Archive for Diary
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?
September 3rd George and Toni
My old pal George T. and his granddaughter Toni came from New Zealand for an Italian vacation and stopped to visit me in Verona. Some 20 years ago George was head sommelier at Cesar’s Palace in Las Vegas. He came to visit us then and suggested that Michael and I come to work for him there. He tried to lure us with mentions of 5000 dollar tips. Evidently these tips do not come from high-rollers. Rather they come from the wives and girlfriends who are handed a wadges of money and told to amuse themselves while the gamblers sweat away at the gaming tables. “In two years you can come back to Verona with enough money to buy an apartment,” said George. We considered it for a bit, then realized that while George, with his hooded eyes, soft voice and flirtatious manner, was indeed pulling down the 5000 dollar tips…Michael and I might not fare so well with ladies on the loose.
First things first, my friend and colleague Scott Clemens is a novelist. His first book, With Artistic License, is available in paperback or as a Kindle ebook on Amazon.com. You can preview the first five chapters by going to the ebook version here:
His second novel, Time Management, is scheduled for an autumn release. For a preview, you can read the first few chapters on Wattpad.com here:
His website: SWClemens.com
24 August a Day in Cremona
Guy Marriott, President of the Sherlock Holmes Society of London, and I at the end of our successful day in Cremona. We were scouting venues and events for the Society’s Riechenbach Falls trip that is scheduled for September 2017. We visited the violin museum and had a look at their superb small auditorium, where concerts are performed on instruments that are hundred years old.
19 August Dinner with a view
Antonio Cesari from Brigaldara (www.brigaldara.it) picks us up and whisks us to San Mattia Agroturismo (www.sanmattia.it), Giovanni Ederle’s lovely restaurant and hostelry. The view from the terrace is stunning. If you want an agroturismo holiday, this is the place!
Over dinner Antonio says: “I took you with me the first time I went to America – your book : Speaking of Wine.” I immediately warm to him.
On the way home we start talking about fictional characters who inspire people to put them into a real context. Like Romeo and Juliet, Sherlock Holmes and…Mary Poppins. Antonio told us that when his brother went to London he walked around every single park in the city looking for Cherry Tree Lane, the location of the Banks’ residence. The Banks, if there is anyone in the reading world who doesn’t know, are the employers of Mary Poppins. Antonio also confessed to having a childhood crush on Julie Andrews after seeing the film. What a nice man!
A few days later, I happened to pick up The Collected Essays of Graham Greene. Here is a quote from that book: “Perhaps it is only in childhood that books have any deep influence on our lives. In later life we admire, we are entertained, we may modify some views we already hold, but we are more likely to find in books merely a confirmation of what is in our minds already: as in a love affair it is our own features that we see reflected flatteringly back. But in childhood all books are books of divination, telling us about the future, and like the fortune-teller who sees a long journey in the cards or death by water they influence the future. I suppose that is why books excited us so much.”
August 17 Tim Parks quotes
Here are a couple of nice quotes from my Tim Parks interview that I was unable to fit into my piece for Publishers Weekly:
“Obviously I was aware of people like [Patricia] Highsmith. I admire her a lot but I always thought that the [Ripley] books could have been much funnier. You could see that she just didn’t do humor. And Italy always seems to invite humor. Either humor or desperation because you can go crazy in this country quite easily, particularly if you have to get something done.”
“Crime and Punishment was another book that I think could have been so much funnier. You feel you are morally superior to these people… so, why not.”
August 8 Rafting on the Adige
We go rafting on the Adige with Chievo soccer club supporters. I recommend that anyone visiting Verona in the summer sign up for this adventure. Two hours, soaking wet, a touch of competitive rowing and a look at the underside of Verona’s bridges – all this and a nice commentary on the history of the bridges from the guide. Adige Rafting website http://www.adigerafting.it
August 5 Cheese to the 9th power.
Federica runs me out to Corrado Benedetti Salumi e Formaggio Dalla Lessinia (www.corradobenedetti.it) , a deli and so much more. They make their own superb cheeses and salamis, they have a fine picnic area – complete with barbeques – and a collection of animals – donkeys, deer and sheep. They also rent parking space to campers. I couldn’t help thinking the next Vinitaly (the world’s largest annual wine trade fair, which is held every year in Verona); it might be worth it for visitors to the fair to rent a camper and stay here. The drive into town is a quick 30 minutes. Usually the hotels in Verona up their prices during Vinitaly and are booked up years in advance. Humm, something to think about.
August 2 Re Umberto Eco.
Publishers Weekly asked me to interview Umberto Eco, who has a new book coming out in the USA in November. I, of course, said yes. After I got over my first numbing fear (Umberto Eco: medievalist, philosopher, critically acclaimed and best-selling novelist, scholar, wit, semiologist, professor), I thought: The man’s a genius, he must be used to being around people who are not.
After that I realized I had nothing to worry about, and should just treat his interview like any other interview assignment – except of course I read his book twice, both times with a pen and pad by my side to note the allusions I didn’t quite get. I am working on a sentence about his allusions that goes like this “…from Milton (John) to Manilow (Barry)”
31 July Umberto Eco (!!!!)
I get an email from Publishers Weekly asking if I want to interview Umberto Eco for them. My reply: You betcha!
29 Tim Parks in Milan
I went to Milan to interview Tim Parks for Publishers Weekly about his new book “Painting Death”. Tim Parks, fit and tan in a striped T-shirt, a straw hat shading his face, rolled up on his bike in front of the subway station in the Navigali section of Milan and we set off to find a comfortable bar. Over cold beers we discussed writing, Italy and the irrepressible Morris Duckworth, who is protagonist of his new book Painting Death.
23 through 27 San Gio Video Festival
Every Year – for the past 21 years – on these dates our pal Ugo organizes an international video festival here in Verona. Videos/digital downloads arrive from all over the world.
Members of the Juries this year hailed from Spain, Canada, Italy, Chile and Iran.
70 films from: Germany, Italy, Spain, USA, Ireland, Chile, Russia, Poland, Canada, Mexico, Croatia, Dominican Republic, Iceland, Belgium, Thailand, Saudi Arabia, U.K., Egypt, France, Tunisia, Hong Kong, Bahrain, Austria, Armenia, Australia, Switzerland, Iraq and Greece.
One of the many things that sets this video festival apart is that Ugo organizes Cultural Trips for the juries. By “cultural” I mean, winery visits. He very kindly lets me tag along on these excursions.
We tasted a sparkling Gewurztraminer at Cantina Valdadige. (www.cantinavaldadige.it ) Its freshness and very lightly touch of sweetness made me immediately think of is as being a good by-the-glass drink in a cool, hipster bar.
We visited Az. Ag. Fasoli (Franco). (www.vinifasoli.it ) It was lovely. Mr. Fasoli and family are down to earth and – by gum – they make very nice straight forward Valpolicella – juicy, supple and approachable. The wines are sold mostly at the cellar door or to restaurants in zone. I urge anyone with a restaurant to give these wines a try. Franco also took us to his salami room and we walked through his orchards, eating peaches and figs along the way. It was a delightful visit.
We stopped by Tenuta Santa Maria alla Pieve (www.tenutapieve.com ) and visited fabulous Villa Mosconi Bertani. Among the wines I liked were the Pràgal Igt Verona, a Merlot-Syrah blend that was rich and satisfying (and had a very good quality price ratio!) and the Valpolicella Ripasso. I usually do not like ripasso wines. When not done well they can be clumsy and unintersting. However, the Santa Maria alla Pieve Ripasso was outstanding. It had elegance as well as jucy appealing flavor.
17 July Saved from the heat
I get a call asking me to carry the photographer’s tripod around all day tomorrow. I thank my lucky stars that I already have an appointment and can decline without guilt. Walking around in the slick, slimy heat of summer while totting photographer-paraphernalia for eight hours is not an appealing offer.
