Archive for Diary
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24 June Art
We head off to a Palladian villa near Lonigo for an art exhibition. Who is showing we asked Ugo (who, along with his wife, is taking us there in their car.)
“Oh, it’s for emmerging artists,” he says with adismissive wave of his hand. This is the kind ofvauge answer he always give and indicates that he does not know the answer.
We arrive at the lovely villa and discover that the two featured aritists were both born in the 1930. It’s about time they emerged, I thought.
The paintings were…well…old. Old ideas, old exicution. There were several monochrome paintings: large canvases spray painted with a flat even color. Atisits have been tinkering with this idea since the late 1800s and have continued right on up through the 1960s.
I was reminded of the play Art by Yasmina Reza (translated into the English by Christopher Hampton). In it a fellow pays an incredible amount of money for a plain white canvas, expecting his best friend to praise his choice. This does not happen. Instead what follows is a series of arguments about the nature of art and an examination of friendship.
But back to the art show at the villa. The venue was lovely. Here is an atristic photo of the villa’s resident cat.
5 June Happy Carro Armato Day
We stopped into the Osteria Carroarmato for a visit and Annalisa sat down to chat. “I opened the Carro Armato twenty-eight years ago today,” she announced. “Let’s celebrate.” Champagne, a fine Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc followed. We were joined by Stefania and Ugo.
“I can remember the very first time Patricia and Michael came in here,” she said. “They ordered Tocai Rosso.”
“Wow, what a memory!” said Stefania.
“Oh, I don’t remember everything. Only exception al things. And believe me, 24 years ago foreigners did not order Tocai Rosso! Patricia and Michael were interesting and we started talking.”
And twenty-four years later Annalisa is my best friend in Verona (and one of my 6 truly close friends in the world). Above is a photo of Annalisa and me and my wedding dinner.
2 June Chievo fans celebrate!
I arranged my features into a listening pose while thinking of that Gary Larsen cartoon that shows a person talking to his dog. In a balloon over the dog’s head we see what the dog hears: Blah, blah, Ginger, blah, blah, blah.
I actually love this annual event. There’s dancing ancinet disco music. There is always a conga line (called a trenino -little train).
Several Chievo calico fan clubs gathered in the lovely little Valpolicella hamlet of Bure, to eat and hobnob with the owner of the Chievo team, Luca Campadelli. What a nice man he is. Here is a photo of Michael, Campadelli and our pal Maurizio. Campadelli always comes to this event to show his support. The other big news is that we won a huge Parmesan cheese wedge in the lottery.
The tail-end of May…I decided to clean out the closet where we keep our wine. The goal was to see how much of the 5 boxes of mature wine was still drinkable. And the only way to find that out is to open them. I called Susan H. and suggested she come to Verona and we could cart 6 of the around 40 bottles to the Carroarmato and taste them with Annalisa, her staff and any clients of the osteria who would appreciate older vintages. Alas, I made this plan without consulting Annalisa first. She had already decided to close the Carroarmato on the day named. I decided to pull the cork on 6 wines with Susan and Michael. Two of the wines were good and 2 of them were sublime. The other two had succumbed to old age. 4 out of 6 was a better average than I had anticipated. The good wines were a Tomasso Bussola TB Amarone 1990 and a Weingut Adalbert Jung Rheinhessen 1992 Riesling Auslese. The Great Wines were a 1997 Opiz One from Willie Opiz. It was vivacious and fruity and fresh. And…. 1985 Fieramonte Amarone from Allegrini. Yes, this is a picture of the wine in front of our pizza dinner. The wine was stunning in its elegance: dried cherry fruit finely woven with darker tertiary flavors. A hush of a finish that stays long on the palate and in the memory.
First things first: Books. A few months ago Publishers Weekly sent me a collection of short stories featuring detectives Bryant and May by Christopher Fowler to review. I laughed out loud as I read. I vowed I would find as many of the novels featuring Bryant and May as possible. Once again the fabulous Glenn at the Book Barn in Connecticut came through, finding me 4 books. I, of course, read them one after the other. Witty dialogue, fascinating peeks at London history and characters who are fun to know. Who could ask for more? I am very glad that there are 10 more Bryant and May novels out there waiting for me.
May 9 Terra di Pietra
We go out to Torbe, a hilltop village in Valpolicella to taste the wines of Terra di Pietra and visit their new vineyard. The tasting and dinner were held at Trattoria Caprini. (www.trattoriacaprini.it).
One of my favorite wines from the tasting: 2013 Le Peste (vinified in cement) Soft ruby. Fresh, pure nose. On the palate: red berry fruits, black cherries and a delicate floral note (hybicus). Silky texture.
“I wanted to make a good superior without wood and using natural yeasts,” says Laura Albertini, co-owner of the winery. She succeeded.
After the tasting, they served the best pasta I have every had (10 eggs for every kilo of flour and the pasta is rolled out by hand using mega-long rolling pins.) I was so impressed I asked one of the owners (it has been family-owned for generations) for a business card.
He said : “We don’t have business cards anymore because with technology nobody needs them…BUT we have bookmarks instead. They are always useful.” On one side there is the address etc of the place and on the other there is a poem by a dialect poet.
Do I need to tell you the surge of love I felt for that man and the restaurant at that moment? “Bookmarks are always useful!” If you know any small business owners suggest they do this; they will certainly garner the loyalty of the Real Book Reading cult.
May 11 Dining with the Players!
I went to a Chievo Calcio (Soccer) Dinner. There were 130 fans, 3 Chievo players and a couple of people from Chievo’s management.
When the players arrived there was as much applause and I thought: If Cumberbatch walked into a BSI (Baker Street Irregular) or ASH (Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes) event there would be the same goofy pleasure on the faces of those present, the same level of applause, the same amount of surreptitious (and blatant) selfies, the same amount of polite and respectful requests for autographs. Hummmm fans. There has been a Big Dispute for the past few years among some factions of the U.S. Sherlockian world about using the term “fans” to describe, well, those with a more literary turn of mind. I believe that the English Sherlockians (called Holmsians) don’t really care about that kind of nomenclature and just get on with enjoying the camaraderie. But perhaps they have their own tiffs about this matter.
NOTE for Italians: Tiff. This is a lovely word that means a little quarrel.
May 19 Getting the boot(s) in Soave
The three highpoints of this visit to Soave in the rain. (in order of occurrence) 1. The rubber boots laid on for the visitors at Coffele Winery (www.coffele.it ) 2. Ciara Coffele’s beagle puppy and 3. The superb 2005 Soave Salvarenza from Gini – lively, evolving flavors. (www.ginivini.com) I took my glass of the wine from the tasting to the dinner. I sniffed it every 5 minutes. After 40 minutes it was still firm, fresh and fragrant. I could have continued my experiment in longevity but I couldn’t hold out any longer and drank the wine for the pure pleasure of doing so.
Note for Italian readers: The expression “to get the boot” means to be kicked out.
21 and 22 in The Colli Euganei
I went to the Colli Euganei to present my book about the zone to groups of journalists at various points throughout the 2-day event. I arrived hoping that I would only have to speak in English (hooray the Germans, Scandinavians, Poles and Japanese – not to mention the English, Australians and Americans – usually speak decent English.) And in fact – thank goodness – the Italian travel writers also understood English. When I addressed this latter group I had made myself so nervous that I just threw in the towel and did my little song and dance (a.k.a. presentation) in an insane mix of the two languages.
I become irrationally nervous when I must address a group of Italian who are strangers to me. In my head there are always two monologues going on: 1. What I have to say and 2. The voice that is noting, with mounting hysteria, every error – after it has emerged from my mouth.
I can do interviews on wine and books in Italian. (Usually it is just me and the interviewee so a kind of comfortable intimacy evolves.) I can easily do simultaneous translations of the things said to me in Italian – BUT standing in front of people who would rather be eating their lunch/dinner completely unnerves me.
NOTE on English/American expression for Italian readers:
To throw in the towel means to give up in order to avoid further punishment when facing certain defeat. The expression derives from boxing: when a boxer is being beaten up and has no chance of winning, his manager literally throws his towel into the ring as an indication to stop the fight.
