DECEMBER 2012

Italians do not go in for used things. As a result there are no charity shops and the few second-hand book shops that exist are to be found in University towns and specialize in old textbooks.

Try for a moment to imagine a world without Oxfam, Salvation Army stores or dusty junk shops crammed with potential treasure. Many of my happiest hours have been spent pawing through cartons of old books at the back of such stores.  My most lasting memories of a visit to Cardiff were forged in the basement of a classic used bookshop. Poking around among cardboard boxes shoved haphazardly against a cold, slightly damp brick wall I found Whose Dog Are You? by Michael Chance, published in 1938. In it are pictures of Mr. Lloyd George and his dog Grock, Miss Gracie Fields and Pekinese Ming and Dr. A.J. Cronin and Sally. Was I looking for this book?  No. Do I cherish it now that I’ve found it?  Of course.

Disorderly bookshops always bring out my need to dig deeper, to find order. When I lived in Milwaukee, writing television documentaries, my life revolved around telephone interviews done in my home office and trips downtown to the studio. I began to feel cut off.

One day, after dropping a script off, I wandered into the Renaissance Bookshop, a four-floor converted furniture warehouse filled with books. I felt like an early African explorer. Wonderful books were just waiting to be dug out of the heaps and given new life. I begged Bob, the owner, to let me work there in the afternoons after I had finished working on the documentary scripts in exchange for books. Free-ish help appealed to him, as it would leave him with more time to go out and accumulate. Bob, like most used bookshop owners, loved to acquire but was not so keen to sell, although he would deny that.

My first job was to comb through the piles of boxes on the sagging fourth floor, separating out all the leather bound books and those with lots of gold on the spine for the interior decorators who bought books by the yard. I read my first Muriel Spark novel sitting on an upturned plastic crate amid this wonderland of words. This prepared me for her lovely book, Loitering with Intent, some years later.

December 28 Happy Birthday Cinema

Every year Ugo organizes “Buon Compleanno Cinema”, at which he shows silent films accompanied by live music – tonight we have Igino on accordion.  Some 60 people gather in a deconsecrated church in Verona’s centro storico to view Seventh Heaven. The 2 hour film was produced in 1927.  Its star Janet Gaynor won the Academy Award for best Actress, and Frank Borzage won for best Direction. The film also won for Best Writing, Adaptation. To quote Widipedia: Seventh Heaven is the 13th highest grossing silent film in cinema history, taking in more than $2.5 million at the box office in 1927.

My goodness, to live in such simple times. I must say the battle scenes were splendid.  We brought a Magnum of Zamuner Rosè Sparkling wine 1996.  Frankly, I was unsure of the condition of the wine.  However, it was fine and the bottle was emptied without negative comment by the silent film lovers who were sharing a piece of cake and a glass of wine after the film.

December 26 St. Stefano’s Day

I serve the remains of the 2002 Ferrari Riserva Lunelli Extra Brut with lunch: macaroni and cheese.  Yes, it works wonderfully.

Off to Ugo and Steffies for Boxing Day. We arrive and glasses of Verve Clicquot Brut NV (in magnum) are thrust in to our hands.  The wine has richness and creamy elegance on the palate.

I seek out Ugo’s twins and give them…BOOKS!.  There are some nice books from the 19th century, with gold-edged and hand-cut pages and a couple of lovely mysteries from the 1930s with suitably lurid dust jackets.  I think that the boys appreciated these treasures.  I feel I have saved another 6 books from being turned into a dreadful Home-Craft Project.

I should perhaps, explain that remark.  For the last few weeks my Facebook Friends have been sending me images of books that have been made in to chairs and Christmas trees.  I find such images dispiriting.

We also drank 2008 Caferro Noir (Cabernet Sauvignon & Merlot 80%, the rest is and passito Rabioso.) Deep ruby, near opaque color. A spiciness on the palate. Soft and appealing.

“This wine was made by my nephew, Damiano,” says Ugo.

When I say I like the wine, Ugo whips out his cellphone, dials a number and thrusts the phone into my hands.  Damiano answers it and kindly tells me the grape blend.