16 July Vescovo Moro dinner
We have dinner at the Vescovo Moro with the organizer and teachers of courses for unemployed young-ish people. Diego tells of some of the projects they organize, one of which is a course on mixology (that’s cocktail making to the uninitiated) for people with mental handicaps. “It doesn’t matter if you order a glass of wine and they serve you a mojito,” says Diego. “It is just so nice to see them having fun and learning something new.”
The desserts at the restaurant are super duper! Diego and Alessandra and the crew take a tour of the downstairs area of the restaurant and are suitably impressed.
15 July Back at Scapin for a Slow Food dinner with Cà Rovere
Cà Rovere, located in the Colli Berici, is a sparkling wine specialist. The Colli Berici is just up the road, in a manner of speaking, from the Colli Euganie! (which, in turn, is not far from Padua.) The family owned winery has won its share of awards and is sold mainly in Italy. Alessia Biasin, owner (along with her brothers), spoke about the wines and we then all happily dived into eating the interesting dishes chosen to accompany the wines. Conversation was – of course – mainly about dogs!
Of particular interest was Brut Etichetta Blu 2010 (40% Garganega and 60% Chardonay). “Garganega adds complexity, with its acidity, making this wine good even with fatty foods,” says Alessia. The wine is bright yellow-gold, with a very nice weight in the mouth. Full firm perfumes – an amalgam of under-ripe pears, with an elegant line of salinity.
14 July Dinner at Osteria Enoteca Alcov del Frate
Bertie takes us (Michael, Stanley and me) to the Osteria Enoteca Alcova del Frate (www.alcovadelfrate.it) for dinner. Very impressive. Service was personable and professional. The food was exceptionally well presented: fresh, flavorful and attractive. We had a Soave from Gini to start and then a Montelpulciano d’Abruzzo from Marina Cvetic (www.masciarelli.it ) The other patrons commented on how well behaved Stanley was – when they realized he had actually been sitting under the table quietly receiving morsels throughout our meal.
Here is a photo of Stanley displaying the rawhide ring given to him by Roberta.
12 July Go Chievo
Roberta, Michael and I head up to Giorgino’s family summer house in the hills near Lake Garda. Giorgino is the life and soul of the Chievo Soccer Fan club that Michael and I (in my fashion) belong to. Plates of grilled meats, beans, polenta and an assortment of cakes are consumed. Around 5 o’clock the others go to a Chievo training camp game. I, on the other hand, choose to sit in a very nice plastic chair with a fabulous view of the Lake and read a book. A good time was had by all.
July 10 Tim Parks for Publishers Weekly
I get an email from Publishers Weekly asking me to interview Tim Parks. I am very pleased. I write him and we agree to set up a time and place for the end of July.
July 6 Walking in – Slimey, Slick – Sunshine
I spend 8 hours walking around Verona carrying photographer paraphernalia for the photographer Aldo has chosen for the wee osteria bookie. I am wilting by 7 p.m. when Michael and Stanley pick me up at the Bottega del vino (the last stop of the day). We had planned to go to the movies to see Birdman but I am too exhausted from tramping the streets all day in this heat. So we go to Bar Stella, a fine little hole in the wall just around the corner from Juliet’s House that specializes in organic and biodynamic products – wines, beers and cold cuts.
July 3 Loooong Lunch
I go to a 12:30 business lunch that finished at 6:15. What a surprise….there were 8 people and from 6 countries: Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Russia, UK, Italy, with Susan Hedblad and me representing the USA. It gave our host, Aldo L., a chance to feel like the director of the United Nations.
July 1 In the world and seeing the Veneto
Aldo L. takes Michael, Marta (who works for the Soave winery Pagani) to EXPO in Milan. The theme of this Mega fair, with pavilions from just shy of 100 countries, seems to be sustainability and food. We are pulled along in Aldo’s wake. This means that we visit the Italian wine pavilion, taste Veneto wines and then pick up a lunch at Saporem (4 Consortiums – Mortadella di Bologna, prosciutto San Daniele, Grana Padano and Conegliano Valdobbiadene – who have band together to present their wares at Expo. ) Off for a coffee tasting organized by Aldo at the bar. Then we set off for Verona.
Michael and I force him to stop at Vescovo Moro because the restaurant has space that could be very useful for tastings, presentations and seminars. Marta, who had not been allowed to bring her Soave samples into the fair, gave one to us and one to the barman. I taste it a few days later and am impressed with it. I will certainly keep an eye out for Pagani at future tastings. www.vinipagani.it
25 through 30 In Soave-land with Michael and Stanley.
The organizers of this project have put us up at the Best Western Soave Hotel (www.soavehotel.it) because we are travelling with Stanley Dog. This hotel is wonderful if you have a domestic pet. The staff is universally kind and attentive to animals. Upon checking in you are issued a coverlet for the dog to sleep on if he chooses to sleep on the bed or sofa rather than the bone-shaped cushion provided. They supply stainless steel water and food bowls, dog toys, doggie treats. Oh, yes, it is very nice for people too. Thank you, dear Stanley, for giving us the opportunity to stay here.
I taste 2 Soaves at Monte Tondo (http://www.montetondo.it/ita/cantina.html) I have followed this winery for many years and am happy to report that the quality remains consistently high. And I am even happier to report that the Magnabosco family has developed their estate into a real wine center, offering tastings, cellar visits and a lovely B&B (with swimming pool).
The evening of the 24th Slowfood Dinner with Franco Zanovello
A tasting and dinner with winemaker Franco Zanovello organized by Antonella Bampa, great sommelier and Slow Food representative. The venue: Scapin in Verona. The food and wine matches were excellent and the wines were, as always, superb. I always say that Franco’s wines have the elegance and staying power of Audrey Hepburn. I love them. Oh yes, they also happen to be organic.
19 through 24 June Puglia
Six journalists/five nationalities (Japanese, Swiss, German, Chinese, Hong Kong Chinese and me). We are together for 3 full days from early morning to late at night. And you know what? We all got along. Politeness and friendliness reigned supreme.
We arrive at Massaria Ponenti (www.tenutapotenti.it), a walled oasis of calm in the midst of a vast expanse of palms and olive trees. “We have 60,000,000 olive trees in Puglia,” says Laura, our guide. “That’s one for every person living in Italy.
The first morning I wear a Biba T-Shirt. Junko (Japanese living in Germany) recognized it as from a Swinging 60s Carnaby Street designer. We bond!
After an adventure with the GPS (that included a dead-end and a wait in the parking lot of an egg production plant), we arrive at Varvaglione Vigne & Vini ( www.vigneevini.eu)
We are in Manduria, in the southern part of Puglia. The main wine here is Primitivo di Manduria. “It is called Primitivo because it is an early-ripener,” says Cosimo Varvaglione. “Not because it is a Neandrathal.”
A WINE LESSON: Studies carried out by the University of California at Davis have determined that Zinfandel and Primitivo share elements of the same DNA. As a Puglian producer once put it: “They are like twins separated at birth – one growing up in Manhattan, the other in the Bronx.” (He declined to say which was which.)
The Primitivo di Manduria zone lies on the Salento Peninsula and is limited to the areas around a few communes (one of them being Manduria) in the provinces of Taranto and Brindisi.
As we stroll in the vineyard we often see albarello-trained vines. In France and much of the USA this method is known as Gobelet (or Goblet) and in Australia it is sometimes called bush training. This latter name concisely sums up the method: vines are grown without an external support system, and resemble a bush, with a short trunk and short grape-bearing branches.
END OF LESSON
My criteria for mentioning a wine in my dairy is this: It must be one I would recommend to a friend.