NOTE for those who do not know what the Colli Euganei are:
They are the most unusual collection of hills you will find on this planet. Over the centuries those inspired by them – poets, artists, and geologists – have most often describe them as looking like islands emerging from a wave-less sea. The hills were formed (between 34 and 33 million years ago) by a series of seismic shifts of rock substrata. In some cases, these shifts allowed molten lava and gases from deep within the earth to surge upwards, pressing against but not quite breaking through the ocean floor. As a result of erosion of this type of formation some of the hills have an odd, soft rounded shaped, like a soap bubble emerging from a bubble pipe. Others are the conical form we typically associate with volcanoes, although they are not actually volcanoes, as an eruption never took place. Most of the hills have a volcanic core. They are simply amazing to see. This area – it should be noted – was fundamental in the development of Venice as we know it. Venice is paved with stone from Colli Euganei quarries, wood from the Colli Euganei forests was used to build the Venetian armada and produce and grains from the Colli Euganei zone were carried by boats along canals to Venice in order to feed hungry Venetians. In the summer – to escape the heat of the city – Venetians built superb summer homes here (complete with stunning gardens). All this plus thermal spas that were famous since Roman times and some excellent wines as well. Really, who could ask for more?
Highlights of the visit:
2 Floating in the thermal pool at the Abano Ritz (www.abanoritz.it ) I would take up residence in this hotel if I could.
3 Doing a Sudoku while sitting on a bench in front of Villa Beatrice d’Este on Mont Gemola. The breeze was fragrant with scents of new mown grass, pine sap and meadow blossoms, and the only sound was bird song and the soft rustling of leaves.
- An olive oil tasting conducted by Devis from the Cornoleda Olive Mill. He has great energy and knowledge. (www.frantoiodicornoleda.com )
- A ride on a canal boat.
- Dinner at “Relais La Montecchia”, a restaurant run by the exceptionally talented and imaginative members of the Alajmo family.
- Listening to hypnotic, ancient Chinese music at the Museo Nazionale Atestino in Este.
- Tasting the wines of Ca’Lustra (www.calustra.it ) outside, in good company and with – as always – a stunning view. My favorite wine of those I tasted today was the 2007 Sassonero (100% Merlot) Long finish, backbone and brambly fruit, with an undertow of dark tones that are reminiscent of tar.
I prepare a stuffed goose neck made by www.michelelittame.it. The Goose Man gave a little talk and a taste while I was in the Colli Euganeis. My favorite quote: “We decided to raise geese because goose was the only meat not found in the supermarket.” Very tasty, too.
These wonderful photos of the Colli Euganei were taken by Elena Bianco.
First things first: Books
The very nice editor at Publishers Weekly came to the Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes Spring lunch in New York and he brought me a book to read: Adam’s Rib by Antonio Manzini (Original Italian title: La Costola di Adamo). It is set in Aosta. Yes, Aosta. The main character Rocco Schiavone is complex and intriguing and I will happily follow him into future adventures.
My pal Glenn from The Book Barn in Connecticut rounded up some books I wanted, and pals Kate and Ed brought them to New York for me. These included several of the later Tony Hillermans. I had asked Glenn to find the books Tony had written after I left New York in 1987.
When I returned to Verona I had the need to go and live in those books for a while. I read The First Eagle, The Thief of Time, Sacred Clowns and Talking God. I really do love these books. Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee are people I like to be with. I like to be in the beautiful and strange landscapes that Tony describes so eloquently. I have a few more, but I will save those for another time when I am feeling nostalgic for Big Sky country.
People who have never lived on the Great Plains or in the desert really cannot understand the way such landscapes make a person feel. I’ll try to explain: you feel small and by feeling small you allow yourself to become part of a greater whole. Also what at first seems austere and arid is, on closer examination, juicily alive with beauty. In the plains and desert you have to really look and by looking you see worlds within worlds. Well, it seems I cannot express this concept as well as I’d like. All I can suggest is this: go to the desert in springtime when tiny red and yellow flowers sprout on the upturned arms of giant cacti OR stand in the middle of a vast wheat field that stretches right up to the flat horizon line above which is an equally vast blue, cloudless sky. Then think about how you feel.
April 22 THANK YOU, SUSAN
Susan H. takes Michael and me to dinner at the Vescovo Moro. The food was good, the wine flowed freely and the talk touched on some shared favorite things: old roses with heady scents, Indian and Asian spices, friendship, etc. A lovely evening.
April 10 to 13 VINITALY
Yes, the world’s largest annual trade fair took place once again. I will spare you a long series of tasting notes. Instead I will just list the wines that Rang My Chimes. Suffice it to say, I recommend all these wines and the producers who made them. If you see the producer’s name on a wine list, buy the wine. You will not be disappointed.
There were of course many great wines at the fair that I did not taste for lack of time.
WINES THAT RING MY CHIMES
Fattoria Zerbina Sangiovese di Romagna “Pietramora” I tasted a flight of older vintages: 1990, 1997, 2004, 2007. Generally speaking, the wines were round, between velvet and silk, with an amalgam of fruit so firmly mixed that red berry and cherry fruits merge into one flavor.
Fattoria Zerbina Albana Passito “Scaccomatto” – a flight of older vintages: 1990, 1992,1996, 1997, 2001. General style: All the components mesh seamlessly – honey, flowers and a squeeze of lemon.
Podera Sant Cristofo Petite Verdot 2013 – Full, rich, fruity, appealing
Villa Bucci Verdicchio 2013 – Full perfume, a fine weave of elegant apricot and elderflower and bright salinity.
G.D. Vajra – Barolo “Liugi Baudana” 2012. – Luscious, heady, satisfying. I could go on and on.
Braida Barbera d’Asti “Bricco della Bigotta” 2014 – Just as luscious as ever.
Braida Bricco del Ucellone 2014 – Creamy, rich and round – like chocolate covered cherries.
Marina Cvetic Trebbiano dìAbruzzo 2013 – Elegant balance between wood and fruit.
I had a job to do during the fair: taste wines from South Africa for an Italian/English language website. I am glad this assignment came up because it is unlikely I would have taken a morning to concentrate on South African wines under usual Vinitaly conditions. There were some nice bright whites and rich reds. Producers I liked: Diemersdal, Idiom, Morgenster and Ayam.
April 1 through 7 NEW YORK, NEW YORK
I am indescribably happy to be in New York. Many of my dearest friends live here and things have been organized so that The Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes will have their Spring Meeting during my visit. Hooray!
Things I did that gave me great pleasure (besides just seeing and talking to wonderful people whom I have known for decades):
I went to see the Broadway Musical Something Rotten. Fabulous choreography, great dancing, an appreciative audience, two songs that stick with you – who could ask for more.
Here is a link to the opening number: Welcome to the Renaissance.
My pal Randall (friend since college) took me to The Modern, the Museum of Modern Art’s Michelin-starred restaurant. Extraordinary interior design, excellent food and the service was perfection. It was so perfect that it was almost creepy – it was like being served by the Stepford Wives. I got used to that pretty quickly. Then we went to the Degas exhibit and selected paintings for our various imaginary country houses. Thank you, Randall.
After the ASH lunch I went up to Guy and Julia’s (she is Kate’s sister). We convinced Julia to show us some of her collection of around 100 hats from the 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s.
Why I like the people of New York:
We went to the Transport Museum in Brooklyn. My pal asked the security guard if the museum had wi-fi.
He replied: “Why? If we had wi-fi everyone would be looking at their phones and not reading the display signs and not learning anything about their city.”
We went to a Cuban restaurant. I asked the waiter for a business card. He returned with a baggie containing two cigars and three boxes of matches with the restaurant name and address. (Havana at 94 Christopher Street havananyc.com).
