May 2018

First things first books: As most of you know I read and review 3 books a week for Publishers Weekly. Those who do not read books think that this is impossible. Those who love to read – as I do – think that this sounds like heaven. And it is.

Since I have been busy reading I have decided that instead of my usual diary I will reminisce.  

Hitchhiking into the Wine Trade

At seventeen I had made a list of things I wanted to accomplish in the coming decade. Number one was to go to the moon on a tourist shuttle. Visit Paris was number two on the list. With my twenty-eighth birthday just a few heartbeats away, I bought a plane ticket, gave my three weeks’ notice to the owner of Foul Play and happily began planning my new life sous le ciel blu de Paris.

My approach to learning French consisted of singing along with Charles Aznavour and Yves Montand, neither of whom, I was to learn later, is actually French. Charles is a native son of Armenia and Yves (born Ivo) is proudly claimed by Italy.

I rambled through Paris making her my friend. I love that city and can still remember the books I read during that period: Robertson Davies’ A Mixture of Frailties on a bench in the Luxembourg Gardens, Matthew Head’s Murder at the Flea Club at a café on the square in front of St. Sulpice. I often carried a copy of Peter Devries’ Rueben, Rueben or Jorge Amado’s Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands to posh restaurants when I was dining alone. I always came early – 7:30. As a result I was always given a nice table, usually by the window.

One dark autumn morning I stopped into the French Quaker meeting room in Paris seeking some silent contemplation, unaware of the French Quakers’ need to speak…at length. The only other meeting I had ever attended had been in Brooklyn, where thirty-six people sat in a sunny room and said nothing for an hour. I had gone to that meeting with Stanley Ellin and his wife. Stanley is perhaps best remembered for his much-anthologized stories “The Specialty of the House”, a chilling little masterpiece for the gourmet, and “The Last Bottle in the World”, a wine connoisseurs delight. I loved to watch Stanley’s face light up when his wife entered a room. It was possible to see the beautiful, incandescent woman he had married thirty years before reflected in his eyes.

After the French meeting, over broken butter-cookies and watery tea, I met Lucy, a spare, taciturn English Quaker with long brown hair and a tan. That she had worked as a chambermaid at ski resorts and as a cheese-maker on a dairy farm impressed me, and my ability to sort out the intricacies of city life had the same effect on her.

“If we traveled together,” said Lucy “We could hitchhike and save some money.  Just don’t ever tell my dad.”

We met at the Gare de Lyon station the next morning. Our travel plans consisted of buying a ticket for the destination with the prettiest or most intriguing name. My appreciation of fine mustard led us to Dijon. And the direction of my life changed once again.

We arrived in the late morning of a gloriously sunny autumn day. After a tramp around to get our bearings we stopped to take the sun in a public park. A young man lounged on the grass beside his backpack, turning the final pages in a book. When he finished it he walked to a dustbin by the footpath with the clear intention of dumping the book so as to lighten his load. Desperate to read something in English, having just finished off Travels With a Donkey, I swooped down on him and he offered the book to me. The word “wine” stood out in large black letters across the cover. I started to read. The author, Hugh Johnson, wrote in an appealingly witty way about wine and I found myself seduced by his writing style and by the topic. He mentioned causally that the village of Avize in the Champagne region produced Chardonnay grapes. It was harvest time and the village was less than an hour away. It seemed kismet. We headed out to the main road, flagged down a small flatbed truck and set off for Avize.

The driver pulled over to the side of the road and let us off just outside the village.  I hoisted my small suitcase, Lucy slung her knapsack over her shoulder and we walked into the deserted lanes of Avize. All able-bodied residents were working in the vineyards that surrounded the village. At Lucy’s suggestion we headed to the church. “Our things will be safe here,” she said, lifting a curtain that covered the back of the confessional. When I shoved my bag underneath the priest’s chair I felt the spasm of guilt that betrays a person with no religious upbringing. I knew I had committed a sacrilege of some kind, but the precise spiritual details escaped me.

We walked into the nearest vineyard. The workers bent low over the vines and continued to pick the pendulous bunches of pale golden-green Chardonnay grapes. Only an old woman in a straw sun hat acknowledged us.  She removed her work gloves and whipped her hands on her apron.

Qu’est-ce que tu veux?” She asked.

“Work.”

“It’s hard work,” she said.  Her eyes narrowed as she sized us up. We must have looked strong and hearty or perhaps we just looked hungry. “Okay,” she said. “We’re about ready to break for lunch anyway. Come with me.”