Among the wines that I liked are Varvaglione’s Schacciano 2013, a Negroarmaro. Opaque black center, soft on the palate, black pepper over almost bruised plum. Long fruit-filled finish. A tweed-like texture. . (www.vigneevini.eu)
We lunch on the covered terrace of La Barca di Ciro, overlooking the sea. The food was fresh and flavorful, the view superb and the company amusing.
On to Jorche (www.jorche.it) Very new. Very modern. Before 2010 they sold in bulk. “We think the future is in bottled wine and hospitality,” says Emauela Gianfreda, winemaker/co-owner.
We dine at Antica Masseria Jorche. “The cooks are ladies from the town, Not chefs,” says Emanuela. And of course, like everywhere in Puglia, the food is excellent.
On to Tenute di Eméra.(www.claudioquarta.it). The wine I liked best here was Sud del Sud 2012. 70% Negroamaro/Primativo), 14% Merlot, 14% Syrah, 2% Cabernet Sauvignon. ) vibrant deep ruby with a fucshia rim. Very interesting nose: earth a find tapestry of fruit flavor ripe plums, mulberries good acidiy. Long finish. The owners of the estate have a superb herb garden and are seriously interested in sustainability and the environment.
We head Salice Salentino and the historic winery: Leone di Castris. (www.leonedecastris.it). Every now and then journalists decide to write The-Strong-Women-who-Shaped-the-Wine-Trade article. They pull out the Widow Clicquot and Madame Pommery. I would like to suggest that these journalists add the name Donnalisa, whose portrait hangs in a wood paneled reception room at the company’s headquarters. She believed in paying women the same wage as men and she provided daycare before that word even existed. As our guide said: “She was a very clever woman. Many times she gave her husband good advice on how to go ahead with business. Many of the policies she initiated were revolutionary. That is why many of our products are dedicated to her.”
Of the many wines we tried and enjoyed, I will mention the 2012 Five Roses Sparkling Rosé: Coppery-pink. Bright, fresh. Salinity along with an undertow of frozen strawberries on the palate.
This wine went down a treat at a dinner at which Junko gave me tips on cooking with tofu – a container of miso is in my future.
We head to Andria in the northern part of Puglia, and the Rivera winery (www.rivera.it). We meet with Sebastiano de Corato, the president of the Consorzio Movimento Turismo del Vino Puglia, and owner of the Rivera winery.
WINE LESSON: The principal grape in this area is now Nero d’Troia (a.k.a. Uva di Troia.) It is safe to say that Rivera was instrumental in developing the potential of this indigenous variety. Rivera experimented with vinification methods and vineyard techniques designed to bring out the variety’s fresh violet scents.
END OF LESSON
Over lunch someone asked when Sebastiano and I had first met. I said I couldn’t remember. He, however, said: “We met at Vinexpo in Bordeaux in 1991. We went around tasting together and then you went back and wrote an article about my winery. I was so angry with you.”
“Why?” I asked, surprised because I really liked Rivera wines then and I like them now.
“Because in your article you described me as ‘the Harry Potter of Puglian Wine’. Oh that made me angry.”
He has forgiven me. Look at the photo of Sebastiano as he is today. For those of you who can, try to peel away over twenty years and imagine dark hair and round tortoiseshell glasses: I rest my case.
We lunch at Antichi Sapori, where chef and owner Pietro Zito whips up sensational dishes that include ingredients that he grows in his large garden.
This is a photo of Carlo, the photographer , tasting one of the fabulous desserts at Antichi Sapori.
“This restaurant is very important for the whole region. The village was practically abandoned until Pietro started the restaurant 25 years ago. Now there are 8 restaurants in the area,” says Sebastiano.
One of the wines we drink at lunch is Rivera’s 2000 Il Falcone, made primarily from Nero di Troia. Closely-knit flavors – berries, red liquorice, finely textured.
18 June Tedeschi Dinner
The diner is in honor of Professor Thomas Hoffmann, Director of the Bioanalytics Department of the Central Institute for Nutrition and Food Research at the University of Munich. His work is focused on the elucidation of the molecular mechanisms of human taste perception and the structures of biomolecules with chemosensory activity. In short, that means he has been doing research on the pleasure response to certain molecules in wine – in particular Amarone…and even more precisely Tedeschi Amarone. “At the beginning of this research my colleagues and I tasted through a large sample of Amarones and we found the Tedeschi wine gave us great pleasure so we chose it for our studies,” says Hoffmann.
14 June Bomba!
They found an unexploded WWII Bomb in The Arsenale (which is now a children’s park, a dog run and, on Thursday mornings, a farmer’s market). We are in the orange zone…right across the street from the Red Zone. People there must leave their home by 9 a.m. and not return until the afternoon. We must turn off the gas, stay away from the windows and not leave the apartment. Men and women from the Protezione Civile in their iridescent lemon-line jumpsuits are policing our streets.
Frankly, Michael’s attempt to re-light the gas after this is over is likely to be much more dangerous for us than the bomb.
Here is the address of a medley of Whoops I did it Again and Sex Bomb (which comes at 1 minute and 40 seconds in) performed by Max Raabe and the Palast Orchestra.
13 June Sherlock Holmes in Verona!!!
This year’s National Meeting of the Uno Studio in Holmes association – titled Holmes e Watson: I due Gentiluomini di Verona – was held in Verona. Why was the convention here this year rather than Florence or Naples or Rome, as usually happens? Well, you can put it down to the persistence of Bruce, whose Sherlockian commitment is more a symptom than a hobby. He cannot have a regular conversation; he can only talk, talk, talk about Sherlock Holmes and because I am the only person in Verona who understands his ramblings, he talks to me. He had evidently also talked to the president of Uno Studio in Holmes, Michele Lopez, (on a weekly basis, I gather) about the joys of having Verona as the venue.
I arrive at the Biblioteca Civica to find Bruce, his large backpack filled with his collection of Victorian photo albums, pacing in front of the still-locked doors of the library. He spies me: “We’re the first ones here!” he cries joyously. It makes me happy to see him in such good humor.
The others arrive and we troop up the stairs to a beautiful meeting room. Richly-colored frescos cover the top third of the walls. There are elegant plants, surprisingly comfortable chairs and, best of all, the room is air conditioned. My hat is off to my old pal Claudio Gallo, former head librarian of the Biblioteca, who suggested this venue.
The speeches include a cross referencing of Shakespearean and Holmes quotes, and a talk by Carmen S. about the suspicious similarities between the film Young Sherlock Holmes and the Harry Potter books. She made a good case to support her conviction that more than a little cross-pollination of ideas occurred by citing the times that Chris Columbus (director of Young Sherlock) and J.K. crossed paths…and at times…swords.
I gave a little talk entitled: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (Not to Mention the Dog): Italians in the Canon.
During all of the presentations, Bruce wandered in and out of the room, rustled papers, engaged people in urgent whispered conversations, rummaged in his rucksack and rooted around in plastic bags. During my fifteen-minute speech he tried three times to engage the moderator – who was sitting 6 inches from me – in crucial (for Bruce) conversations. Listening politely to others is a skill that Bruce has yet to learn.
During his fist interruption, although I kept talking, I was in fact thinking that had the disruption been caused by anyone else but Bruce I would have stopped my speech and said in my firm training-the-puppy voice: “Shut up and sit down”. But I realized that getting angry at him would be as pointless as being angry with a cat because it won’t sit in a chair and eat its slab of processed liver with a knife and fork. I mean, you have to recognize the nature of your fellow creatures and accept them.
At the end of the event a Sherlockian said to me: “We have given Bruce a gift.” And indeed they had. This just may have been the most fulfilling day of his life.
I then went up to Bruce and patted him on the back and said: Congratulations., You’ve done it.” To which he replied: “I could do this every year! Yes, a yearly event! I could do it …with your help.”