“Our idea was to make a wine that would please the world but that would have a definite link to the territory, that is why we included Raboso in the blend,” says Damiano.

December 25 Ferrari sparkles

I open a bottle of Ferrari 2002 Riserva Lunelli Extra Brut Trentodoc.  It is bright gold. Very rich on the nose. Citrus notes sparkle and enliven the palate.  Flavors: cream soda and mandarin orange.   I serve it with bilinis.  Excellent pairing. The wine has the substance and flavor to work well with many dishes.

December 23 One of the reasons I love New York

For 20 years I went to the same hairdresser here in Verona.  She retired.  I have tried two others over the last few months with unfortunate results.  Italian hairdressers just don’t “get” gamine cuts.

As I will be in NYC in January, I asked a pal to recommend a place.  She gave the website link for Astor Place.  At the bottom of the page it says: “We speak your language.”  It then goes on to list 8 languages including Greek and Russian.  Yes, that is one of the reasons I love New York.

18 December Meat and Sandro di Bruno

Sandro with Herring

We head out to the Sandro di Bruno estate.  Sandro is grilling steak and sausages and

Igino with Accordian

pulling corks on his excellent wine.  Igino plays the accordion.

Grilling with wine

Ugo recites poetry and the rest of us eat, drink and are merry .

 

 

 

 

 

15 December Goodbye, dear Don Simone

Simone with Stanley

Simone has worked at the Carrroarmato for 7 years.  He is intelligent, warm, generous and a great music selector.  He is going back to Sicily to open his own place.  It will be a bookshop-wine bar.  I wish him well and ask  him to send me details when his bar is open.  He will be sorely missed  by everyone.

“I hate to see him go,” says Annalisa. “But at the same time I am proud that I had a hand in teaching him how to run an osteria.”

10 December Custoza

The downstairs neighbor comes up.  She tells us that our water heater produces noxious smoke.  This happened before we moved in.  It is in the domain of the landlord.  One thing after another….

I open a bottle of Custoza from  Le Vigne di San Pietro:  Bright, fresh, apricot tinged flavor.  Very soft and pleasing on the palate.

7 December  Custoza – 2 firsts!

The 1st first : Custoza can age!  Angelo P., gourmet and P.R. whiz for many of the wines that come from around Lake Garda, had the bright idea of collecting as many older vintages as he could find and putting Custoza to the test.

The 2nd first: Angelo and Carlo Nerozzi, president of the Custoza Consortium, organized a  journalist tasting/dinner that actually felt like a real gathering of friends.   Never in the decades I have been doing this job have I had such a lovely, laugh-filled, pleasant evening.

Vintages at the tasting range from 1999 to 2009.

The three wines that stood out for me:

Custoza Superiore 2008 “Ca del Magroi” from Monte del Fra.  Bright, vibrant gold with yellow highlights. Lovely nose: an elegant amalgam of citrus (Orange, peel) greengage plums with a sprinkling of minerals. Satisfying and lively on the palate. A whiff of mustard on the finish. After 15 minutes…the wine expands and becomes even more inviting.  After 25 minutes: wine is till firm and fresh.

Custoza Superiore 2006 “Amedeo” Cavalchina Narrow and oily quality that reminds me of Riesling. After 15 minutes it opens up to become elegant and intriguing. All the fruit – citrus and apricot notes  – is wrapped in a finely spun web of minerality.

Custoza 1999 “Campo del Selese” from Albino Piona.  An apricot burst on the nose. Vibrant. A balsamic whiff arises.  After 20 minutes: still clean fruit.

 

NOVEMBER 2012

November 29 Illasi Valleys R US

We take the bus out to Tregnago, a little town in the Illasi Valley, about 40 minutes east of Verona. We are here on the occasion of the launch of the Illasi Valleys Association.  Some five hundred people turn out to the event.  Bernardo Pasquali, the president of the association, gives a tour de force presentation.  He is enthusiastic, creative and has the knack of choosing the right partners.   Let me tell you a little about this group. First, there is nothing like it anywhere else in Italy.  Right now it has 55 members.  The members include, wine producers, oil makers, travel agents, limousine and tour bus services, bakers, restaurateurs, spas, an optical manufacture and designer and an artist who fastens beautiful and practical things from wrought iron. They have all banded together to promote their territory: The Illasi Valleys.