We followed her along the narrow lanes of Avize to the winery. Waiting for us with other members of the family was a young matron. From her chic yet casual clothes, city shoes and the carved arabesques that decorated her spectacles, I rightly guessed she would rather be in Paris than visiting the wine estate at that particular moment.

“Nice glasses,” I said, admiring her elaborate wooden frames.  “I looked at a similar pair in Paris.” And I named a trendy optical shop.

She gave me a reflective stare. I watched thoughts pass across her broad, handsome face. She grasped the notion that we might not be typical farm laborers.

“Wait here,” she said.  She walked to a cluster of other family members and a whispered conversation ensued. There were enough guarded looks in our direction for us to realize that our fate was being decided.

“Come this way,” she said, leading us toward the family home, while our co-workers headed off to wash up for lunch. We followed her up the stair to a small sunny room at the top of the house. Lace curtains hung at the windows and soft duvets made from cotton imprinted with pastel flowers covered the beds. From our window we could just make out the barracks where the other workers bunked.

That first evening, after a long day laboring in the vineyard, we settled down to our place at the workers’ dining table set up in the tasting room of the winery. Muscles aching, I felt as if I had earned my hunger.

Glasses of some rough and ruddy vinegar were placed beside each worker’s plate of meat and two veg. I took my glass to the lady with the trendy glasses and said, “I think there is something wrong with this wine.” Again. she gave me that hard stare before taking the glass from me. “You are quite right,” she said. I went back to my place and she soon returned with a fresh glass of darker, richer colored wine.  I tasted it. Flashes of my first sips of wine danced across my memory: rich but elegant, fruity yet graceful. Fine Burgundy, I realized, was my equivalent of Proust’s madeleines.

I went to the kitchen and thanked her. She looked furtively toward the kitchen door to make sure there was no one around then opened a cupboard and showed me a bottle of Vosne-Romanée from, as I was to learn much later, an excellent vintage. From that point on, the color of my wine always matched that in the family’s own glasses.

Lucy would pick one side of the row and I would work the other. The vines are trained relatively low in Champagne, so we were on our knees most of the time. To while away the working hours we told each other the plots of Fred Astaire movies, enriched by a few snatches of songs. Dancing Cheek to Cheek, Isn’t It Romantic, They All Laughed.  The fruit was round and ripe, the sun shone. There was only a little rain on the last day of picking. Even with safety secateurs – the other workers had those dangerous looking needle-nosed jobbies – Lucy and I managed to cut our fingers.

In the middle of the harvest Grace Kelly’s car sped off a cliff on a winding road near Monte Carlo. Beautiful, blonde Grace Kelly epitomized movie-star chic for us.  She could swirl into Jimmy Stewart’s life in Rear Window and give him a slow-motion kiss infused with Hitchcock’s eroticism. She could ignite Cary Grant’s passion while fireworks lit the sky. That evening Lucy and I walked down to a little bar not far from the winery and ordered small glasses of Cointreau. Looking at our hands, covered in cuts, sticky grape juice still under our nails, we thought about elegance and glamour and all the times our hands had been kissed by French boys trying hard to assume savoir-faire. How long, we wondered, would it take for our hands to heal?

 

 

 

February 2918

First things first: Books

#cisonoanchio (#i’mheretoo) by Monica Sommacampagna

Monica tackles cyberbullying in this novel about Asia, a lonely 13-year-old girl who finds a light in the darkness of the digital night thanks to a conversation with her artist grandmother, and her grandfather, a former soldier. #cisonoanchio @gabriellieditori In Italian.

February 28  Annalisa’s Birthday Party

Annalisa, owner of the Osteria Carroarmato and one of my dearest friends, celebrated her almost-birthday in style. (She was actually born on February 29.)  And a good time was had by all.  Wine lovers may want to take a peek at the wine lineup.

 

 

 

 

 

3 February Amarone Anteprima

This is an important annual event in the Verona – the presentation of the vintage that producers may choose to release on the market.  In this case it is the 2014 vintage.

But first we went to the annual conference that precedes the tasting. For as long as I have been attending this event, the conference has always followed the same track: a couple of politicians tell us that Amarone is a symbol of Verona in the world, a technician tells us some statistical details and someone in the audience brings up Prosecco’s success – as if Amarone (big, red, high-alcohol) and Prosecco (white, sparkling, moderate alcohol) are direct competitors.

This year they invited Vittorio Sgarbi to take the dais.