Here is a quote from E.B. White’s Here is New York:
On any person who desires such queer prizes, New York will bestow the gift of loneliness and the gift of privacy. It is this largess that accounts for the presence within the city’s walls of a considerable section of the population; for the residents of Manhattan are to a large extent strangers who have pulled up stakes somewhere and come to town, seeking sanctuary or fulfillment or some greater or lesser grail. The capacity to make such dubious gifts is a mysterious quality of New York. It can destroy an individual, or it can fulfill him, depending a good deal on luck. No one should come to New York to live unless he is willing to be lucky.
This was a month almost totally devoted to reading, writing and researching – my favorite activities! So wine tips will be mainly focused on the Bardolinos, Chiarettos and Luganas I tasted at the annual Anteprima event held in the lake-side town of Bardolino.
Once again, the Consorzio pulled out all the stops: the option of tasting on a boat (I preferred to taste on solid ground), an after-tasting event that included a band and cocktails (I went home to walk the dog), and the chance to taste some lovely wines.
The three wines that I enjoyed the most at this tasting: Ca Lojera Lugana Riserva del Lup 2013 (vivacity on the palate, alluring fragrance. Excellent.), Le Tende Bardolino Classico Bio 2013 (backbone, full appealing fruit, vibrant color), Pasini –SanGiovanni Lugana Il Lugana Bio 2014 (pear and apricot tones on the nose and palate. Satisfying).
And pride of place goes to a delicious Bardolino called Vintage, produced by the Cantina Castelnuovo del Garda. Why do I love this wine? Well, yes it is tasty but I will admit that I love the label. It would be a perfect wine for the Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes. It was the last wine I tasted and a very nice way to end the event.
After putting in a hard day at the computer, I open a bottle of Villa Bucchi Verdicchio 2014. I will go on record as saying I adore Ampelio Bucci and I love this wine, and I have since I first tried it some 20 years ago. It consistently give pleasure. It is a wine where character and charm are perfectly blended. If you see Villa Bucci on a winelist order it. You will not be disappointed.
A Memory of Professor Eco
It has taken me a while to come to terms with the death of Umberto Eco, whom I interviewed on September 21st of last year. I have never laughed so much while doing an interview. He told jokes while we waited for the elevator. He showed my husband and me his library, which – considering it consisted of over 30,000 books – was contained in every room in the apartment. “These are the Art and Architecture books. My wife is an architect,” he said, waving to a wall of books. “There is the philosophy section,” he said pointing to another wall. Here is a picture of Mr. Eco in his “fiction corridor. “These are German. These are English. Those American. Here are the Scandanavian…..” He told me it took around 6 years to write a novel. “So you must come back again when I am 90,” he said. I thought I would.
After I had finished my interview for Publishers Weekly about his new book, Numero Zero, I asked Professor Eco if I could interview him for my Sherlockian friends. He graciously agreed. That interview will be published in English in the Spring edition of the Serpentine Muse, the newsletter of The Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes. An Italian translation will appear in the next issue of The Strand Magazine: Organo dell’Associazione Uno Studio in Holmes. This latter issue will be devoted entirely to Professor Eco.
Here are some quotes : “There is also another distinction to consider, the one between narrative and mythography. For example, The Three Musketeers is wonderfully written, with a jazz style. The Count of Monte Cristo, on the other hand, is terribly written: it is like a muddy, sludge-filled river. But it, too, manages to create a myth that everyone knows and that has been reproduced in many films and many other forms – theatrical, radiophonic, television, etc.”
“So, there are texts that, from the point of view of aesthetics, don’t amount to much and were perhaps only written for the money but they have the power to create a myth. I think Sherlock Holmes belongs to the classification: mythography. It is not as if the works of Sherlock Holmes are written in a sublime way – like Dickens. But they have created a myth that would exist even if the stories no longer existed. The Holmes stories are models of inductive reasoning and they are therefore very interesting beyond being mere entertainment. I don’t think that they carry with them great philosophical merit because the philosophy in which Conan Doyle believed was spiritualism – at night making little tables dance around.” Eco s fingers flutter as if distributing fairy dust.
I asked the Professor if he planned on writing more about Sherlock Holmes. “I have written about Holmes in many other books, not only in the Sign of Three. So I have written enough about him.” Eco leans back in his chair, in a contemplative mood. “If I were to belong to a fraternity of or sect it would not be that of Sherlock Holmes but rather Nero Wolfe.” He smiles, a glint of the exuberant zeal of a fan lights up his eyes. “I paid ten dollars to receive their newsletter.” His rumbling laugh fills the room. “I know all of the Nero Wolfe stories by heart!” Ah, spoken like a true fan.
Here is a link to the Publishers Weekly interview:
28 February Elena Gladkova in Verona
We met up with Russian film director Elena Gladkova. Here is a link to one of her films: the delightful Jazz etude 2014. The audio is music and ambient sound so don’t be afraid to watch it – you don’t have to speak Russian. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TBm4ItGEwvQ&feature=youtu.be
Stanley and I then set off for the Osteria Carro Armato to celebrate the birthday of Annalisa (the owner and my best Italian friend). Among the wines: a 1998 Fratta from Maculan. It was surprisingly fresh and complex on the nose and palate, touches of mint. “It went from being in Maculan’s cellar to mine here at the Carro Armato, so its storage conditions were optimal,” said Annalisa, when we began enthusing about its vivacity.
25 February Amarone A-Go-Go at Villa de Winckles
Villa de Winckles (www. villadewinckels.com ), a hotel/restaurant in the Illasi Valley, organizes wonderful tastings. Tonight there were over 60 top notch Amarone producers on hand. I will admit that I did not try all 60 – I am only human. But of the 40 I did sample, here are some of my favorites (in no particular order).
2007 Santa Sofia “Gioè” (cherries and cream, long evolving finish); 2011 Speri (delivers a very good wine in commercial volumes, which is not an easy thing to do.); 2010 Dal Forno (cream soda and dark cherries, a raw silk texture); 2011Roccolo Grassi (hypnotic mingling of austerity and lush fruit); 2010 Accordini Stefano “Acinatico” (elegant balance of fruit); 2011 Begali (juicy, satisfying); 2009 Pietro Zanoni (amalgam of black and red berry fruit) and the wonderful 2011 Corte Scaletta (juicy, figgy, pruney, luscious).
22 February Sangiovese di Romagna – one of my favorite annual tastings
We went to Faenza, a town world famous for its museum devoted to ceramics, for one of my favorite annual events: the tasting of Sangiovese di Romagna. Year in and year out, my top producers at this event remain Fattoria Zerbina and Dre Dona.
Fattoria Zerbina: Cristina Geminiani makes consistently outstanding wines – juicy, elegant and long-lived. If you see a Zerbina wine on a list – buy it. There is simply nothing else to add. Here is a photo of Cristina in her caffeine molecule earrings.
Dre Dona: when I taste these wines and immediately think of all the ways they can be paired with food.
A New Entry at this tasting was a wine called Famous…because it is made from an local indigenous variety that goes by the name of Famoso (aka Uva Rambela). It is produced by the Romagna winery Santa Lucia (http://www.santaluciavinery.it ). This vibrant white wine has a finely-knit texture, with touches of sage and mint on the nose and palate.
The label is particularly attractive and I asked Paride Benedetti, owner of S. Lucia about it. “I was in Austria and my colleagues took me to the Klimt museum. And there I saw The Kiss for the first time. I stood in front of it rapt. I looked at it and saw grapes. So I brought my graphic designer to the museum and said: that’s what I want.”
The wine has everything, a good story, an original flavor…and its organic!
30 January Amarone A-go-go, Alfonso and Libre!
We go to the annual Amarone panel discussion and tasting. One of the speakers says: “Amarone is wine for all kinds of foods.” I roll my eyes toward heaven and groan. Amarone is NOT a wine that is easy to match with most daily meals. People don’t eat great chunks of meat that often anymore. Nor do they want 14, 15 or even 16° alcohol at lunch most days. Amarone is a great wine; I really can’t understand why there is a push to make it small. Forgive me but I think of that Norma Desmond line from Sunset Boulevard: “I am big. It’s the pictures that got small.”