My blood ran cold. I realized that we must not only recognize the limitations of our fellow creatures but we must also recognize our own. The thought of listening to Bruce’s endless loop of self-referential Sherlockian babble daily for the weeks or perhaps months necessary to organize a national event would stretch my ability to be a kind and quiet listener to breaking point. I took a step back and said: “I don’t think that would be a good idea.” I turned and walked briskly to the door.
June 11 Bravo! Roberto Bravi
Roberto, a former sommelier and skilled juggler, is also an artist of note. I have written about him in this diary several times over the years. He wrote to tell me that works from his Metal Pictures collection will be used as part of the stand at a fashion show in Florence this month.
10 June To the Vicentinis for Cherries
Agostino Vicentini and his wife Teresa Bacco make very fine Soave and Valpolicella. They are also skilled fruit growers. It is a pleasure to stroll through their cherry orchards.
9 June Books And the Best Meal I have eaten in Verona
We go to a presentation for a book titled: “I Segreti: dal territoria, dei vigneti e del vino Amarone della Cantina Valpantena“. An excitably historian gave an impassioned speech about promiscuous agriculture. And then Diego Tomasi gave an excellent presentation of the book’s highlights. I like Mr. Tomasi. He can express his views in very technical terms when called upon to do so, or, as today, he can explain things clearly for the layman.
I have already written about it for a booklet on Verona’s osterias (but a few cafes and other eateries are included), which will be published in the coming months. Here is what I wrote.
“The Vescovo Moro (Via Pontida 3 Tel. 045 8035084) is not an osteria. However, wine and food lovers cannot pass through San Zeno without stopping in for an aperitivo or a meal. The interior design manages to be warm as well as sleek and chic. The ground floor dining room seats around 60. There is a large window behind the bar that allows guests to watch the chefs at work. The food is imaginative and delicious. The wine list is excellent – listing the grape variety and style of each wine. They offer a variety of gluten-free pastas, which the diner can match with any of the sauces, and vegetarians will not go hungry. Downstairs, which can be reached by an elevator as well as by a wide staircase, is an enoteca (wine shop), a wine tasting room, as well as a room for cheese and salami tastings.”
Everything at tonight’s dinner was perfectly perfect. The food was fresh and the flavors were well-balanced and lively. I had raw fish with a whipped lemon condiment and for dessert I had a Campari semifreddo, accompanied by a small pile of candied orange peel slivers. Wonderful: bitter and sweet and sour all at the same time.
The wines – Franciacorta, Champagne and Nosiola – were top notch. The Nosiola was a real surprise. I have tasted it several times…but it is not a variety that jumps out at me when perusing a wine list. Manoman, it was perfect with my raw fish, our pal’s steak tartar, Michael’s rice/seafood salad and our other pal’s spaghetti with tomatoes and shellfish. OOOOO and then they gave us little glasses of their homemade ginger liqueur.
Damiano P. said at least three times (with real wonder in his voice): ”I prezzi sono onesti” (The prices are fair.) I said to Michael that I would investigate suggesting this restaurant to the people at the Villa winery in Franciacorta for their next Sparkling Menu competition. If the Vescovo Moro chef were asked to create a dish to go with a wine, I have no doubt that it would be superb, surprising and satisfying.
6 June Crying at the Gipsotec
Guerrieri Rizzardi (www.guerrieri-rizzardi.it), which helps sponsor the annual Antonio Canova sculpture competition, kindly invited us to visit the Museo e Gipsoteca Antonio Canova in the tiny town of Possagno, in the province of Treviso. Though the town is small (some 2000 inhabitants) the number of visitors to the museum runs into the tens of thousands.
The tour was – as always – entertaining and enlightening and I would recommend that anyone with even a passing interest in art or history (or exotic plants) make the pilgrimage to this splendid place.
There was also a show of sculptures by a contemporary sculptor.
“It is minimalist art,” they said.
“Perhaps it is just small ideas,” I thought.
3 June Villa Sparkling Menu at a restaurant in Verona
I have been invited to be part of the jury for “Sparkling Menu”, an event organized by the Franciacorta producer, Villa. The idea is to challenge chefs to create a dish that is a good match for a particular sparkling wine – their Cuvette.
I have been at the final of this event several times and the matches have been phenomenal. Well, this year they asked me to be on the Verona jury. They also will have juries in Naples, Brescia and other cities.
We go to a restaurant that is part of a boutique hotel in the center of Verona. The décor is nice. The internal courtyard is lovely. We are primed with 2 or 3 glasses of Villa’s really fine Extra Brut and then we go into dinner. Yikes! The chef (who has only been there 4 months) cannot blend flavors (or, perhaps, discordant is his style.) The only dish that worked for me was a deconstructed Russian Salad…in which the ingredients were supposed to be separated. Then the dish he had chosen for Cuvette was served. Each judge (sommeliers and food and wine writers) was given a sheet of paper on which to score the wine pairing and the dish. I gave it a 7 out of 10 to be kind, knowing that out there somewhere in Naples or Brescia or wherever there would be 8s, 9s, and 10s.
Across from me was a journalist from the local paper. She handled the breadsticks the way Groucho Marx handled his cigar. She spoke to no one for the entire dinner. I tried to engage her in conversation over the apertifs to no avail. She sat there and poked at her cellphone. She was sitting between one of the owners of the place and a very sweet, non-threatening but knowledgeable sommelier; so there was no excuse for her behavior. Has she never dined in a restaurant? Has she never been forced to talk to strangers as part of her job? (Journalists interview strangers all the time!)
If the food had been exceptional, I might not have spent the evening amusing myself by imaging her with Groucho eyebrows and moustache.
May 25 Villa’s Annual Tasting (www.villafranciacorta.it/)
Around 50 people gather at the Villa estate in Franciacorta for the 21st annual tasting of older vintages. Franciacorta, just to refresh your memory, is a sparkling wine made with the same method as that used in Champagne. This means that the second fermentation – the one that makes the bubbles – takes place in bottle. The production zone is located in Lombardy. The wine producers here have always impressed me; it would be difficult to find one who does not make decent wine. And then there are those, like Villa, who make simply superb wines.
A famous sommelier, on hand at this occasion, says: “These aren’t just wines for aperitifs, they are wines you can drink from morning to night, anytime of day.”
I think of AUNTIE MAME. This is a novel by Patrick Dennis, which was subsequently made into a Broadway show and later a film, both starring Roz Russell. There was also a Broadway musical version starring the wonderful Angela Lansbury. This too was made into a film with Lucille Ball in the title role. The reason why the sommelier’s remark made me think of Auntie Mame will be clear to anyone who has read/seen Auntie in one of her versions.
We taste the 2008, 2007, 2006, 2001, 2000, 1999,1998, 1997, 1994 and 1993 vintages of Villa’s Extra Brut.
Among my favorites:
The 1994. Amazingly fresh. You are aware that it is mature but it is
still vibrant and alive.
The 1997 was light and lively. Yes, there was a delicate butterscotch line in there – still fresh and satisfying.
The 2006: A balance between delicacy and strength. A sparkling wine for grownups. There is an idea of melting butterscotch on the palate. A coconut cream note and an attractive vibration of sweetness on the long finish.
I miss wines like these. When I started in the wine trade (three decades ago!), you could find wine that matured gracefully, developing enticing tertiary aromas, while remaining alive on the palate. Nowadays it is not so common to come across such wines.
I was asked to remark on the vintages, and I referred to them as having maturità con grazia (graceful maturity). This phrase struck a chord with several of those present. One young journalist came up and said she was going to use it as the title for her article. This was gratifying because it is nice to know that even though I speak Italian badly I can still communicate.
