the old ASH.”  I had to blink twice to contain myself….ASH are NEVER old no matter what their age.  Her first novel was Gods of

Tamora Pierce writes award winning fantasy books for Young Adults that feature strong female characters.  I met her 30 years ago when we both lived in NYC.  She really is a born story teller.   Her website:

I am dying for a John Updike fix….his descriptions are luscious.  I first read him when I was 16 years old: The Centaur, followed by Rabbit Run, the story of a high school success who never quite lived up to his promise. Hummmm.   I shall have to find a copy of that somewhere. The only unpacked Updike is The Widows of Eastwick. When I am finished reading it I wish I had not packed my other Updikes.  (I am packing up my books in preparation for a move to a new apartment.)

I reread Robertson Davies’ Fifth Business, a book I loved 30 years ago and still love today.  John Fowles’s called it a “minor masterpiece”.  I have never understood what a “minor” masterpiece is…its rather like being a little bit pregnant. You either are or are not.  Same with books.  They are masterpieces or they are not.  For me this book is. It doesn’t have the luscious prose style that often seduces me but it is elegantly written, witty and offers intriguing ideas.

I reread The Fatal Englishman: Three Short Lives by Sebastian Faulks.  It makes me want to read a novel by Faulks.  I reread You’ll Never Eat Lunch in the Town Again by Julia Phillips, a fat book filled with ancient gossip about films like Close Encounters, The Sting and Taxi Driver.   Among the other authors who slip through my hands during these summer days are Roald Dahl, Ray Bradbury, Peter Devries, Nabokov and a stack of thriller writers.  I wish I still had copies of books by Mordecai Richler, Evan Connell and Walker Percy.

Saturday: A lady from the USA who is writing a book on how to raise “international” children rings to interview me.  I don’t have children but as I have lived in 4 countries and understand how to cope so she deems me a worthy subject for her study.

Anadi Athaley, the indian film director i met at the San Gio Video Festival, sends me a link to an Indian song. When I hear it, I leap up and start dancing.  Even Michael comes in and gets jiggy with it.  Anadi says: “It is by my favorite composer right now, Senha Khanwilkar. She specializes in fusing Indian folk songs, with subtle percussion and sometimes, almost western instruments. [The song is…] playful and is to be taken in a ‘drunk’ spirit. But I love the rawness with which the Indian folk has been captured here.”

1 August  dinner at the architects

During the babble of conversation I hear the name Richard Rodgers and think: I know him, he wrote Oklahoma! Wrong: this Richard Rogers is an architect.  A few minutes later the name Peter Cook crops up. I think: I love Peter Cook, especially some of his comedy routines with Dudley Moore.  Wrong: This Peter Cook is also an architect.  I look around the room and realize that the guests can be divided between those who think of musicals and comedy and those consumed by architects.

JULY 2012

RAY BRADBURY understood the soul of summer.  The following is from his short story “The Vacation”.

It was a day as fresh as grass growing and clouds going over and butterflies coming down can make it. It was a day compounded from silences of the bee and flower and ocean and land, which were not silence at all, but motions, stirs, flutters, risings, fallings, each in its own time and matchless rhythms. The land did not move, but moved. The sea was not still, yet was still. Paradox flowed into paradox, stillness mixed with stillness, sound with sound. The flowers vibrated and the bees fell in separate and small showers of golden rain on the clover.

I read Dandelion Wine when I was 14 and I still remember precise images from it.  That book is an ode to being young and having the eternity of summer stretching out before you.

July 31 In Carlo’s Garden


July 23 – 27 The 18th edition of the San Giò Festival (a.k.a. Ugo’s film festival,

Michael, as president of the Verona Cinema Club, is Ugo’s right and man. Geppy is Ugo’s other stalwart.

Every year the festival grows more sophisticated along with Ugo’s range of friends and the contacts he has picked up at film festivals in Spain, Germany, Switzerland and France. As his linguistic knowledge consists of Italian filled out with a dusting of foreign nouns, I believe that most of these contacts are stitched together with bonhomie and good-natured enthusiasm. As a result, all the participants possess a wide stripe of easy-going generosity in their nature. This makes San Giò absolutely unique in the world of film festivals.

This year there were 98 films from 38 countries (including Turkey, Brazil, Finland, Hong Kong, Venezuela, Cuba, India, Israel, Mexico, the USA , the U.K., Canada, Ireland and, of course, Continental Europe.)

Every morning Ugo plans a visit to a winery (or sometimes cheese dairy or oil mill) for the jury and a few hangers on.  Here are the highlights of these visits:

At Domini Veneti (The Cantina di Negrar)

Daniele Accordini, winemaker, said: “Our success is based on how our member-growers (all 220 of them) listen and learn. We involve them in the process. We brought them all in to taste the wines to help them understand the quality that they are capable of producing.”

2008 Amarone Domini Veneti: Rich, a pleasing firm velvety undertow of cherry fruit a fine scrim of tar, A satisfying whole.

The 2008 Recioto was a hit with the foreign guests who had never tried anything like it. This sweet wine is made from the same grape vareiteies as those used in Amarone – Corvina, Corvignon, Rondinella and Molinara. However, for Recioto the grapes are semi-dried for several month longer and result in a sweet wine. My note: Fresh, fruity (ripe cherries, rich and warm) mouth-filling fruit and a gentle sprinkling of black pepper spiciness.

Rubinelli Vajol (I visited them in June when I was a judge at the marathon Amarone tasting for the wine guide).  They kindly gave us barrel samples of Amarone from the 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011 vintages. A wonderful experience. The photo is of the famiy’s very fine treehouse.