Among the Amarones that rang my chimes: Viviani 2010 Casa dei Beppe (Cream soda on the finish. Rich, deep cherry fruit. Long finish, very appealing), Corte Sant’Alda 2012 (fresh, firm fruit, a fine undertow of spice.) and Accordini 2012 (A fine firm weave of fruit and zippy freshness. Undertow of spice in the finish.)
We met up with Alfonso C. at the tasting and he kindly invited us to lunch, during which we had a good old gossip and grouse and a decent piece of fish.
I go to Libre! (www.libreverona.it/progetto/) to talk to Lia Arrigoni about books. Here is a photo of Lia (with wine) and Stanley (with charm).
25 & 23 Proposta Vini (www.propostavini.com)
Federica S. whisks us out to Bussalengo for the annual Proposta tasting. There is a seminar on Riesling, with several Austrian examples for tasting.
Riesling used to be lumbered with the word “petrol” when it came time to make a tasting note. But the wines I tasted today were fresh and pure, with a fruit that might be described as an amalgam of apricot, white peach and a touch of Bartlett pear. My three favorites: 2013 Riesling Riserve Kellerterrassen from Hermann Moser, 2013 Riesling Reserve Heiligenstein from Topf and 2013 Reisling Preussen from Fuhrgassl-Huber.
“Austria is like Portugal,” says Michael. “They make really good wines but no one talks about them very much.”
At dinner the nice producer from Vadiaperti brought out a bottle of his 1994 Fiano di Avellino. Excellent, compressed fruit. Texture like raw silk. Pure firm fruit on the nose, a slightly smoky finish. I subsequently tasted the 2014 version. Lovely style.
The wine among the hundreds available at the tasting that gave me the most pleasure was the 2012 Riserva Rabaja Barbaresco from Castello di Verduno. One sip and I felt that I had suddenly stepped into the world of Fine Wine. Fine Wine used to be a term that denoted exceptional quality and elegance. It has fallen from use like the word breed. Michael Broadbent defines this term as: “An abstract qualitative term. A fine wine of good pedigree should display breed.” Oh, I miss those old tasting terms sometimes.
We ended the tasting with some superb artisanal beers from Giratempo (www.giratempo.it) . The grape Ale made with a small percentage of Moscato, was refreshing and appealing. All the beers we tasted were well balanced and elegant.
21 January Plumbing the Depths
The plumber came to sort out our ancient, rotting pipes under the kitchen sink. He was a nice man who swore at the pipes for a solid 5 hours. Porca Troia! (Pig Whore) I needed something to read in order to defend myself from listening to Italian cussing. The only book in the house that I hadn’t read for a while was the (4 vol. ) complete Shakespeare, and I will admit that I had never read the introduction – until today. It was written in the 40s and had that slightly stuffy university professor lip-curling sneer to it. By that I mean he put down all the other scholars who had – of course – gotten the facts completely wrong…
We finally have hot water in the kitchen. Hooray!
14 January Another life I might have lived
I just finished reading Tony Hillerman’s autobiography, Seldom Disappointed. It stirred memories. I met Tony when he came to New York to promote one of his first novels. He was a very nice man and I enjoyed his detective novels that are set in the American Southwest and featured Indian/Native American protagonists, Joe Leaphorn and Jimmy Chee. These books made me nostalgic for the wide open spaces of my youth.
I subsequently wrote to him saying that I didn’t know if I wanted to stay in New York and was toying with the idea of moving to New Mexico. I arrived in Albuquerque and he kindly took a day to show me around. We drove up to Santa Fe, a wonderfully odd town that I could have been happy in. We talked about books and writing and life. He also told me that should I decide to move there I would be welcome at a writers’ group he belonged to.
I returned to New York after a few days…and life progressed as it did. But reading his autobiography made me think of all the “alternate” directions my life could have taken. Not because I am unhappy with where I am now. In fact I love where I am now. But every now and then it is nice to be reminded that your future is being decided every day.
For Sherlockians I was also warmly welcomed by John Bennett Shaw while in Santa Fe.
13 January What do you do with a wine that is too sweet?
A very nice producer – unbidden – sent me some samples of his Proseccos. I opened one labeled Brut, thinking that it would indeed be on the dry side. That way I could taste the wine, write a professional note and then enjoy a glass with my lunch of spaghetti with shrimp and mussel sauce. I poured a glass. Because the word “Brut” had set up expectations in my mind, I was completely unprepared for the overwhelming sweetness of the wine. Let me say that the wine was well-made, there were no faults in it. However, it was nowhere near dry. What to do? I couldn’t drink it. You can’t give an opened bottle to Italian friends (US and UK pals would have no problem accepting decent free vino). I hated to pour it down the sink. I already had a sweet wine open for cooking. The answer came to me in a flash: Jello! Yes, I bought some gelatin leaves and used the wine as the base liquid.
6 January I love Chievo Fans
We go to the clubhouse of our soccer fan club. Today Chievo is playing Roma, and our fan club has invited a Roma fan club to lunch. When the Roma contingent arrives, they are applauded by the Chievo fans. I felt a melting kind of love for everyone in the room; I appreciate good sportsmanship – and Chievo fans and players have that in spades! There was the ceremonial exchange of gifts. Roma brought hams and cheeses and calendars featuring soccer players. Chievo had the usual hamper filled with cakes – the owner of the soccer team also owns a well-known cake factory.
Here is a poem I wrote on a napkin during the event. It scans but does not rhyme. It sounds like extended hiku.
Wine in unlabeled bottles
Poured into clear plastic cups
Disco music fills the room
The Village People live on
At the Chievo Fan Club
2 Januay Sherlockains in Verona
Guy Marriott, his wife Liz and their pal Shelia came to Verona for a visit. Guy is President of the Holmes Society of London and we had been scouting opportunities to bring a group of English Sherlockians to Cremona to visit the Stradivarius museum…and have a private concert performed on historic instruments. Alas, the majority of the group lacks the desire to make this little detour to Cremona during their journey from Reichenbach Falls to Florence. Michael had even lined up a Mostarda producer who agreed to come to Cremona for a tasting of her wares. Oh, well, mustn’t grumble. Maybe some other time. Should any other intrepid Sherlockians wish to “do” Cremona, drop me a line.
28 December HAPPY BIRTHDAY CINEMA
Every year on this date our pal Ugo celebrates the birth of cinema by showing a silent film. This year it was D.W. Griffith’s Intolerance. This three and a half hour epic was projected in a deconsecrated and unheated church in the center of town. Around 30 of us sat on metal chairs in our coats and hats. The film was indeed wonderful. However, I tolerated only an hour and a half of it, I was driven out by the cold. Michael to enjoy it to the bitter end.
Christmas Eve at Ugos
Every Christmas Eve and many an evening in between we climb the six steep flights of stone stairs, worn soft and smooth by hundreds of years of treading, to dine, drink, laugh, play silly games and argue at Ugo’s small apartment on the top floor of a building in the centro storico. I am grateful that our social life revolves around Ugo and his kith and kin.
17 December BLACK IS BLACK, I WANT MY COLOR BACK!
I went to a spiffy do at the Due Torre Hotel – an event celebrating the restoration of some circus-themed frescos from the 1950 by a local artist. There were circus performers from Verona’s circus school, decent eats…all very nice. BUT every single woman (but me! And my pal from down South) wore black. Once again, I am not talking about an Audrey Hepburn Little Black Dress black. Rather it was light-sucking black in baggy, body covering shapes.
I, of course, wore red.
“In Verona all women wear black to evening events,” said my pal from Southern Italy, who had some nice vivid blue (on a field of black) patterned top.
I thought: I have been to swankier events in New York, London, Paris, Florence and Milan…and in those places women choose dresses to match their skin tones and personal style – daffodil yellow; shimmering, smoky silver; emerald green. I find it so depressing to be in a room filled with black. Life is full of color!