Sgarbi, for the many of you who do not know him, is a former television personality, alleged art historian and minor politician. He made his name 30 years ago ranting about art to the television masses whom he clearly thought of as the unwashed hoards.

In the first minute of his presentation he compared wine to a marocchina (literally a Moroccan woman, also often a general a term for black women). I moaned aloud: oh, god. He plowed on with more of the women and wine comparisons (woman like sweet wine while MEN appreciate drier (amaro) wines.  He then gave that old sop: “women are, of course, smarter than men.” A smirk twisting his lips before adding: “That’s why we have to keep them in their place

I will concede that he got in a few good political jibes (that had nothing to do with wine or Amarone).  But he also drew laughs for sprinkling his spew with words like cadzo, scoppare, merde, culo (you can look these up yourself). He uses these words to demonstrate that he knows how to speak the language of plebs – like wot we, in the audiences, wuz.  He also drops the names of artists – Dali, Raphael, Warhol – to prove his intellectual superiority.

For the sake of full disclosure: my university degree was in Art History and I did graduates studies in Chinese At History. (I can still tell a Han from a Tang at thirty paces – even while wearing my reading glasses.) I therefore find the flaunting of these names especially irritating. He makes these artists mere props to support his towering ego.

At the tasting I spoke with producer Piero Zanone about the presentation.  He said: “For a bizarre year like 2014 maybe you need a bizarre speaker.”

Which brings us to the bizarre 2014s. It was an uneven vintage, one that none of the producers would declare great.  However, a few were able to make decent wines due almost entirely to the position of their vineyards.  Among the successful 2014 are: Zanone and Marinella Camerani,

Nice wines that were NOT from the 2014 vintage:

Marco Secondo 2012 Very nice. Fresh. Firm black cherry fruit, fruit-filled finish.

Zyme 2003 cherry jelly, long, firm finish, with an undulating meandering fruit. After 5 minutes in the glass, the flavors settle into pure pleasure.

There is something uplifting about Zyme wines; they make me want to stand up straighter.

I did not taste all the wines on offer – there is a limit as to how many high-alcohol (15° plus) wines one can taste effectively.

As I was leaving I ran into Arturo Stochetti, who said. “Non scherzo con Amarone (You don’t fool around with Amarone.) With regular wines you can taste – and spit – twenty or thirty wines. But with Amarone….”

 

 

January 2018

First things first, Books. The War Service of Sherlock Holmes, published by The Baker Street Irregulars. I have a chapter on Tokay in the book. Here is a link where people can purchase it, if they so desire.

http://www.bakerstreetjournal.com/trenches.html

January 6th is the designated birthday of Mr. Sherlock Holmes.  Every year there are celebrations in New York City and in London. I have been to these dinners many times. This year, I just could not face the weather in New York.  I do not own snow boots or a decent winter coat.  Nor do I own anything made with “camping in the Arctic” padded insulation.  I regret not being able to attend as I miss the camaraderie.

The only organizations I have ever willingly joined are the Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes (ASH) and the Baker Street Irregulars (BSI).

Here is a photo taken a few decades ago: from left to right: top row: Mickey Fromkin, Susan Dahlinger, Evelyn Herzog, me. bottom row:  Roberta Pearson, Susan Rice, Sara Montegue, M.E. Rich.

The following is an edited excerpt from my contribution to “Sherlock Holmes Fandom, Sherlockiana, and the Great Game,” edited by Betsy Rosenblatt and Roberta Pearson, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 23. http://dx.doi.org/10.3983/twc.2017.0888.

When I moved to New York City in late 1977 to manage The Mysterious Bookshop—a job I was offered because I have always been a voracious reader of mystery novels—I was fortunate enough to immediately fall in with the Adventuresses, and I began attending their monthly get-togethers (ASH Wednesdays) in 1978.

What a magnificent group we were! I look back on those days fondly. We Adventuresses loved books, we loved to laugh, we knew how to have a good (and occasionally riotous) time. We were free to be who we really were—women with agile minds and a knack for mischief. Perhaps even more than an appreciation of the Holmes stories themselves, it was the camaraderie and the feeling of having found a home that drew me to ASH.

I was staying at the apartment of Mickey Fromkin and Susan Rice, two fabulous ASH, on the eve of my first trip to France in 1982. It was to be one of my free-wheeling rambles around Europe in search of some as yet undefined je ne sais quoi. That year, serendipity led me to picking grapes in Champagne and living for a time in Paris, and this in turn led me to my entry into the wine trade.