If you happen to be looking for a caterer/restaurant in Lombardy, try Antica Cascina San Zago. (www.anticacascinasanzago.it) They provided the superb lunch – everything fresh, pure and savory. It could not have been better.
Every time I come to Villa, I think of Kyle Philips. I miss him still. He was a big man who looked like a former high school football player, with a burr haircut and a plaid shirt. He was also witty, intelligent, knowledgeable and kind. The annual Villa event was the only fixed meeting point for us, although we occasionally ran into each other in Tuscany, where he lived with his wife and two children, or other tasting venues. We always sat together at these events because we liked each other and we knew that our conversation would revolve around books, writers and ideas. Yes, I will always miss him and think of him when occasions like this arise.
May 23 Soave Le Battistelle
We go to Soave for an event concerning the 2014 harvest, and taste through wines from the vintage.
Once again Le Battistelle stands out. Very good wine from a difficult vintage. Over the last few years Le Batistelle has always made it into my list of top Soaves. If you see this name on a wine-list, order it. It you are looking for a new Soave to import. Taste it. You will not be disappointed.
May 19 Stanley the Foto-modello
My pal Glynis Macri has won a photographic award with a photo of…Stanley! It was taken in Friuli when Glynis and I were there for a mega Pinot Grigio tasting. Stanley accompanied me. The photo deserves to be on the back flap of a book….I suppose now Stanley will have to write one. “The author divides his time between his home and the Osteria Carroarmato.
I take Stanley for a stroll and tell everyone we meet about his international fame. At the Osteria Sottoriva, Franco gives Stanley a meatball as a prize for being so photogenic. We then head to the Hostaria Vecchia Fontanina for an aperitif. When we tell the chef about Stanley’s photo, he goes into the kitchen and pinches off a bit of tartar for my little doggie. So, thank you Glynis!
May 18 I am on the Radio
I was interviewed about the Colli Euganei book (THE VENETIAN HILLS: A CONNOISEUR’S COMPANION TO THE COLLI EUGANEI). If anyone would like to hear me speaking truly appalling Italian, my interview starts at around 5 minutes, 30 seconds into the show. I also say that I think the Colli Euganei is much more interesting and beautiful than Tuscany! https://soundcloud.com/madeinitalyradio/puntata-56-del-18-maggio-2015
May 11 & 12 Country Dancing in PiazzaBra and Chievo Calcio Fan Club cowboy grub.
In the next few weeks we will be visiting a family with horses (and a swimming pool and a hammock). Oh, if only I could get my pal Marty (who owns a ranch and teaches riding) to express mail us a couple of cowboy hats from the USA!
10 May Coffele Soave in Piazza Bra
Here is a picture of Chiara Coffele on the Listone (across from the Roman Arena) pouring her family’s wonderful Soave! Igenio played the accordion, Ugo recited poems to bewildered tourists and a good time was had by all.
9 May Tasting in Chaos
Matteo and Corina come over and I put them through some blind tasting practice. I also put a ringer in the group: a Speri Amarone 1995. I was pleasantly surprised to find that it still had a bit of stuffing left. They both thought it was younger. And the wine had not been stored in the best conditions these last two years of its life. When we moved to this apartment I didn’t immediately find the coolest place to store the wine.
May 7 Bruce Turns up at my door
After years of lobbying Bruce (you may read about Bruce in previous diary entries) has finally convinced the Italian national Sherlock Holmes club (Uno Studio in Holmes) to have a convention here in Verona. He arrives breathless at my door, takes a seat and talks and talks and talks. I listen. This is my role in his life. He very kindly asks me to present something during the day. My speech will be titled: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: Italians in the Canon.
For those who want to learn more about Sherlock Holmes, I can highly recommend THE SHERLOCK HOLMES MISCELLANY by Roger Johnson & Jean Upton
“This work belongs in the hands of every Sherlockian who has had to explain the lure of Baker Street.” — The Baker Street Journal http://www.thehistorypress.co.uk
Ivanka di Felice, author of A ZANY SLICE OF ITALY, sent me a copy of her book to read…and reading it was a pleasure. The prose is clean and episodes are fast paced. It is a book for people who are married to Italians (or want to be) or who have friends with Italian in-laws. The episodes in this book ring absolutely true. She has captured the zany side of life here.
April 29 Villa Bucci
I have made a kind of goulash and decide to open a bottle of wine. I choose Villa Bucci Rosso 2010. I love Villa Bucci – the wines are fruity, well-structured and satisfying.
April 26 The Shopping Network
We go to Milan for a tasting. We meet Angela, a lively, mid-twenty-ish woman in a lace mini-dress. One of her jobs is to act as spokesperson for an Italian Jewelry Company in the USA and Australia. She will be flying out to Minnesota (which is evidently a major center for Shopping Network programs) in a few days. She is interviewed on the shopping shows about Italy and her employer’s new line of products. I am absolutely sure she is fabulous in this job. She is intelligent and…well…the word “bubbly” hardly does her justice. Who knew that such a job existed? Not me.
April 22 Big Chievo Dinner
We go to the headquarters to wait for our ride to the Big Chievo fan clubs dinner. All the players and coaches and the owner of the team will be there, along with around 500 soccer fans.
Our pal Sabrina wrote to the producers of Uomani e Donne (Men and Women), a very popular Italian TV show that purports to match up couples. Here is her story:
“I got a call on Tuesday asking if I could come to Rome on Thursday. I said yes, because I wanted to be on TV. When I got to the train station in Rome there was a limousine waiting for me. Everybody in the station looked at me like I was a movie star. I had brought along a dress to wear. I still have good breasts and the dress showed them off. Well, they said I couldn’t wear it and made me wear a white suit with a plain blouse. I said: okay because I wanted to be on TV. Then they put a whole lot of makeup on me and the hairdresser started blowing out my hair to make it straight and parted it on the side. I never war my hair like that because it makes my nose look too big. But there was nothing I could do to convince them to leave my hair alone. Finally I get my chance to go into the studio. There are all these lights and cameras and people. I was pretty nervous. I stand there in front of the man contestant and he says to me: Do you have any tattoos? I said: yes. And he said: You can go now. And that was it. At least I got to ride in a limo.
On the way home from the dinner someone asks Sabrina what her next venture into television will be. “Contardino cerca Moglie” “There’s this rich farmer in Tuscany…..”
We go to the Hotel (and Spa) Millepini in Montegrotto. My oh my. It has the deepest pool in the world – 42 meters at its deepest part. People from all over the world come to practice scuba diving here. There are also classes that teach babies to swim. Large windows in the foyer /bar area allow you to watch the proceeding. I am mesmerized.
Lucio Gomiero, owner of Vignalta says: “It’s the anti-Prosecco par excellence,” says Lucio.
April 19 Chievo soccer fans host Udinese soccer fans before the big game.
April 12 through 16 The International Consorso
I have been participating as a judge at the International wine competition held at the fair in Verona for the last few days. Blind tasting morning and afternoon – some 40 wines a day.
My goodness! I had a flight of what I believe was supposed to be Proseccos…all but 2 of the 13 tasted like laboratory experiments. They tasted constructed rather than the result of the fermentation of grapes.
So far I have given my highest score to a Lambrusco. Why? Because it was exactly what it was supposed to be – from the purple froth to the lively grapey fragrance and taste. It did not try to be something more or different.
On the last day, we taste wines that have already been vetted by other panels. The flight of reds is good – I would be happy to have any of them on my table in a restaurant.
I am usually the first one back from break. We do around 12 wines take a little break and come back for 12 more. Then it is lunch. In the afternoon we repeat the 12-break-12 routine. The photo was snapped by an oenologist named Paolo, who was on my commission. He said: “My wife reads lots of books too. And then she tells me about them so I don’t have to read them.”