16 December A BOOK PRESENTATION WITH A SIDE ORDER OF SPAGHETTI
The 30-some people dining in the back room at Scapin’s were polite to me but a book by a funny foreign lady didn’t stand a chance against spaghetti with duck sauce. The owner of the restaurant is a very nice man and he asked for a book to put on the shelf in the restaurant. Bless him. The wines were provided by clever Francesca Salvan. They were fragrant and juicy. If you ever find yourself in the Colli Euganei I would urge you to drop by the winery. Her family is truly geared up to accept visitors.
12 December LUNCH AT VILLA WITH THE GTOs (Girls Together Outrageously)
Susan H., Clementina P. and Michael and I enjoyed a merry lunch at the Villa Estate in Franciacorta. We look forward to this annual event. Yes, the photo is out of focus but I believe that helps capture the tone of the day. Oh my but we laughed! The fabulous earrings I am wearing, by the way, are a gift from Roberta Bianchi, whose family owns Villa.
4 December AROUND THE WORLD
By chance (OKAY, I’ll admit it: I was Googling myself), I came across an article in an Indonesian publication about Number Zero that mentions my interview with Umberto Eco in Publishers Weekly. It’s amazing how this interview is being picked up and sent around the world.
2 December MARINELLA CAMERANI OF CORTE SANT’ALDA AT THE CARROARMATO
Marinella, owner and winemaker of the Corte Sant Alda estate in Valpolicella, lives life on her own terms and makes wines just the way she wants to, without concern for fleeting trends. Her estate is certified organic and biodynamic – she produces Italy’s only biodynamic Amarone. She was as entertaining as ever at tonight’s tasting. I like her because she just says what she thinks – no mincing words for Marinella. We also had our wedding reception at her wine estate and our dog Ed is buried there. So, I admit to being partial.
1&2 December Wine2Wine
We went to a two day marketing/networking fest for people in the wine trade. On both days 90% of the women wore black. I don’t mean Audrey Hepburn chic black enhanced by diamonds and elbow length gloves. I mean life and light sucking black. In the two days I counted only 10 women who were not in black…they were in dark brown, grey or beige. Yikes! The world needs color!
First, as always, books by friends: Killed in the Ratings by William L. De Andrea. This was his first novel and won The Edgar (The top award from the Mystery Writers of America).
I met Bill at an MWA cocktail party in New York. He came over to me and said: “Look around. We are the only two people in this room who are under thirty. Let’s blow this pop stand.” And we did. We went to a diner for burgers and then to a movie. He was a witty and kind man, who died much too soon (aged 44).
Re-reading this book made me nostalgic for a world where the memory of elevator operators in posh buildings was still green and payphones were on every corner. Cellphones that do everything have certainly made it more difficult for mystery writers today. An entertaining book. I plan on re-reading his other novels.
30 November Cooking at San Mattia
We set off for Corte San Mattia Agriturismo (www.sanmattia.it), Giovanni Ederle’s lovely restaurant and hostelry. The view from the terrace is stunning. If you want an agriturismo holiday, this is the place! We are here for a cooking demonstration and have brought Stanley, who behaves impeccably. He spends some time sniffing the Agriturismo Dog and inviting her to play. She sits like a rock, aware of him but uninterested in the jumping, leaping, racing around play that Stanley has in mind.
What I learned: If you want to peel onions without tears either hold the onion under hot water before cutting or wear sunglasses.
29 November Go Chievo
We head out for Montorio and a big pre-game lunch organized by our soccer fan club (Chievo is Life) for three Udinese fan clubs. Chievo will be playing Udine this afternoon. “May the best team win,” says a Chievo fan across from me. This is why I love Chievo – the players and followers are so nice. Along with the 220 sports fans there is a crew from the RAI (the Italian National television company). Stanley – decked out in his Chievo scarf – is a big hit with them. We hope he makes the Dominica Sportiva program tonight.
27 November Golosario A-go-go
We make our way to the La Collina dei Ciliegi winery (www.lacollinadeiciliegi.it )to attend a presentation for the annual Il Golosario guide, compiled by Paolo Massobrio. (www.ilgolosario.it ) The book has over 1000 pages and is chocked-full of information about some of Italy’s best food and wine producers. A few of them were on hand, showing their wares. I cannot even begin to convey the purity of flavors on offer. Among my favorites were B73, a maker of organic jams, sauces and liquors; Az. Agr. Vallier, makers of an array of products based on walnuts and La Giardiniera di Morgan – I have never tasted such fresh, crisp vegetables preserved in white wine vinegar. I could go on and on. If you are in Italy and you want the best local products The Golosario guide is for you.
By the way, I tried the Il Corvino 2014 from La Collina dei Ciliegi and found it fresh, fruity easy-drinking. The price is right too. Around a tenner.
I spotted a pleasant looking man heading for the door and asked him for a ride down the hill to Grezzane, where we could catch the bus. When he found out that our final destination was Verona, he very graciously offered to take us there. During the ride we found out his name was Savino Poffa and he owns Trattoria Urbana Mangia Fuoco in Brescia. (www.trattoriamangiafuoco.it ). Around 15 years ago he and some friends started an organization to save racing greyhounds called GACI, which stands for Greyhound Adopt Center Italy. (www.adozionilevrieri.it.)
“The dogs were kept in cages and only let out to run. When their racing days were over they were put down. So the average life span was around 4 years. My Josie is 15,” says Savino, referring to one of the dogs he adopted. “She is a wonderful dog. Sometimes she comes to work with me.”
25 November Zanoni at the Carroarmato.
We are the Carroarmato (www.carroarmato.it ) for a dinner and tasting of Pietro Zanoni’s Valpolicellas (www.pietrozanoni.it) Our Pal Ugo is the moderator and Graziano Guandalini (www.grazianoguandalini.sitiwebs.com) masterfully plays the upright piano.
I ask Pietro: “What’s new?” He replies: “I’ve got a cat. My daughter named it Tito. I’ve never had an indoor cat. It sleeps on the bed!” He says this last bit with real wonder in his voice.
Annalisa, the owner of the Carroarmato, is a great fan of Pietro’s Valpolicellas. She likes their fresh, direct style.
Tonight we taste 4 vintages: 2013, 2011, 2009 and 2007. All were fresh and firm. My favorite of the evening was the 2011. It has a rich undertow of ripe fruit, with an almost orange-zest sensation. A very, very nice wine. Michael describes it thus: “Like the pages of an old book…the smooth texture of a well-read book.” I feel I have infected him with my bookishness.
23 Durello in Milan
I am up at 6 a.m. to walk the dog and get some work done before heading out on the Soave Bus that will take us to Milan for the Big Durello/Sparkling Wine tasting.
We arrive. Susan H. and I have a productive meeting, kicking around some ideas for a mutual project. Then off to the tasting. We sit through the press conference. A representative from Euposia (www.euposia.it) says he will announce the winners of the Euposia mega sparkling wine tasting, at which I was a judge. However he does not reveal all the winners. But we do find out the winner in the White Sparkling Wines made from Indigenous Varieties category is – a Durello. This makes everyone very happy.
The winning wine is from Sacra Mundi. It is fresh and clean, with a pleasingly tart flavor.
A Durello/Durella Lesson:
The grape name is Durella but wine made from this grape is called Durello. This is due to the fact that the Italian word for grape (uva) is feminine and thus ends in an “a”, while the Italian word for wine (vino) is masculine and thus ends in an “o”.
The name of this very vigorous vine is derived from its tough (dura) skin. Its most important DOC zone lies in the Lessini Mountains in the provinces of Verona and Vicenza, north of the Soave zone. It is grown specifically in mountain sites on soils of volcanic origin.
Lessini Durello is a light dry white wine with a minimum alcohol level of 10%. When it has an alcohol level of 11% it can be labeled “superiore”. This grape’s high acidity makes it ideal for sparkling wine production. Lessini Durello Spumante is rapidly becoming the aperitif of choice in Soave and Verona, where it is served with fairly fatty goods, such as cheese and salami.
The Durella grape can only be found in the wines of this region, and may be used as a lesser components in Breganze Bianco, Gambellara and Lugana.