That late summer evening in Mickey and Susan’s book-filled front room, Evelyn Herzog, ASH’s Principal Unprincipled Adventuress and founding-mother of the organization, told me that I could not set out to live the life of an Adventuress without becoming one officially. She invited me to join ASH and gave me the investiture name of Mlle. Vernet, the name of Sherlock Holmes’ maternal grand-mère. It is a name with which I am very proud to be associated. The fading yellowed certificate that commemorates this event hangs in my office as I type this.

In 2006, in a hotel room at the Algonquin on a sunny morning after the Big January Dinner, I called a little meeting of some of my favorite ASH and proposed a idea, one conceived because I was lonely for Sherlockian companionship. I asked them and some clever Boys to write essays for a book called Ladies, Ladies: The Women in the Life of Sherlock Holmes. I did this not so much to amplify the place of women in the Holmes stories (although it does this handily), but rather to have a reason to be in weekly contact with some of my closest friends. The book is lovely. It is chock-full of information. But for me, it is a document attesting to long-time friendship.

In 2010, thanks to the lobbying of Venerable Ash and Old Boys from my New York youth, I was invited to join the Baker Street Irregulars, with the investiture of Imperial Tokay. This is a reference to a fine wine with startling medicinal properties, which is mentioned in The Sign of Four and His Last Bow. The investiture name is, of course, a reference to my career in the wine trade. I am grateful for this honor: the BSI parchment shares wall space with my ASH certificate.

I went back to New York for the first time after many years in Europe in the mid-2000s to attend a BSI dinner, I was assailed by a covey of young women. One of them looked at me reverently, her eyes wide with wonder, and said: “You’re one of the old ASH.” Over the rest of the weekend, I found myself saddled with that label. It was disconcerting, because I knew that—in her heart, mind, and soul—an ASH never grows old.

First things first: Books

Every summer from the age of eight until I left for University followed the same pattern: I would soon be burnt to a red and painful crispiness by the Kansas sun and spend the rest of the summer in the shade with a tall glass of iced tea and a stack of detective novels. I would read through them one after another. When the stack was finished I would walk to the library to check out another stack or ride my bike around to garage sales, picking up Perry Masons for my Grandmother and assorted 5-cent books for myself.  Now – several decades later – to be paid to read books seems like a dream come true. Readers will understand the incredible pleasure there is to be had in saying as you stretch out on the divan with a book (or one hidden in a computer): “I’m working”.

New Years Eve with Chievo Fans

We have avoided gong out on New Years Eve for many years because of the fireworks that often accompany this event; Stanley, quite sensibly is afraid of the noise. The nice people at the Chievo fan club said: Bring him along.

There was another dog there and both Lucio (a big black something or other) and Stanley (a medium brown something or other) were very well behaved as were the assortment of children, who also attended. This is an artistic photo taken by Michael, with our pal Greta’s profile and Giovanni rattling the pots and pans.

December 26 Boxing Day Tea

Every year on we go to Ugo and Stefania’s for English Tea. Michael is the official Tea Master (because he is English), the ladies all wear hats, and we eat cucumber sandwiches.  Tea drifts into aperitif time and that leads on to dinner.

 

The Twins (Francesco and Giovanni) were home from their university experiences (F.’s in Singapore), G’s in Lisbon) and wanted to learn about wine tasting. We opened one of the wines that we had brought: a Coteaux du Layon 1996. It was stunning. This kind of wine is the reason that people become wine tasters: it is the thrilling combination of sensual and intellectual pleasure. Long, evolving, complex swirl of rich flavors all buoyed by sprightly, dancing acidity. Needless to say, the boys had never tasted anything like it and were entranced by its balance and enticing shifting pattern of flavors (ideas of quince, apricot, mandarin orange. A great way to bid goodbye to 2017

December 24/25 Annual Christmas party at Ugo’s

December 22 Big Cake

Michael donated a Big Cake to the Chievo fan Club dinner.  It provided many photo opportunities.

 

December 15 Donnafugata and the rest….

I opened a bottle of Donnafugta 2016 La Fuga Sicilia Chardonnay – bright, refreshing lively satisfying on the nose and palate, flavorful fruity finish, infused with sprightly notes of exotic fruits and greengage plums. I started thinking of the future – say 20 or so years from now – when I will (perhaps) be sitting in the old folk’s home.  I hope to heaven that wherever I am there are Donnafugata* wines on the menu. I told Michael this and he rolled his eyes and said: Magari (which can be loosely translated as: “Yeah, in your dreams!” ) And I guess he is right…. these are the satisfying (easy to drink yet intellectually interesting) wines that dance through my dreams.