I only do the morning tasting session at the Concorso in order to go to the Carroarmato and taste wines with Ricardo and Laura (his wife and a really good taster) and Annalisa (owner of the Carroarmato). Ricardo started his business a couple of years ago importing Italian sparkling wines into Peru. He is now expanding his line and wanted us to taste his selections and give some assessments of quality levels. Very interesting tasting. My favorite was a ringer that Annalisa poured for us. We tasted the wine blind and I liked it very much. What a happy surprise when it was revealed to be a Valpolicella from Viviani, one of my favorite Amarone/Valpolicella producers. The wine was round, satisfying and food-friendly.
Then on to the Osteria 23 for Ugo’s Birthday Poetry Shout. This is a photo of Ugo that, I believe captures the moment.
April 15: Hooray for Monica!
Monica Sommacompagna at her book launch yesterday for her novel L’Uomo Senza Etichetta. I have just started reading it….wonderful! Hooray for Monica!April 26, 2015
April 2: Combat Poetry
Our pal Glenn (poet and book shop clerk from Connecticut) read his poetry at Osteria 23 in Verona. He had come to town a couple of days earlier. The first evening of his stay we were having an aperitif at the Filippini and in came Ugo. (Michael often calls Ugo when we have out of town visitors because seeing Ugo is a must – like seeing the Great Pyramids or the Eiffel Tower). And when I introduced Glenn as a poet, Ugo said: “He must come to my Thursday night poetry session.” What a night. It was like doing dinner theatre or singing in a Vegas lounge. But Glenn was a pro: Reading poems in English to a room full of Italians, many of whom were tucking into their seafood salad, takes nerve. The book shop he words at, by the way is The Book Barn.
31 March BOOKS, GLORIOUS BOOKS
Kate and Ed come to Verona (from the USA) along with poet, pal and Book Barn (BookBarnNiantic.com) clerk, Glenn Shea, who brought me a satchel of 14 books. Among them was a copy of Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury. I love pre-owned books and this one had belonged to a soldier, who, when assigned to Viet Nam some 40 years ago, had had 400 books leather bound and shipped off with him. Holding this little volume, I felt a sweep of emotion. This soldier had loved Dandelion Wine as much as I did. It was as if – across space and time – we were sharing something profound. So thank you to Glenn for bringing it and thank you to Cleo C. Bresett Jr., the soldier who loved it and took care of it til the day he died.
We meet Ugo for a drink and I introduce Glenn as a poet. “You must read your poetry at my Thursday night poetry evening,” declares Ugo. So Glenn will perform his English-language poems to a group of Italian poetry lovers.
26 LUNCH WITH NEVILLE BLECH
Neville and I met while waiting for a bus that was to take us to a dinner in Valpolicella during the Vinitaly hoopla. We bonded big time in the 45 minutes we spent trailing after our keeper and decided to meet for lunch when the Big Fair was over. There is nothing like adversity to bring people together.
A New York PR guy sees me and says: It’s great to be here, isn’t it?
I reply: No. It is great to be in a place with a hammock and alot of sun. It is…okay to be…here.
Here are the producers I visited who made wines that rang my chimes – as we used to say.
For those unfamiliar with this expression: in this context, it means wines than not only give sensual pleasure but also give intellectual pleasure. In the best cases, it means: wines that life my spirits and make my heart sing.
Umberto Bortolotti’s (www.bortolotti.com) Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore Brut Rive di Col S. Martino “Castel de Donà” was one of the best sparkling wines I have ever tasted – and I love sparkling wines. It was like a classical-ballerina: powerful yet with lilghter-than-air grace. Absolutely exceptional. Full, fragrant, sorbet-like apricot fruit, with a sprightly infusion of steely minerality.
Maeli’s (www.maeliwine.it ) 2013 Fior d’Arancio – Moscato Giallo 100% fragrant, a burst of apricot sorbet on the middle palate. Then a minerally undertow. “It is like Dr. Jeckle and Mister Hyde,” says Elisa Dilavanzo, the manager of the estate. “It starts sweet but becomes dry.”
She recomends drinking it with raost rabbit with olives or eel mousse. Neither one of which is a mainstay on my table. I would like to try it with Nasi Goreng or other chill-hot Asian dishes.
Pasini San Giovanni 100% , mad from – yes – 100% Gropello. This is one of my favorite wines, year after year.
A different kettle of fish but none the less pleasing and satisfying is the Bardolino Chiaretto from Le Tende (www.letende.it ). I have followed this company’s wines for years and they always end up on my list of favorites when I taste Bardolinos.
I made my annual pilgrimage to visit the Librandi (www.librandi.it) stand. Librandi makes superb wines from Calabrian indigenous varieties. One of my favorties is the Efeso Val di Neto Bianco IGT. It is made from 100% Mantonico. This vibrant, complex wine combines a steely note of minerality with a creamy sensation on the nose and palate. The flavor for me is an amalgam of delicate tones of nettle, elderflowers and toffee.
I stopped by the Di Lenardo stand (www.dilenardo.it) because everyone on the stand loves dogs and has a sense of humor! What a pleasure. I particularly liked their coppery Pinto Grigio – fresh, fruity and appealing.
Tramin (www.cantinatramin.it ) Nussbaumer 2013 Gewürztraminer is a Gewürztraminer for grownups. I also tried the 2007 vintage of this wine. Deep yellow, fresh, intriguing…it was a wine that took me to a higher level. Superb.
Roncsoreli’s (www.roncsoreli.com) 2013 Friulano is one of the best I have ever tasted – good structure, an attractive salinity over apricot fruit. The palate follows the nose.
I asked Tania Princic, in charge of export sales for Roncsoreli, what she would serve with this wine. Her answer: Prosciutto San Daniele.
Let me go on record as saying I really like Friulano. I even liked it back in the days when it was called Tocai. My taste identifiers for Friulano: a slight saline note on the nose alongside scents of wildflowers, good structure and creamy texture. I often find ghosts of apricot and crème patisserie.
Roncsoreli’s Scioppettino 2009 had all of the characterisitcs of classic Schioppettino: dark ruby color, full bodied, with a soft black pepper tone over richly textured fruit flavors, which include wild blackberries, raspberries and blackcurrants.
The Scioppettino grape variety appeared on the Friulian wine scene around 1300. It is primarily cultivated in the hills and foothills of the commune of Prepotto. In its early days, Schioppettino was more commonly known as Ribolla Nera.
In the years following the outbreak of phylloxera (a vine louse that infected many of the vineyards of Europe in the late 19th and early 20th century), Schioppettino lost ground to heartier-high-yielding varieties. The 1970s and 1980s saw renewed interest in Scioppettino, and in 1992, it joined the list of varietal wines made in the Colli Orientali del Friuli DOC zone.
The lesson is over, we can now return to the diary…
Fattoria Zerbina (www.zerbina.com) Il Marzeino 2009 (a blend of Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon, with a bit of Merlot, syrah and ancelottaA velvety sensation on the nose. So fresh and youthful with a rich burst of rond cherry-like fruit on the middle palate. Fruity filled finish. A very atrractive wine.
Zerbina’s Torre di Ceparano Sangiovese di Romagna 2011. Elegant with a juicy soul. Lively on the palate. A long flavorful finish.
Ca Lustra’s (www.calustra.it) Moro Palo 2011 is a blend of Merlot and Carménère, with a bit of Cabernet. This is an exceptionally nice entry-level wine – satisfying and full on the palate.
Tedeschi’s (www.tedeschiwines.com) Capitel dei Nicolo Valpolicella 2013. Fragrant, almost perfumed. Very attractive.
