First Things First: books: Stephen Weeks is a film maker, a restorer of castles and the author of a hugely entertaining series of mysteries set in early 20th-century Prague featuring the irrepressible Countess Beatrix von Falklenburg. I asked him a few questions on behalf of Publishers Weekly and, not surprisingly, the name Sherlock Holmes came up.
He said: The Victorian world was perfect, in some ways (ie if you had some money) – that comfortable world of Sherlock Holmes that we all love. It was through this filter that when I came to look for my own castle, aged 25 – with the money from my first films, I chose a real medieval one, the tower of which had been built around 1129ad, on the borders of England and Wales. I restored a virtual ruin to be a wonderful home, shared willingly with the enthusiastic public, and which I sold in 2003 in order to move to Prague. Since the Castle had been lived in since the 12th century, it was proved to be ‘Wales’ oldest lived-in castle’ – friends, seeing their breath in the air while at dinner used to call it ‘Wales’ coldest lived-in castle’! But that was all part of its charm.
His new novel is Sins of the Father, published by Poisoned Pen Press. I have read it and enjoyed it. Weeks evokes the mores and manners of the period with a blend of richly nuanced details and sly wit.
March 7 – Kate and Ed from America come for a visit
The high point was a visit to the beautiful hamlet of Valeggio sul Mincio. The breeze was fragrant with rich undergrowth, the sound of the waters of the Mincio slapping against the rocks was hypnotic and the sunshine fairly sparkled. After wallowing in this splendor for a few minutes I began to feel like an extra in Brigadoon. When I glanced at the bridge and could easily imagine Gene Kelly capering with the ever elegant and long-limbed Cyd Charisse, I knew it was time to leave.
For those who have forgotten the fair Cyd Charisse here is a video clip from Brigadoon: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dHJYqcjXsl8
March 3 Tasting at Marinella Camerani’s estate
I like Marinella. She always says exactly what she thinks. This can be disconcerting. I once wrote that if a feral cat could speak it would sound like Marinella.
We tasted wines from her Corte Sant’Alda and Adalia estates in Mezzane di Sotto. Both are biodynamic and certified organic.
Among the wines that left a very positive lingering impression:
2017 Corte Sant’Alda’s Soave. After several minutes in the glass the wine opens up. An idea of greengage plums, ripe pears. Very appealing. Buoyant freshness.
2017 Corte Sant’Alda Ca Fui Valpolicella. It unfurls on the palate like a bolt of silk – flavors of black cherries, raspberries.
2012 Corte Sant’Alda Valmezzane Amarone Tingling acidity shapes the fruit. Very interesting, satisfying wine.
A Memory of Piccolo Ed & Marinella
We took Ed to the bus station with the intention of taking him to visit Francesca, his dog sitter at her kennel in Castelnuovo del Garda. He had been sneezing a bit for months but we had assumed it was just an allergy, perhaps to the dust that plagues our apartment. We entered the bus station and Ed sneezed. Time stopped. Everything focused on the spray of blood fanning out around our little foxy dog. Ed looked up at us happy as ever, his tail wagging, ready to go on a bus ride. We left the station and walked to the doctor’s office. Tests were done and we were told that Ed had a tumor in his muzzle. For several months following the operation, we took Ed to the vet’s every day for an infusion of antibiotics.
One December morning he awoke feeling weak and shivery. Michael and I took turns holding him for the next five hours. His eyes glazing over, he seemed to stop seeing what was around him. He arched his back in a spasm and went limp. I searched for a heartbeat…but could find none. I wrapped him in a sweater and put him in a 6-bottle wooden wine crate. We called our friend Eleonella, who agreed to drive us to Marinella’s. It was a sunny but brisk day in Verona. We headed east toward Mezzane where a thick layer of snow lay on the ground. It was scattered with sparkling points of reflected light. We drove up Marinella’s steep hill and parked.
Marinella was waiting for us. Her eyes strayed to the wine crate and she shook her head sadly when she saw the name of the producer burned into its side. “Ed deserved better,” she said. “You should have told me; he could have had one of my boxes.”
She led us to a terrace of olive trees with a sweeping view of the entire valley.
“Pick a spot you like,” she said. “I wish I could be buried here but the government won’t let me. They have all these rules. We have to be buried in a cemetery.”
Cesar, Marinella’s companion, dug the grave under a tree and we laid Ed to rest. I planted a small cactus on the mound of fresh turned earth as a symbol of his independent personality. Then we trooped up to Marinella’s tasting room. She opened a bottle of her Amarone and pushed a glass toward me. I sipped the wine but could taste nothing. I was too filled with emotion of a different sort to make any room for the scents and texture of wine. We went outside and watched the sky turned a wonderful orange-rose as the sun set.
March 2 Villa de Winckels
I adore the annual Amarone tasting at Villa de Winckels (www.villadewinckels.it) because it includes everyone: international darlings, local heros, and producers whose total production of Amarone rarely makes it to 100 bottles.
Here are three of my favorite wines from the tasting:
Zyme 2006 Amarone “La Mattonara”. It is like cherries melting on the tongue.
Graziano Pra 2008 Amarone. A nice tingling sensation. Black peppery scrim over supple fruit.
Vicentini 2007 Amarone. Intriguing bruised fruit shot through with refreshing acidity.