At every wine and food event I have been to in Italy in the last 15 years there has been the same bleat about promoting the territory of production.  The Illasi Valleys Group is the first to actually DO something!  I wish them well. Everyone connected with this enterprise vibrates with enthusiasm.  Hooray. Go Illasi Valleys!  www.visitillasivalleys.com

November 28  A fine osteria in Verona and waiting for the plumber or someone like him.

We go to buy vegetables.  It is raining – what else? We trudge to the bus stop our shoulders loaded down with bags of cabbage, carrots and the rest.  We are captured by the display window of a café.  It is beautiful: lovely fresh cheeses, elegant steel-blue and terracotta décor.  A pleasant young man behind the counter waves at us to come into Café Carducci. “My grandfather started the café. It is the oldest family owned osteria in Verona,” he says.

“It is too elegant and welcoming for Verona,” I say, and I mean it.  They place has a fabulous ambiance.

I tell him I would like to write about it for a website I contribute to and he asks me my name.

“You’re famous,” he declares.  This pleases me enormously.  I am famous to a very narrow band of wine lovers around the world.  I have had New York restaurateurs, Canadian journalists, a Dutch businessman, a Greek music teacher and an East Coast doctor tell me I am famous in the last month.  Pretty cool, but the question –then why ain’t I rich? – always floats up in my mind when I hear that declaration.

We take the bus home.  I make lunch. I pull the cork on the open bottle of Tanbe” 2010 from Villa Canestrari. I put a dollop into the pan to deglaze it.  I pause for a moment.  I then pour myself a glass to deglaze me.

The plumbers arrive.

Must meditate.

Ugo and Michael are entertaining a group of Danish business people.  Ugo wants to do a blind tasting – literally.  It turns the event into a very pleasant parlor game…with all the innuendos that blindfolding strangers entails.

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November 27 The plumber is supposed to come again….

He doesn’t.

I taste “Tanbe” 2010 from Villa Canestrari (a blend of Garganego, Traminer Aromatico and Sauvignon Blanc). Good saturation of yellow-pale gold. Bright and fruity (ripe pears), with a creamy floral note (peach blossoms) and a grassy note derived from the Sauvignon Blanc. Very satisfying.  I am told that it costs around 5 Euros at the cantina. That is an excellent price.

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November 23  Off to Trentino for big Trentdoc tasting

We taste 73 Trentodoc sparkling wines blind.  I like having the opportunity to taste these wines without knowing who the producers are.  It is the only way to shut out all the hype and to really understand who is making good wines.

The top producer for me in terms of the number of wines that – when tasted blind – got my highest marks was Ferrari Fratelli Lunelli,  The company’s Perlè Rosè 2006, Perle Chardonnay 2006, Giulio Ferrari il Fondatore Riserva Brut 2001 and Ferrari Brut non-vintage were stylish, zesty and satisfying – each in its own way.

Among the other producers who stood out were Endrizzi, Abate Nero, Maso Martis, Roberto Zeni,  Cembra, Rotari, Istituto Agrario San Michele and Opera Vitivinicola in Valdicembra.

I also gave high marks to a producer I had never heard of before: Revi.  The wines have all the qualities of top-notch Trentodoc.  The estate’s entire annual production hovers around 13,000.  They don’t export…so, if you happen to find yourself in Trentino, give them a try.

An English photographer said: “But that name – Trentodoc!  They need a different name!”

I explained to him why Trentodoc is, in fact, a good name. “It identifies the region of origin – just like Champagne does.”

“I like Prosecco,” the phohtographer persisted.

“And because the name was not sufficiently tied to the area of production there are now “Proseccos” from all over the world, made in all sorts of way.  Whereas the name Trentodoc  firmly places the production zone in Trentino!”