At around 3 p.m., I have tasted what I want to taste. I go sit in the foyer and read a battered paperback copy of Agatha Christie’s The Clocks. Aldo, the director of the Durello Consorzio comes up and says: “Patricia, you are always reading books that are un po ossidato (a little bit oxidized).
At 4 p.m. I take a 10-minute stroll to the train station and head for home, leaving Michael to hang around for the prize giving.
18 November The Week and Beyond….
My interview with Umberto Eco was cited in The Week Magazine. They used one of my favorite quotes: the one about Dan Brown. Hip, hip, hip hooray.
The set up and Dan Brown quote: Foucault’s Pendulum is about three waggish publishing employees who, having read far too many manuscripts about crazy theories, decide, as a game, to make up a conspiracy theory of their own, in which they link the Knights Templars to practically every occult manifestation in history, and suggest that the Templars are destined to take over the world. The trio soon find themselves in fear of their lives, threatened by a secret society which has taken their game all too seriously.
“It was I who invented Dan Brown, he was a character in that book,” says Eco, laughing.
November 12 and 13 Euposia Sparkling Wine tasting
Beppe G. picks me up at the bridge and whisks me off to The Aqualux Hotel in Bardolino (www.aqualuxhotel.com ) for the annual Euposia mega-tasting of Sparkling Wines from around the world.
I am one of 21 judges. Each of us has our own table. There is total silence and the sommeliers are efficient. The wines are tasted blind. (That means that the identity of the wines in the glass are not revealed to the tasters.)
Day One we tasted 91 wines. The overall quality level was high. However, I sometimes found myself writing “a bit dull but without faults”.
THEN Day Two, the second wine (number 202) was poured. I put my nose in the glass and every atom in my body buzzed. YES! EUREKA! From the first sniff the quality was clear. Fresh, vibrant, fragrant. The palate followed the nose. I put the glass aside and warned the sommeliers not to take it away.
I kept it for 2 hours while going through the rest of the wines (there were around 70 for Day Two). Sample 202 stayed firm and fresh and appealing. I wrote “I love this wine.” on my tasting sheet.
After some unseemly begging and whining on my part I finally got the organizer to tell me the name of the wine. However, he rightly insisted that he would tell me only after all the tasting sheets had been handed into the invigilator and the results had been put in the computer. It was a Champagne Jacquart Mosatique Brut. Oh, I hope it gets a prize.
12 November My Dog Ate It.
There is a happy ending to this. I took the nibbled note and the nibbler himself to the bank and they gave me a nice new 50 Euro note. And I have learned to put my purse on a higher shelf because I now know that my dear little Stanley can open zipper pockets
November Happy Birthday to Michael
We celebrate at the Osteria Vecchia Fontanina www.ristorantevecchiafontanina.com The food there is excellent. The service friendly – and they like Stanley.
First, the Books by Friend’s Department:
Cathy Huyghe’s memoir Hungry For Wine: Seeing the World through the Lens of a Wine Glass (www.provisionspress.com/hungry-for-wine/) is a collection of very personal essays that plot her course from amateur blogger to professional wine writer. Publisher: Provisions Press
Claudia Farina’s entertaining novel is called Sull’Onda: Intrecci d’amore e di viaggio (Riding the Wave: entwinings of love and travel – this is how I would translate it). More about the book in the October 7 diary entry) Publisher: Delmiglio (www.delmiglio.it
George Truby reveals his love affair with the world’s most popular sparkling wine in: Campagne Undressed: An Expert Bares All.
25 October Lunch at the Gepperia
We had lunch with the gang (Eleonella & Claudio, Stephania & Ugo and Silvio at the home of Geppi and Germania. Germana’s cooking, as always, was simply wonderful. We brought a 2008 Mille e Una Notte from Donnafugata. (www.donnafugata.it/ ) At first Geppi was skeptical that a 2008 would still be drinkable – ah, did I tell you that no one in the group works in the wine trade? They were all amazed at the elegance of its fresh, frim fruit. We also brought a sweet Fior d’Arancia from Quota 101 (www.quota101.com ) This too was a hit. The nose, as you might guess, was very forward and inviting. On the label of the wine the producers list a musical accompaniment – nice touch. For this wine the producers chose: Blackbird by the Beatles. Here is a link to Blackbird. It is not the slickest version but it is Young Paul… (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T3sYgtIzqXo )
21 October Good bye to Gianni Burato, artist and Illustrator & The Colli Euganei Moscato
Gianni Burato was a handsome man, kind and witty. We went to his not-exactly-funeral today in a reception room at the cemetery. His casket sat in the center of the room, a case of wine placed at the foot of it. Some of his many political cartoons and illustrations were projected on the wall. (I laughed out loud twice at his wit.) The music was intelligent rock and roll. As we left Jimi Hendricks was singing: “There must be some kinda way outta here…” (The Watchtower. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TLV4_xaYynY ) His beloved wife was brave and tried to keep smiling, as Gianni had wanted.
We take the train to Vicenza and Susan H. picks us up and we start our adventure in the Colli Euganie. I love the sunsets in this zone. Then it got very dark…no city lights…no village lights, a few farm house lights. We arrive at the Quota 101 winery for a very interesting tasting of dry Moscatos from various Italian regions, including Quota 101’s very fragrant 2014 dry Moscato Fior d’Arancio. This wine and Lo Triolet – Marco Martin Muscat Petit Grain 2014 from Valle d’Aosta were my top two wines.
We tasted the wines with food prepared by Mattia Barbieri of the Enoteca Centrale. (www.enotecacentrale.it/giovedegusta )
I was a tad skeptical at the beginning. I thought the intensity of the fragrance would make matching difficult. I was wrong: the pairings worked wonderfully well. Particularly nice were the carpaccio of cod and the baccalà mantecato. The photo is of Susan enjoying her vittles.
18 October Lunch at the Carroarmato with Sherlockians and Sommeliers from America
Stanley and I meet a nice Italian woman (who is doing a thesis on Sherlock Holmes and Food) and her thesis advisor, a big Sherlock Holmes fan. They wanted to buy copies of Bacchus at Baker Street (cover by Gianni Burato) and talk about The Great Detective’s eating habits, among other things. We arrived at the Carroarmato at around 11 am and were later joined by Michael and his troop of American wine buyers and sommeliers who are in town (guests of the Soave Consortium) for the Osteria event, and to meet and taste Soaves and Durellos. We all sat down to lunch together – well, Stanley went racing around after Annalisa and Lara and helping waiters deliver plates of meat to other tables.
14 October The Annual Canova Sculpture Prize-giving
Guerrieri Rizzardi (www.guerrieri-rizzardi.it) hosted the annual Antonio Canova sculpture competition, which offers young Italian artists an opportunity for international exposure. Works by the finalists were displayed at Villa Rizzardi, which is surrounded by a stunning garden designed by 18th century architect Luigi Trezza (www.pojega.it).
The financial and organizational support provided by the Guerrieri Rizzardi wine company is to be commended. This year’s winner is Giulia Berra, from the Accademia delle Belle Arti di Brera, Milano.
13 October In Milan for another stomp around Expo in the rain with a bus-load of Soave-ites.
10 October Off to Milan for the The Ulitimate Wine Guide/Tasting
In Milan for the launch of Daniele Cernilli’s Ultimate Guide to Italian Wine 2016. Scores of Italy’s top producers were there showing their award-winning wines. Among my favorites was Vintage Tunina from Jermann. I still remember the first time I tasted this wine over twenty years ago. I was at the International Wine Challenge in London back in the days when this Mega-tasting was organized by Robert Joseph and Charles Metcalf.
I can still see Robert racing across the airplane-hanger-sized venue toward me, holding a glass of white wine aloft. I took in the glint in his eye and thought: “He’s going to try to trick me. He knows I specialize in Italian wines, so the wine is likely to be Italian. It is also likely to be a complicated blend – not a simple two or three grape jobbie. There are only two wines at this Mega-tasting that fit that profile.” He handed the glass to me with a flourish, I casually sniffed and, without tasting it, said: “Vintage Tunina”. The look of surprise on his face remains bright in my memory to this day.