“Some of the grapes undergo a light drying before pressing,” says Sabrina Tedeschi. “The Valpolicella zone is made up of many styles and price ranges. The zone is also comprised of many different types of soils and exposures – not all of which are capable of making Amarone,” Sabrina continues. “We are going against the trend a bit: while others are making more Amarone, we are increasing the production of our Valpolicella.”
Another producer who is bucking the trend is Agostino Vicentini (www.vinivicentini.com/ he is perhaps best known for his superb Soaves). His Valpolicella Superiore Palazzo di Campiano 2011 is an excellent, satisfying wine.
“This is Valpolicella like it used to be – no semi-dried grapes,” says Agostino. “We use properly ripened grapes – not immature, not overripe. We can do this because there are only 4 bunches on each vine. It also helps that the vineyard is 450 meters above sea level.”
21 THAI SPAGHETTI WITH THE CHIEVO SUPPORTERS CLUB
27 February Hoopla in Venice
A photo of me with Franco Zanovello (who makes wonderful wine) in Venice at the Grancaffé Quadri (www.alajmo.it) for the presentation of the book, The Venetian Hills: A Connoisseurs Companion to the Colli Euganei. St. Mark’s Square was filled with sunshine. The ornate room was filled with friends (some of them brand new), the snacks were superb (the best tartar I have ever eaten), the wine was provided by my favorite producers.
Thank you to everyone…particularly to the members of The Strada del Vino of the Colli Euganei who sponsored the book and who offered insightful suggestions. Thanks also to Giulia Reato of Terra Ferma, who is an attentive and creative editor in both Italian and English. And, of course, a great big thank you to Franco who was instrumental in keeping the book alive.
I was fortunate enough to have pals at the event who took some super photos. The one of the bottles was taken by Annamaria Farina. The others were snapped by Susan Hedblad and Louise Lewis.
22/23 February Sangiovese di Romagna
It is time for my annual love-letter to Sangiovese di Romagna:
I have been following the development of this wine for over two decades, and every year the number of producers who make high quality examples grows larger. And every year, my pleasure in tasting this versatile wine increases.
Sangiovese is the most widely-planted grape variety in Italy and is perhaps best known as a major component (or, in some cases, the only variety used) in a long list of famous wines, most notably Chianti and the Tuscan classics such as Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. Like Pinot Noir it is a site-sensitive grape and for this reason the wines of Romagna stand out for me.
Along with the cherry-near-the pit fruit flavor and silky texture that distinguishes the variety, Sangioveses from Romagna have an appealing roundness and softnenss on the palate that makes them very versatile when it comes to matching them with food. Often, when I am tasting wines, food partners for them seem to blossom in my imagination. And with Sangiovese di Romagna I often think of (and indeed eventually serve it with) vegetarian dishes – from bean burritos to nut and lentil casseroles – as well as the more traditional partners such as pasta with meat sauce, or roast and grilled meats. Its broad, soft berry fruit balanced by sprightly acidity also make it a fine match for Chinese Imperial-Style Grilled Spareribs or Kashmir Rogan Josh. And the very qualities that make this wine good with vegetarian cuisine makes it one of the few reds that can be successfully matched with Satay.
My favorite producers remain Fattoria Zerbina and Drei Dona.
At the big tasting I asked one of my favorite sommeliers to suggest a producer or two. She named two producers whose wines I liked: Cantina Braschi (“Montesasso” – clean and juicy) and Francesconi (“Le Iadi” – nice, also organic).
9 february TheVerona Sherlock Holmes Tour (sort of )
Peggy Perdue getting the park bench tour of Verona. We saw all the important Sherlockian landmarks: the Filippini for aperitifs and the Osteria Carroarmato for lunch (with our dog Stanley).
Then we took in a photographic exhibit of pictures by Tina Modotti, silent film actress and pal of the Riveras in Mexico. Pablo Neruda composed her epitaph. I wish the exhibit information-signs had been a little more forthcoming with the juicy details of her life…but I suppose they did not want to overshadow her work.
31 January Amarone Anteprima
We sat through a mercifully brief (one hour) presentation about the 2011 vintage (this is the one being shown today) and then a series of slides that showed how Amarone is doing in the super market sector in a few countries. This led me- and I am sure many other journalists – to ask ourselves: Is the supermarket sector really the target for fine Amarone? Oh well.
We met up with our pal Alfonso C. and tasted and chatted our way through the two large rooms of stands.
I did not taste every wine. I am still recovering from the cold and – frankly – the thought of plowing through 25 or more highly-alcoholic and (let’s say) zesty (to avoid saying acidic) red wines held little appeal for me.
Here are the highlights:
Amarone Corte Sant’Alda. Marinella Camerani asked me what I thought of the wine. As usual, when I am excited, my hands fluttered and I found myself spontaneously miming the wine. It is a habit that I cannot break – it just happens…
“Look you’re dancing. My wine is a tango,” says Marinella.
A producer I had not tried before was Marco Secondo. We tried the 2011 and the 2009. Very nice. I will put the producer on my list of winemakers to watch; I want to see how the wines develop. Also the labels had a touch of whimsy (the drawing of a tiny strongman lifting a barbell over his head), which never hurts.
We stopped by old pals: Zanone, Villa Bella,Massimago, Roccolo Grassi, Santa Sofia.
For other old friends whom I did not visit: I’m sorry. And I will try to make it up to you. But you know as well as I do that when you don’t feel well, it is best not to dive into marathon tasting.
Michael, Stanley and I meet up with Alfonso and go to the Carroarmato for dinner – and a good time is had by all.
30 January Entering into Celestino Gaspari’s head
I, and some 25 Italian wine journalists, arrive at Celestino Gasparai’s Zyme winery for a view of the new structure and a tasting of 7 vintages of Harlequin (1999from 1999 2000, 2001,2003, 2006, 2007, 2008), the first wine to come out under the Zyme name.
It is a long-lived red wine made blend of 15 grape varieties, some of them white. Those who have brushed up on their Italian wine history will know that white grapes were part of the original “recipe” for Chianti.
“I chose to include white grapes because they give a bit of elegance to a wine,” says Celestino. And why did he decide to use 15 different varieties in the blend? Because he didn’t want the wineries he was consulting for to see his wine as being in competition. “I didn’t want to make a wine that already existed – an Amarone, a Bordeaux-blend,” he says.
I will spare you acres of tasting notes. However, one of the interesting words that kept recurring when tasters talked about the wine was “carob”. For me the recurring words/phrases were: “ lively on the palate”, balsamic, plumped raisins.
But let’s talk about the new winery:
Years ago I went to an exhibit of Calder mobiles and stabiles at a Paris museum. As I walked into the brilliantly constructed installation, I felt as if I were walking into the in head of the artist. I had the same sensation as I walked down the wine-red ramp that spiraled into the depths of the winery. With each step I was entering into Celestino’s way of thinking. Unusual angles, sudden views of monumental stone walls, the soft glow of recessed light on a row a barrels, even the gleaming stainless steel pipes became part of this monumental work of art. Designer Moreno Zurlo is more than an architect, with this work he can be considered a portraitist.
27 January Voiceless but fine in Verona – Passing notes at Bertani
I am given a splendid tour by Cristiano (the winemaker) and Michela (the PR) at Bertaini. I have to write (or occasionally croak) my questions.
I still cannot speak due to the cold I picked up in London. What a drag. What I miss most about not being able to speak is: 1) not being able to carry on senseless conversations with my dog, and 2) not being able to sing. I just realized that I sing every day when I am fit.
22 January Missing the tasting I look forward to all year
Villa de Winckels (www.villadewinckels.it/ )holds an annual Amarone tasting that is simply fantastic. 50 producers, great opportunities to chat, great grub. But I am still too ill with my cold to attend.