 

And  Zanovello, Bucci, Drei Dona, Fattoria Zerbina. Gini and Podere San Cristoforo would be most welcome on that fictional winelist

December 13

Michael and I took a brief train ride to a small town and were picked up by Michael’s pal Lorenzo, who whisked us to her family’s offices to look at the new brochure and attendant material. For several hours Michael and I argued over word choice until we were pretty sure that the booklet would be a colossal success.  I love words and so does Michael, perhaps this is why we have remained happy together for all these years.

December 8 Children’s theatre

As I often do after seeing an old movie I often look up the cast members to see how their lives evolved over the years.  I looked up David Wood, who played Johnny in If… and read that he has become a leading light in children’s theatre in Britain, has written plays that have been performed around the world and that he wrote a book, which is aptly titled Theatre for Children: A guide to Writing, Adapting, Directing and Acting. I leaped from my chair and began scanning the bookshelves.  Yes, I have that book.  Here is why.

Twice our pal Ugo has pulled me into his orbit with the promise of securing a financial backer for a musical. The first time, we met at the Amnesia Café where he introduced me to a money-dispensing politician from Vicenza, a town an hour away from Verona by train. Over cool glasses of sparkling wine it was decided that I would write a children’s musical depicting the life of Jules Verne and that the Vicenza town council would foot the bill for the production. I was to have a cast of thirty children and adults that would include jugglers, acrobats and ballet dancers!  I was in heaven. Susan in Colorado and Rita in Kansas started sending me books on and by Jules Verne. I wrote six songs and studied stagecraft books in an attempt to figure out how to make fifty small “hot-air” balloons descend from the rafters of the theatre and how to make a volcano erupt on stage. Time passed and whenever I asked Ugo about the funding he was evasive. Jules Verne’s centennial came and went, and with it the dream of producing the show. Funding for it had wandered away while the politico was having drinks with someone else one late afternoon.

The second time Ugo encouraged Michael and me to write an original musical set in Verona. The only catch was that we needed to use his accordion playing pal Eugenio as the composer/arranger. While Michael and I were thinking of boffo end-of-act-one show-stoppers, Eugenio was thinking about a nice little thirty-minute chamber piece for accordion and guitar performed in Veronese dialect. Never has the phrase “artistic differences” had such resonance.

December 7  IF…

Michael and I took the bus to an outlying neighborhood of Verona to a small cinema to see If…  Neither of us had seen the film in a few decades. It was directed by Lindsay Anderson and came out in 1968.  Both Michael and I were too young in that period to see it then – it had an X rating after all.  It marked the first film role for Malcolm McDowell, and it was this film that led Stanley Kubrick to cast him in Clockwork Orange. If… won the Palme d’Or a Cannes and, as Wikipedia tells us “In 2017 a poll of 150 actors, directors, writers, producers and critics for Time Out magazine ranked it the 9th best British film ever.”  It was wonderful to see it again.

December 6 Marco Felluga and Mushroom Pie

I wanted something to go with my star anise-infused mushroom pie, so I opened a bottle of Marco Felluga Bianco.

Note: Fiercely bright, with a fine concentration of yellow color. On the nose, creamy, with a lemony note rising and lifting the broad fruit and vanilla notes of wood. On the palate, very round, with the flavors echoing the sensations on the nose Very satisfying…

 

First Things First – Books

I read Women & Power: A Manifesto by Mary Beard.

My favorite quotes: (referring to Homer’s The Odyssey): “the first recorded example of a man telling a woman to ‘shut up’, telling her that her voice was not to be heard in public” and “if women are not perceived to be fully within the structures of power, surely it is power that we need to redefine rather than women?”

This slim volume could not have appeared at a more appropriate time.

November 21

I visited the Gini Winery. http://www.ginivini.com/

I have followed the development of this winery for more than two decades. Sandro and Claudio’s dedication to making quality wines has never wavered. It is always a pleasure to taste – and drink – their wines.

Among the wines I tasted:

2016 Soave Classico. Fresh, full, fragrant, flora. Enticing scent of blossoms. Lemon sherbet over ripe pear flavor.

2014 Froscá Soave Classico – fresh vibrant alive. An almost mandarin touch to the acidity. Slides down easy.  The grapes are from vines that are between 80 and 90 years old.