As Sherlock Holmes said in The Adventure of the Dancing Men: “It is not really difficult to construct a series of inferences, each dependent upon its predecessor and each simple in itself. After doing so, one may produce a startling effect.”
Vintage Tunina (a blend of Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Ribolla Gialla, Malvasia Istriana and Picolit) has remained among my favorite white wines.
8 October Opera on Ice
Yes, a rink was set up in the 1st Century Roman Arena in Verona’s main square for a stupendous show that included Olympic Gold Medal winners and superb opera and pop singers (Ellie Goulding). My favorite performer was Baritone Palle Knudson, who happily played along with the bizarre but still entertaining production.
7 October Claudia Farina’s book launch
CLAUDIA SIGNING Claudia Farina’s novel is called Sull’Onda: Intrecci d’amore e di viaggio (Riding the Wave: entwinings of love and travel, is how I would translate it). The event takes place at Scapin’s (Via Armando Diza, 20, near the Ponte della Vittoria) and was hosted by the Veneto Chapter of Slow Food. Claudia, who has had a life filled with adventure and travel working as a reporter, decided that she had reached the point in her life when she was ready to write a novel. The book is funny and serious by turns, with chapters set in Sri Lanka, Egypt, Libia, Kenya, Sicily and Mantua, among many other locations. “This book is a collection of places that few have seen,” says Claudia. “Some of them no longer exist.” Be prepared for love, a bit of sex and insights into other cultures.
4 through 6 Puglian “Educational” trip
For visits to great wine producers and restaurants whiz down to my June diary. To hear about some very nice Masserias/agriturismos, read on.
A Lesson: A masseria is a fortified farmstead. Many have now been renovated to become wonderful oases of calm and tranquility for travelers. They offer all the modern conveniences in a rural setting, surrounded by gardens, orchards, vineyards and olive groves.
The small group consists of Tour Operators, 2 Journalists and a Blogger, who says he hates to write.
I arrive at the Agriturismo Sant’Andrea (www.agriturismocastellaneta.it). I speak to the owners and tell them that my husband had looked them up on Trip Advisor, which said that they had one of the best restaurants in the area. “Here’s the chef,” they say, presenting a kindly, smiling woman, who also happens to be their mother. The family is extremely obliging and generous.
I sit next to Veronika (an Austrian journalist who lives in Berlin) on our first long bus ride. I mention the wonderful and poetic film Wings of Desire (Der Himmel über Berlin), directed by Wim Wenders. Veronika tells me that she was fortunate enough to attend the 25 anniversary showing of the film, at which Wim Wenders, Bruno Ganz (the protagonist) and Peter Handke (one of the writers), spoke about the making of the movie. Our mutual love for this film leads to us becoming bus-buddies.
We visit a very nice bakery (www.panificiocostantino.it) and some of us get to push the dough around. I go outside and sit on the low wall in front of the shop. Two guys are eating sandwiches and drinking beer at small tables. The town dog comes over to me and I gently massage his temples and get the benefit of watching his expression of Doggie Bliss.
Lunch at the Agriturismo Sierro Lo Greco (www.sierro.it) After lunch the owner shows us where he makes his essential oils. The conversation devolves into a series of acronyms (an acronym is a word formed from the first letters of each one of the words in a phrase. Example NATO.) These acronyms referred to local, regional and European political funding organizations, and the use of them makes conversation incomprehensible to a person who has no interest in local project funding. I go outside to look at the animals – ducks, donkeys, dogs…
On to Matera.
Lesson: Matera is in the region of Basilicata. We have come to see the town’s historic center, known as “I Sassi”. This area traces its origins to a prehistoric troglodyte settlement and has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
We meet up with our local guide, Nicola Taddonino (www.matera2019tour.it), a man who is passionate about his city and its history. Unfortunately we have arrived too late to visit his favorite church but he quickly finds another to round out our very interesting two-hour tour.
We drive back to the Agriturismo. We have 30 minutes to change and get back to the bus to go to dinner. We have been from 40 minutes to an hour and a half late for every stop listed on the schedule. As it will be close to 9 by the time we get to the restaurant. The listed return time is 10 P.M. . A more realistic return time will probably be 12:30. I go to Our Keeper and tell him that I think I will skip dinner and remain here. At around 12:30 the dogs begin to bark, alerting me to the fact that the tour bus is returning. I happily drift back to sleep.
The next morning, my bus friends turn up at breakfast looking exactly like people who ate too much at a late three-hour dinner and now fully realize that they must spend a grueling day touring. They all agree, however, that I missed some fine food at Tenuta Orsanese – Ginosa Marina (www.tenutaorsanese.it ). We stow our luggage in the bus and set off for Round Two of this adventure.
We visit two large cooperative wineries, tasting Primitivo at each one. (If you want to know more about Primitivo and the Manduria production zone, whiz down to my June diary.)
At our next destination we stand in the dusty parking lot while the very nice owner of the olive mill talks and talks with great enthusiasm. Some of us take shelter from the sun in the shadow of the bus, others hunker down to relieve stress on our knees. As he talks I look across the road at a fine ancient olive tree and the grove behind it. I think: Why can’t we be having this long talk over there – in the shade?
We go to the Relais di Terre di Terre (www.terrediterre.it ) A lovely place, with a large pool and a grassy play area for children. It is 7 kilometres from the beach. We take a look at the stylishly decorated rooms. The soap, and moisture lotion in the rooms is based on olive oil.
We go to another winery and tour the very nice farming equipment museum. At the inevitable tasting I ask if we can taste a sparkling wine. I ask this because it is closing in on 5 pm, everyone is exhausted and droopy. A sparkling wine is what is needed to get us back in a jovial mood. The sommelier very kindly pours a glass of rosé…then we must move on to the Primitivo.
Back in the bus, we ask politely if we can skip the visit to the 17-hectare archeological park and go to the Masseria. “The visit will only take 10 minutes,” says the Promotion Board Lady.
Veronika turns to me and says. “But their 10 minutes is usually 40 minutes”. As it turned out that was much too conservative an estimate.
We take a little tour. Then Our Keeper pulls up in his car. He has taken one of our group back to a winery where she had left her notebook. She is willing to forgo a visit, Our Keeper is not. They enter the park.
Francesca, an intelligent and observant woman who owns Chic and Unique Tours (www.chicanduniquetours.com), Veronika and I sit down on a bench and watch a small pack of adolescent boys kick a soccer ball around. German Chris slouches on an adjacent bench.
“Well, at least it isn’t raining,” says Francesca, who lives in London.
Time passes. Finally the two Promotional Board Ladies and Our Keeper emerge. They stop to chat. Francesca calls Our Keeper’s name several times. He eventually glances our way. “Perhaps we can go now,” she says. “No,” he replies. “We’ve got time.”
In stunned silence we settle back on the bench.
“One of the things I have learned from doing the Yoga tours is to live in the moment,” says Francesca. “Problems are in the Past and in the Future, not in the Present.”
We meditate on this while the adolescent boys play on under a late afternoon sky. Ever so slowly the sky darkens toward dusk. When dusk becomes gloom, the boys put the ball away and head home for dinner. We meditate some more. At last the Promotional Board Ladies and Our Keeper have exhausted every possible thread of their conversation and allow us to board the bus.
We arrive in pitch blackness at Masseria Pepe (www.masseriapepemaruggio.it). “Oh, it is such a pity that you didn’t arrive sooner so you could see the animals,” says our hostess. “Yes, it is,” I reply.
Veronika and I love the romantic and atmospheric use of lighting on the long veranda and around the pool. Again, room décor is an exhilarating blend of rustic and elegant and – once again – the owners and staff are exceptionally kind and helpful.
At dinner – a much appreciated buffet – Our Keeper asked us if we had any suggestions for improving future Educational trips. We did.
3 October The 34th Annual Masi Prize
As always this was an entertaining and thought-provoking affair. It took place at the Verona Philharmonic Theatre, a lovely little jewel box of a venue: crystal chandeliers and gold-leaf abound. Awards were presented to physicist Carlo Rovelli Physiscist, singer Elisa, Michelin-starred chef Massimiliano Alajymo, top-dog sommelier Giuseppe Martinelli and The Italian Navy in the person of Admiral Giuseppe De Giorgi.