16 -20 January Sherlockian Shenanigans in London
Friday: We arrive at our pal Michelle’s apartment. (Please note photo of Michelle’s most recent novel and listen to the silent voice saying: buy this book. )
Saturday: Today is the big day: The Holmes Society of London’s annual dinner at the House of Commons. I show Michelle my dress for the event and she thinks it is a tad too austere for the occasion. She roots through her magic closets and comes up with one wonderful dress after another – beaded silk flapper-esque dresses, beaded evening dresses, elegant velvet coats, and on and on. We finally settle on a grey silk suit that Michael says is dynamic. He also says it looks like oriental Armani. I decide it is my Baritsu-gi.
Michael kindly takes me to the House of Commons and waves good bye as I go down the ramp and through Airport-style security. It is a splendid venue: vast echoing halls, ornate ceilings, richly colored frescos and paintings, nice policemen.
We eat in the Members Dining Room. The main speech was given by Russell Merrit and concerned the William Gillette as Sherlock Holmes film, which had recently been uncovered in a Paris archive. For more information on this: http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/long-lost-silent-sherlock-holmes-737417
Sunday We go to the pub for the Morning After (the dinner) do. Loads of very nice people, decent, rib-sticking grub.
Over tall glasses of London Pride, Guy Marriott, Marcus Geisser and I discuss bringing a band of 60 Sherlockians in Victorian costume to Cremona for a violin recital. Guy suggests that we might throw in a wine tasting while we are at it.
Marcus says to me: We are aiming for 2016 or 2017. Will still be in Verona then?
I reply: I never meant to stay in Verona when I moved there 23 years ago. So chances are that I’ll still be there.
Here is a link to the only song that I know of that mentions Cremona – Lotsa quail in Cremona. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NRdmhvvBc3k
We leave to meet Joan. Let me tell you how I came to meet Joan.
More than thirty years ago….
I saw a man strutting through Covent Garden one day and thought: “No one but Tim Curry could walk like that.” So I followed him, trying to get a better look, and he led me to the stage door of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, where indeed Tim Curry was playing the swaggering Pirate King in The Pirates of Penzance.
The show was sold out but I took a place in line next to a Scottish lady named Beth to wait for return tickets. We got the last two tickets and ended up sitting next to each other. During the interval I told her I was thinking of leaving London for Oxford because I thought things might be cheaper there. Money was tight and my choices were: earn or return to New York. Beth pulled out a card, wrote the name of her son’s café in Lisson Grove on it and told me to report there the next day.
I arrived in a very businesslike suit. Fortunately Mark, Beth’s son, hired me anyway. My colleagues were Henri and Carlos from Colombia and Joan Walker. Her hair was cropped close to her head, except for a few spiky tufts on top. She usually wore ripped jeans and an old school blazer adorned with band badges. She looked like an English Public Schoolboy gone wrong, which was, I believe, the intention.
My first day Mark put me on the counter to take orders. The Irish navvies who were working on a local building site would come up to my counter and say: “W’wanmulkuhtahwidix.” And I would stand there dumb, until Henri would whisper… “He wants milky tea and eggs, Patricia.” I lasted at the counter for an hour before being demoted to carrying orders to the tables. Joan and I worked from seven until noon. Most days, as soon as work was done we would run to the tube station and head for Leicester Square. There we would join the line at the cheap theater tickets booth. Joan had University degrees in psychology and mathematics and had just graduated from drama school. After each show we would dissect the acting, scenery, costume design, directing and lighting, and, if it were a musical, we would sing snatches of our favorite numbers.
Over the ensuing years I would always stop and see Joan when I visited London, and during the times I lived in London, Joan and I haunted the theaters; after every show we had good heart-to-hearts over endless pots of tea – Joan knows every tiny tearoom in Central London. When she acted with the BBC radio rep she would invite me around to the employees’ pub for cheap beer and a “bit of Beeb color, dahling, lovie!” When she made her first appearance on the West End stage, I was there. And I saw her debut at the National Theatre. I returned to the U.K for a weekend to see her singing and dancing and vamping away in Mama Mia! Friends for more than thirty years and all because I found Tim Curry’s strut irresistible!
End of digression….
Here’s a link to Tim Curry and his unmistakable sashay: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bc80tFJpTuo
We go to a movie theatre in Leicester square to see Whiplash. I love sitting in a comfortable seat in a warm, dark room, while eating Minstrels and After Eight Mints and drinking ginger tea. The film is good too. Made in 19 days. Here is a trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7d_jQycdQGo
Monday we take in the Sherlock Holmes exhibit at the London Museum. My favorite part was the little Reichenbach Falls room. It is a kind of art installation, with video screens reproducing the effects and sounds of the falls. From various corners of the room came a whispered voice reading lines from the Holmes story. Very nice. I wish that the tiny room had a bench in it so that I could just sit there and be lulled by that whispered voice for a while.
Tuesday: At the airport we see Marinella Camerani Owner of Corte Sant’Alda (www.cortesantalda.com ), Cesar and their daughter Bianca. They are waiting for the same plane that we are.
“Patricia you are so sick,” says Marinella. “You don’t even sound like yourself!” She gives me a throat lozenge and tells us that she was at the Museum of London on Monday doing a tasting with her UK Importer. We tell her that we were there at exactly the same time. “You should have come down. Stefano (Inama) was there too.”
In my present feeble condition I realize that as nice as it would have been to see people we know from home…I would have been incapable of drinking anything more taxing than tap water.
Marinella turns to her daughter: “They had their wedding reception at our house. All the ladies wore hats. I wore a big yellow one.” Here is a photo taken in the mayor of Mezzane’s office at our wedding. Marinella is in the yellow pant suit, Joan is in the red jacket and Annalisa (of the Osteria Carroarmato) is in the white lace blouse.I am in the big hat , Michael is next to me and behind us are Ben (or Joan and Ben) and Illias. The little mites in white hats beside Marinella are Alda and Federica.
I returned home to Verona filled with cold and unable to speak. Every time I have gone to the UK in the last few years I have gotten ill. Am I the canary down the mine? This sorta puts a damper on my Victorian English Time Travel fantasies. If I can’t last 5 days in London 2015, then what are my chances in smoggy foggy 1895?
15 January Hooray for Monica
My good pal Monica Sommacampagna’s novel has just been published. She is sensitive, intelligent, witty and well read. Buy this book, if you read Italian.
11 January Chievo Football Supporters Club lunch
We take the bus to the Chievo football supporters’ clubhouse for lunch – spaghetti followed by sausage and beans.
“Look, cowboy food,” says Michael. I have initiated him into the secrets of cowboy life over the years.
10 January: Stanley kills the Befana….and is very pleased with himself too!
My smallish dog stealthily opened a black tote bag, removed a smaller paper bag and delicately extracted the Befana, leaving everything else tidy and intact. He then quietly took her to another room and ripped her to shreds.
I warn people who come to visit us to hang their bags on a doorknob or put them on high shelves because Stanley is a thief. I did not heed my own warning…the fault is mine.
9 January Donna Leon
I go to Venice to interview Donna Leon, author of the Guido Brunetti mysteries for Publishers Weekly. We meet in a in a sunny piazza and head for the nearest coffee bar. She reminds me of a bird of prey – those swift, intense looks.
I believe she was testing me on my general lit and mystery lit knowledge. Saying things like: “I liked the books written by his wife too.” Patricia, the swot, promptly provided the name Margaret Millar. And “Who was that man who wrote about Charles Paris?” Simon Brett, I supplied. When I pulled the name Per Wahloo out of my brain attic,(the question for this round was: What were the names of that Swedish writing team?) I knew I was on the home stretch. It went on like this until she turned the corner and realized that I was a genuine Reader of Books. Fortunately she also liked my tastes in poets. Whew. And when my husband was able to supply the names of opera singers – I swear, I could see her ticking that off her list and thinking: “Okay these people might be alright.”