I don’t think he was convinced.

November 19 Marco Caprai

I interview Marco Caprai whose winery Arnaldo Caprai has just been named European Winery of the Year.   When I asked him if his children were going to join him in the business someday, he said; “My boys are two and three years old, so it is too early to determine if they will follow me into the business. But I can tell you that they enjoy following me into the vineyards because they like to eat the grapes straight from the vines.”  The interview was published on www.wine-searcher.com.

November 18 The Cat Who…lives on my bedside table

I stack all the Cat Who books on my bedside table…I may need to drift into Moose County in the next few days…months….years….

16 November Euposia Champagne and Sparkling Wine tasting

Beppe picks me up at the bridge and drives me out to the Bacco D’Oro Restaurant in the Illasi Valley, east of Verona.  I am one of 20 judges who will be blind tasting over 100 sparkling wines from all parts of the world.

I like the way it is organized.  No talking while tasting. Everyone just marks the wine as they see fit, with no useless and distracting discussion.  Two of the problems with discussion while tasting are:  it breaks the taster’s concentration and it is too easy for a confident person to convince the others to change their opinions. Sometimes confidence does not equate with accuracy.

The Big Winner in the Rosé category this year went to Bollinger Rosé. Creamy elegance.

Coming in a close second is an Italian wine Bellenda Rose 2005.

This is the fifth edition of the Euposia Sparkling Wine event.  At an early edition the top prize went to an English vintner. That fact created quite a stir in the British Press.  Since then the importance of this tasting has grown exponentially.

I am very happy to be a part of the tasting panel.

15 November Moving

The moving men come at 7:20 and spend four hours loading up two trucks. Then we are off to the new apartment and another 4 hours of unpacking.

Before agreeing to rent this new place I asked specifically if the plumbing and electricity were up to code.  I was assured that they were. We flush the toilet and it overflows

My resolve to live my life as a dog emerged. By living like a dog I mean: take everything in stride and be happy with what you have.  I try to look for positive things.  I decide that the positive thing is that I will now start divesting myself of possessions.  Travel light will be my by-word from now on.

As I looked around at the boxes piled everywhere, I realized that I only have 4 boxes of clothes but over 35 boxes of books.  I have thousands of books.  I must divest myself of some of them.  But which ones?  There are some that give me pleasure just holding them, like Mrs Shelly, a biography of Mary Shelly published in 1890.  I have quite a few interesting first editions from the 1800s – most in good condition. I have a lovely leather-bound book with hand colored illuminated letters.  I have 50 or so books that have been autographed to me that date from my days as manager of The Mysterious Bookshop in New York; I can’t get rid of those.

I have hundreds of paperbacks that I will never read again.  But others…

Watching television on the morning of that fateful 9/11 when the airplanes smashed into the Twin Towers, I sank into a deep depression.  All I could do was cry or feel a pressing numbness. The world at that moment had become an ugly, frightening place.  What got me through the next ten days were those silly “Cat Who…”  books by Lillian Jackson Braun.  They provided me with a world where most people are nice, the heros are gentle and calm and most everyone is kind to animals – even the crooks.  For ten days I lived in “Moose County, “four hundred miles North of everywhere”.  It was only after that mental vacation that was I able to come back and join the real world. I can’t get rid of those books.

I have books that I realize have no value anymore: A two volume set of the complete works of Robert Browning, dating from the early 1900s.   But it is a second edition…so no collector would want it and anyone who just wanted the information would Google it or probably download a copy from some internet site.

What am I going to do with all these books – some exquisite, others just readers copies?

There is not the same fervor for collecting books in Italy that there is in English-speaking countries.  And besides, in Italy the market for English books in general is practically non-existent.

If anyone within the sound of my voice has any ideas about how I can sell my good old books, dispose properly of the second and third edition copies of other nice old books and offload hundreds of paperback novels….please let me know.  The idea of E-bay and Paypal, etc. frightens me just a little as I am not technically inclined.  Any help will be much appreciated.

Novmber 4  5-hour Lunch at Geppy and Germana’s