27 September New book to review for Publishers Weekly.
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay! (This is not the name of a book, rather it is an expression of delight cadged from Lewis Carroll’s poem Jabberwocky. )
26 September The Colli Euganei At Expo
I arrive on time to give my speech. The host of the event starts his introduction of me. This consists of reciting the CV of the person I am here to fill-in for and a lament on how sorry he was that she isn’t going to be here. And then he basically says: so, here’s Patricia …and mispronounces my last name.
Fortunately my fan club in the front row (thanks Michael and Marina) correct him.
I smile thinking: I didn’t need to get up at five o’clock in order to get to this event on time. I didn’t need to spend half a day writing a speech for this event. I could have spent the time so much more productively writing my Eco interview; or watching groovy, psychedelic reruns of Ironside (the Raymond Burr series); or sleeping.
Fortunately, I have chosen as my topic the Colli Euganei zone, so at least I am able to give them a plug. I really and truly love the Colli Euganei and the nice – if staid – people who live there…and the wine…and the food…and the landscape…and the…well, I’ll stop now.
FOR ITALIAN READERS: Staid means of settled or sedate character; not flighty or capricious.
TIP FOR EVENT ORGANIZERS: Introduce the person who had the courtesy to show up at your event rather than the one you wish had been there.
There were so many people crammed into Expo, with long lines for every restaurant, kiosk and pavilion, that we decided to attend the lunch organized in conjunction with the event at which I participated. The food was provided by Peck (www.peck.it), executive chef Matteo Vigotti. Every dish was perfectly matched with wines provided by 7 Italian celebrities, among them Al Bano, a venerable singer who graciously belted out snatches of his hits a cappella when asked to do so.
23 September Corrado Benedetti
Our pal Maria Grazia picks us up and we head out to Corrado Benedetti Salumi e Formaggio Dalla Lessinia (www.corradobenedetti.it) , a deli that makes its own superb cheeses and salamis. We, and around 8 others, are here to take part in a hands-on cooking demonstration. First we don our white paper coats, shoe-covers and hair nets and shuffle through the new salami-making facility. (I visited the cheese-making building on my last visit.) The work areas are elegantly designed. While you expect pristine conditions, you don’t necessarily expect long low windows that provide stunning views of the nearby valley. Details of this kind make for a happier work environment. No wonder their employees stay with them for decades.
22 September Passport and Tony Hillerman
I go to Milan to renew my passport. I, of course, bring a book to read for the train journey and the waiting around that is bound to occur. When I go up to the window to get my receipt, I put People of Darkness by Tony Hillerman down on the counter and the lady behind the bullet proof glass says: “Oh, my aunt lived next door to him.” I showed her the inscription he had made to me on the title page. We then went on to reminisce about what a very nice man he was. Any of you who have never read Tony Hillerman, I urge you to do so. He has interesting protagonists, loads of Indian/Native American lore and good pacing. I have decided to reread them all.
I return home to find that an Italian journalist has asked me to come to Expo in Milan to give a speech on Saturday morning about what Italian wine zones might be part of a modern Grand Tour of Italy. I will be filling in for someone who has been forced to cancel at the last minute. I agree only because the last time Michael and I went to Expo we spent the entire day in our pal Aldo L.’s wake, which means we tasted Veneto wine and ate Veneto food. This time we want to visit some of the other countries who are participating.
Franco Zanovello (whose wine companies are Ca’Lustra and ZanovellaSicilia)comes to whisk us to the Colli Euganei for the presentation of my new book, The Venetian Hills: A Connoisseur’s Companion to the Colli Euganei. We have a full house at the Biblioteca Civica in Albano, around 55 people. Some of them bought books, all of them were very polite and pleasant.
21 September Patricia and the Professor
I go to interview Umberto Eco for Publishers Weekly. Here is a photo of the Professor showing me a 500 year old book in the incunabula room of his library. Every question I asked him had from 4 to 7 responses, all of them tangentially related. The interview will be difficult to write but it was fascinating to experience.Once I have finished my article for PW, I will put up some quotes.
20 September Sparkling Menu at Villa, my favorite Franciacorta Producer
Alessandra Piubello (I love her last name – it always reminds me of a Bond Girl – Sandy More-beautiful) drives us to the Villa estate (www.villafranciacorta.it)in Franciacorta for the final round of the Sparkling Menu event. We, along with scores of others, are here to taste the 5 top dishes selected to pair with Villa’s versatile Cuvette Brut, a sparkling wine made from Chardonny (85%)and Pinot Nero (15%).
The food and hospitality is superb. First, I will tell you my favorites as far as food/wine paring is concerned. First, for me, was the imaginatively presented dish of Pancetta and various potatoes from the chef at Metamorphosis. The restaurant is located in Lugano, Switzerland. (You can find info about it on the Facebook page and on Trip Advisor).
Coming a close second for me was a beet risotto from the Brescia restaurant Castello Malvezzi. (www.castellomalvezzi.com) I believe that had the rice been cooked a tad longer, it would have been a perfect accompaniment.
The actual winner of the evening was prepared by the friendly and enthusiastic Chef from Aqua Crua in Barbarano Vicentino (www.aquacrua.it. ) His dish was excellent, it just didn’t seem (to me) to go with the wine quite as well as a couple of others.
The other two participants also received high-marks. They are Castello di Casiaglio (in Erba, www.hotelcastellodicasiglio.it) and San Rocco (in Verteneglio, Istria – www.san-rocco.hr/it).
The Bianchi family, who own Villa, kindly let me stay in one of their guest apartments so that I would not have to leave quite so early in the morning in order to make the train to Milan for my interview with Umberto Eco. What nice people they are!
September 17 My first book review
I have received my first book to review: Marco Vichi, Death in Florence. Hip, hip, hip hooray. Fortunately I like the book very much, so writing the review will be easy.
September 15 What I like to Read
I have been asked to review books for Publishers Weekly. The editor asked me give him an idea about what I liked to read. This is what I wrote:
I read mysteries for publishers when I was in New York…and for Book of the Month club I read things that didn’t fit into easy categories (a book on Masai warriors) and artist’s biographies (I had studied art history at university) and, of course, mysteries.
However, a wander through the books on my shelves reveals that my favorite novelists are Nabokov (the first chapter of Lolita is pure poetry), John Updike, William Boyd (except for his James Bond pastiche), Louis de Bernieres (although sometimes the narrative in his books becomes untethered and floats away), Peter DeVries (he makes me laugh out loud). Of course most of these authors are dead. But they have styles I enjoy reading….they play with words and still deliver emotional punch. I will also confess to reading Allison Lurie and Anne Tyler, although they are not displayed on my shelves. They are secret “girly” reading.
I like showbiz biographies, I studied enology, viticulture and wine tasting and have written about wine for closing in on 30 years….so I can assess wine books.
I don’t like those big fat Japanese books – nor do I like those slim, slight Japanese books, where everyone is just soooo sensitive. I don’t like books that pump up their page count by hammering in slabs of Googled “history” and “science”. I am beginning to find the Mystery writers who pump out one big fat book after another, tiresome. I am sure they are nice people but I want to shake them and say firmly: Stop repeating the same story, do something else!
On my bedside table at the moment: Michael Caine’s Autobiography The Elephant to Hollywood, Le Carre’s The Tailor of Panama, Elmore Leonard’s Djibouti and The Name of the Rose.
I will read anything if it is nicely written.
12 September The Film Festival.
We went to the Venice film Festival yesterday (as we do every year). I love the Lido. If someone put a gun to my head and said: You must live in Venice…I would opt for the Lido. It was incredible….great weather and the lovely white beach was practically empty.
We saw three excellent films – each of them harrowing in its own way. About an hour into the film about a girl trapped in the Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai during a terrorist attack. I found myself thinking: Where is Bruce Willis when you really need him?