This is a photo of Claudio Gini and Diva, the family dog.  The visit to the Gini estate in the Soave zone was splendid. Gini makes the kind of wine that brings outr the poet in every taster. With their rich layers of bright, precise flavors that seem to unfurl on the palate like satin ribbon, they have rightly earned their place among Italy’s great wines.

Among the wines we tasted: 2010 Frosca (a single vineyard Soave). Elegance on the nose. Floral. Firm yet evolving on the palate.  “This is the first wine where I really smell grapes,” says Anadi Athaley, India film director and my tablemate.

2009 Salvarenza (a single vineyard Soave that spends time in wood). Bright gold with a lively amber sheen. Full, Apricot on the nose. Fresh, lightly honied, vibrant on the palate, with an undertow of almond.

“Like a wild fern plant,” said Anadi.

At Fornaser in the Valpolicella Classico zone, we met in a breezy vineyard for an aperitif of a light, peppery pale red wine named Pelara, after the grape from which it is made.  This went down a treat and several bottles-worth vanished down the throats of the jury.  Then to a little hillside refuge where the main jury deliberated and the rest of us had a lovely lunch laid on by the Fornasars.   The 2011 Valpolicella was luscious and velvety textured. Fragrance of sour cherries.  Their 2004 Amarone had a nice old-fashioned flavor.

I appreciated Paolo Fornaser’s remark: “Amarone is a vino da meditazione. It is best when served with a piece of aged parmesan.  The saltiness of the cheese is a perfect match – it creates an explosion of flavor on the palate.”

Not all red wines are meant to be plunked down on the table with dinner….some – like good old fashioned Amarone – deserved to be treated with the respect reserved for Vintage Port or Vintage Madeira in its heyday.

 Anadi Athaley came from India this year to participate at the festival.  Fortunately, his film won two awards: one for best cinematography, and the Unicef Jury prize (a.k.a. “The Youth Jury”,

“Tell him that he really deserved those prizes,” said Geppy. “Tell him, that we have had directors and actors come from Japan, China and Singapore who never won anything!”

I had been loosely assigned to translate for Anadi, hence the continual insistent “tell him”s from The Gepster (as Michael has taken to calling him).  Good news for Sherlockians, Anadi has read all the Holmes stories. “I learned the word “deduce” from reading them,” he said.

Now a Blast from San Gió’s past: Two years after winning San Gió’s Best Actor Award, Michael Cera co-starred in the academy award winning film Juno. The San Gió crew’s delight blossomed into joy when it was discovered that his Wikipedia entry mentioned his San Gió triumph. Ugo immediately drafted a press release and Geppy hounded the local newspaper to print the story. “This proves that San Gió can recognize talent,” Geppy confided over plastic cups of red wine and baloney sandwiches.

19 July Proseccco a gogo

A producer has sent me some samples to taste. His company is PerMani.

I pull the cork on a sparkling processco brut . It is very easy and fruity. I say to Michael: “Do you want a glass of a wine that would be perfect for the aperitif at a Kansas barbeque?  He declines.  I have another glass…or two…and find myself filled with the desire to send out Willie Nelson YouTubes to all my Facebook  Friends.  Fortunately the moment passes. Michael returns and asks me if I would like to go out for a beer.  I decline. Stanley and I spend the rest of the afternoon reading magazines and doing Sudoku.


6 & 7  JULY In Trentino on the trail of M.T., a real “E.T.”, as one of the local officials said.

I am travelling with a group of 6 very nice Italian journalists: all are relaxed, polite, amusing and knowledgable.

Dinner the first night is at a winery.  We are seated at a long table along with around 50 friends of the producer.  Fortunately the table is covered in white paper.  This means that when I get bored I can whip out my pen and amuse my tablemates.  It works like a charm.

“Wow,” says the guy across from me. “If you came and drew like that at my restaurant I would give you free meals.”  I immediately demand his address.

“Draw a fox.”  “Draw a whale.”  I do.  I also draw a picture of Madeleine Royale.  “Look,” says the lady next to me. “She’s got a big hat just like Regina Elisabetta.”

Who is Madeliene Royale? I hear you ask.

Well, she is the mother of Muller Thurgau. For years we have been taught that M.T. is a cross between Riesling Renanao and Silvaner.  However, DNA testing has now proved that the real cross is between R.R. and Madeleine Royale, a table grape.

And I am here in Trentino to get a bead on Muller Thurgau.  I will confess that I am not a huge fan of this variety.  When it is bad it smells like wet cardboard boxes. However, when it is good it smells of ripe apricots, with a sprinkling of pencil lead.  Well, that is what I thought until this trip.

Twice we were given wines that made me write. “N.Z.S.B.” in my notebook: New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. That is exactly what they smelled like: cold climate S.B.  On both of these occasions I asked the producer or the representative, after I had been assured that the wines were 100% M.T., why the wines did not taste like all other the M.T.s.  On both occassions the (let’s call him rep.) looked down, his eyes slid this way and that while he decided what to say.  Then he launched into a long ramble that never quite answered the question.  It was like watching an episode of that Tim Roth series – the one where he plays Dr. Lightman.

Grappa producer Bruno Pilzer (pilz means mushroom in German) is our host at lunch and the subject of curling comes up: no, not hair styling, rather the Scottish (and Olympic) sport, in which team members sweep away at the ice as an 18 kilo stone comes barrelling their way.

Bruno’s son is on a team that went to Switzerland for an important international tournament.

“The top prizes were nice watches and my son’s team wanted to win those.  Instead they came in 12th and brought home 3 bottles of Chianti as their prize,” says Bruno. “Oh, well, it was drinkable.”

Reasons to go to The Cembra Valley in Trentino:

devil-eyed goats


roses that smell like roses