2014 Salvarenza (“Vecchie Vigne” – old vines. The vineyards are over 100 years old) A fragrance that draws me in. exotic fruits emerge. Elegant. Well-knit The finish evolves, with new flavors emerging, others receding.

2001 Salvarenza – Clean. Tightly-knit flavor- After 15 minutes in the glass still firm and fresh.

“With our wines. the minerality comes out over time, after 5 or 6 years,” says Claudio.

2013 Campo alle More Pinot Noir – Bright. Vibrant. Alive. On the nose an amalgam of red berry fruit (raspberries, blueberries). On the palate the wine blossoms – all the scents detected on the nose unfurl. An undertow of bruised plum. Long flavorful finish

On to Zymé in Valpolicella. The winery is a work of art. Anyone interested in winery architecture should visit.

November 15

I was at the Colli Euganei winery of Paolo Brunello. We tasted 2 wines blind, with a group of 14 local wine producers.

The first was a Garganega/Tocai blend called Il Bondo. The wine is named for Paolo’s much-loved dog.  It (the wine) was fresh and appealing.

He then opens a red wine. From the first sniff the wine had captured me.  It was one of those Eureka! moments that every professional wine tasters knows: that instantaneous recognition of quality and style. The moment when you realize that you are not just tasting a beverage but rather you are tasting a Real Wine.

I waxed eloquent on the wine, my enthusiasm growing.

Paolo pulled the sleeve from the bottle to reveal that the wine was….Not His.

The winemaker was Franco Zanovello.  Readers of this diary know that I adore Zanovello’s wines.  I often refer to them as Audrey Hepburn wines – elegant yet lush and complex with staying power and longevity. This wine was no exception.

Here is my note:

2009 Natio Ca’Lustra-Zanovello (Merlot, Carménère and Cabernet Sauvignon)  – bruised plum color with a ruby sheen. Clean, fresh, with a thrilling undertow of mature fruit (blackberry, brambles, blackcurrants, hint of herbaceousness. Lingering, fruit-filled, ever-evolving finish.  Very satisfying.

Franco’s daughter was at the tasting.  I said to her: “You probably don’t realize this because he is your father but…Franco has a rare talent.”

November 8

I opened a bottle of 1981 (yes, 1981) Masi Amarone. The wine’s lively acidity and rich fruit flavors were wrapped in the incense-like fragrances I always associate with mature Amarones.  It was a lovely tasting experience.

It is safe to say that they don’t make wines like this anymore.

I also tasted a Chateaux Mongravey, Margaux 2011. Fresh, bright, elegant fruit and a long flavorful finish. It deserved all the awards it received.

October 2017

 

First things first: Books

I have shelves of autographed mysteries from my days at The Mysterious Bookshop in New York, as well as a nice letter and autographed copy of Robert Mazzocco’s first poetry book.

I had written him a letter after reading one of his poems in the New Yorker.  The poem is called All Night.  I mentioned in my letter that the layout of the lines echoed the rhythm of the text. He wrote back saying that the poem would never again appear in that form because the editor of his first book tucked the lines in order to accommodate the book’s format, and he invited me to come to a signing. I arrived to find his signing table surrounded by poetry lovers. I caught his eyes and mouthed the words: “I wrote the letter.”  He stopped what he was doing, walked around the table,  took my hands in his and said: “You’re the one! No one ever sends fan letters to poets!”

One of my happiest author memories.

28 October Marco Felluga’s 90th Birthday Party   

I arrive in Friuli for the celebration of Marco Felluga’s 90th Birthday.

I need not have worried about my dress (bought in 2000) and Chinese inspired jacket (bought in 2003 at a model’s consignment shop in London.  This is a shop where fashion models – who get to keep the clothes they wear in photo shoots – dump their booty.   The only thing in the shop that fit were shoes and this jacket.) In fact, I received several compliments on the ensemble.

With the repeated mention of “black tie” on the invitation and in phone conversations with the organizers, I had begun to dwell on what “black tie” means for women at Tuscan galas – brilliant hand-embroidered satin dresses, the twinkle of real diamonds, etc. Whew. Friuli finery is within the reach of normal human beings.

I sat next to Mr. Felluga’s Austrian importer who said that Marco was still mentally and physically agile and as focused and dynamic as ever.

Mr. Felluga was asked what his plans for the future were and he replied without a moments hesitation that he wanted to inicreased the acceptance of Pinot Bianco as a top-quality, classic grape variety.

