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

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

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

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

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

December 28 Happy Birthday Cinema

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

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

December 26 St. Stefano’s Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

December 25 Ferrari sparkles

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

December 23 One of the reasons I love New York

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

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

18 December Meat and Sandro di Bruno

Sandro with Herring

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

Igino with Accordian

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

Grilling with wine

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






15 December Goodbye, dear Don Simone

Simone with Stanley

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

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

10 December Custoza

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

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

7 December  Custoza – 2 firsts!

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

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

Vintages at the tasting range from 1999 to 2009.

The three wines that stood out for me:

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

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

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