With his energy and drive I believe that he could achieve anything he put his mind to.

20 October Pumpkin and sausage lasagna & Susan and gossip

Susan H. comes over for dinner.  The nattering goes down smoothly with glasses of Ferrari’s Giulio Ferrari 2000, followed by a 2013 Ribera del Duero “Crianza” from Virtus.  I had opened this Spanish wine the day before and tasted it: rich, round, red – juicy but with backbone.  A very satisfying wine. It goes down a treat with the lasagna.  Here is a photo of Susan with a snuggling Stanley. For starters we taste Redoro’s artichokes under oil and the company’s tuna under oil.  They are a revelation.  I have never in my life tasted anything held under olive oil that did not taste of…well…oil. However, this time out the flavors of the vegetable and the tuna were bright and pure.  I did not expect this freshness. I am not usually one to gush, but…if you have a chance to try these products from Redoro, do so.

18 October Fog Hell

I am in the Colli Euganei. Lisa C. drives me to the teeny, tiny deserted-after-nine-p.m. train station so I can catch my train for Verona. In the car creeping along the country road, we are surrounded by a moist gray undulating wall of fog.  At first, I think: gee, this I like being in some existentialist film.  After 30 minutes, I realized that this is, in fact, my version of Hell – endless fog – no sense of actually moving forward – no hope of actually arriving anywhere.

 

14 October – Off to Redoro in Mezzane di Sotto

We visited the Redoro Olive Oil Mill (owned by the Salvagno family) in Mezzane di Sotto. The mill is the oldest in the Veneto that is still producing oil. I said to Michael: “Daniele Salvagno has such merry eyes he could play young Santa when they do the biopic.” “He’s not that young,” says Michael. I then explain to him that since Santa is well over a thousand years old, then Daniele – with his twinkling eyes, rosy cheeks, lush dark curls, boundless energy and jovial demeanor – is still in the running for the role. Michael bows to my fantasy logic. Here is a photo of Daniele.  You may decide for yourself if the casting works.

12 October Samples arrive from SPAIN!

The UPS man delivered samples and pronounced my name correctly!

They are from the Virtus winery.  I tried the Vega del Yuso Ribera del Duoro. Here is my note: 100% Tempranillo. Deep rich ruby. Full and forthcoming on the nose, scents of blackberries, brambles and a bright, lifting idea of gooseberries. Round and easy on the palate.  After I tasted, I drank a glass with my lunch – pizza with mushrooms.  It went down a treat.  The following day, I had a glass with spaghetti Bolognese.  It also went well with a bit of Parmesan and an episode of Love it or List It – Vancouver edition.  Yes, I am a sucker for Canadian buy-a-house-shows.

Sunday 8 Majorotti

We went to a street fair organized by the Majorotti (loosely translates as Big Men Majorettes), an association that raises money for charity, and whose members wear shiny, red, swishy skirts and wigs in an assortment of colors – from Carnival yellow and blue to (could pass for real) brown. There is something freeding and empowering about stridinig out in a short, flippy skirt, as these men have come to appreciate.

October 2 My book on the Colli Euganei wins a literary award!

And a very nice award it was too: a silver medallion, with a little certificate stating its weight and the grade of silver used.  Wow!  All this, and there was a concert performed by three excellent guitarists that followed the presentation.  And that was followed by a dinner in a villa/restaurant, where I spoke with a nice young man who is studying to be a forest ranger. I recommended he read The Hidden Life of Trees. You will never look at a tree in the same way after reading this fascinating book. The award was issued by the Monselice Historical Museum.

I have won big deal international awards for books and only got a letter informing me that I had won, while the publisher got a certificate. Believe me, a medal, music and a nice dinner (which included my fan club – Michael, Franco and Anna) was soooo much more appreciated!

 

September 2017

September 2017

30 September The 36th edition of the Masi Prize

We headed upstairs at the Teatro Filarmonico di Verona and were escorted to a private box overlooking the stage.  I love these boxes: they offer leg room, and a brilliant view point for observing the audience as well as the stage. This years winner of the International Prize went to Rwandan author Yolanda Mukagasana.

27 September Off to the Carroarmato

Visitors from the U.K.. A good time was had by all. When you come to Verona you must visit the Osteria Carroarmato. Dogs and children are welcome…as is every sort of grownup.

September 8 In Venice for the day

We (Michael, Stanley and I) arrive in Venice for lunch with Michelle Lovric. She writes novels and poetry – and just wrote/ghosted a best seller about Milly Dowler -My Sister Milly.  She said it was a shattering two years: talking to the family and interviewing police, etc.  She has a very elegant writing style, it would be interesting to read the book.

Then off we go to the Lido for our pal Ugo’s prize giving ceremony.  Each year Ugo organizes an alternative (to the official Venice Film Festival) award fest called the Golden Eel (as opposed to the Golden Lion). Stanley loved the day. He got ham at Michelle’s and eel skin at Ugo’s do.  Who could ask for more?  Here is a photo of Stanley making friends on the Lido.

Here is a link to a poem by Michelle (a work in progress).

http://the-history-girls.blogspot.it/2017/09/beaver-country-michelle-lovric.

And while we are talking about poetry, here is a link to a youtube of poet Glenn Shea reading “A Luddite Relents,” from the second book.

https://youtu.be/1uvpH5PRV3A

7 September – Off to the Mantova

We are here to listen to the delicious announcement of a new wine from Lake Garda: Spumante Garda DOC. The wine is fresh, fruity and lively and it is hoped it will  offer consumers an alternative to the ubiquitous Prosecco. It is sure to find its niche: the wine is crisp and good, the volumes are significant and the prices seem reasonable.

The announcement was followed by a bang-up lunch at Mantova’s historic il Cigno restaurant. Top notch service, good food and delightful company. The Garda sparkling wine flowed freely!

The organizers had cleverly planned the event to coincide with the Mantua Book Fair and had procured tickets for some of the events for the assembled journalists.

We were treated to a very witty and amusing panel discussion (titled “Ironici malinconici” ) featuring Marco Malvaldi (who writes a mystery series that is translated in to English and published by Penguin) and Diego De Silva (who writes comic novels, which are also translated into English and published by various companies.) At one point the moderator asked for questions from the audience and a woman rose and grabbed the mic.  She started in on a long rambling introduction that included the words: “I too am an author…”  The collective groan from the 400 members of the audience was invigorating.

September 1 – 2 Off to Campania

I fly off to the heart of Aglianico del Taburno-land in Campania to be was part of a panel discussing Aglianico.

Wine Lesson: The Aglianico grape variety has been called “The Barolo of the South”. Certainly, its versatility makes it one of the most important Southern red grapes in terms of wine production. It lends body and character to lively rosés; to fruity quaffing wines and to well-structured and velvety textured, long-lived reds. It is cultivated primarily in Campania, Basilicata, Puglia and Molise. Aglianico del Taburno is a DOCG wine whose production zone is located in the Province of Benevento.

It seems that the producers here are trying to solidify their wine’s identity and expand its visibility on the world stage. During my whirlwind visit to the zone I taste wines from two producers and was impressed by them both.

I will be tasting some samples next month and will write about the wines at that time.

What I am writing at the moment is a Holiday Season (December) article on Champagne cocktails for a Singapore magazine. The topic was my choice. The editor just said “Festive tipples”, and I was fed up with writing the “affordable alternatives to Champagne” article.  For those interested: Kir Royale was sipped by Katherine Hepburn in Philadelphia Story and a round of French 75s was ordered in Rick’s Bar in that Bogart classic Casablanca.

 

 

July & August 2017

It is August. Italy still more or less shuts down and so do I.

A high point is a visit from Australian journalist/photographer Glynis Macri who took a day out of her vacation in Italy to swing by Verona to see me. We have been friends for a very long time and share many a war story.

The horribly hot weather broke twice.  The first time I was so excited that I pulled out a bottle of Bucci Pongelli. I love this red wine. It has everything I crave, juicy fruit wrapped in supple elegance. Yum.  The second time, I opened a bottle of Donnafugata’s Tancredi. “That’s serious wine,” said Michael. Indeed, it is, and it also rich and intriguing.

For the rest of the month I sat by the open French doors reading and writing and hoping for a little breeze to come my way.

JULLY JULY JULY

30 July Casina Alba Terra

The Cascina Alba Terra project grew out of a meeting between the Coffele wine estate in Soave and the Association on the Orme Onlus. The goal is to rediscover traditional methods of raising animals and crops, with an emphasis on organic techniques. Visit their website: http://www.cascinaalbaterra.it/

After visiting the Coffele estate, sipping some wine and inhaling the fragrant breeze, Susan H., Michael and I head to Il Drago in Soave for dinner.  And a good time was had by all.  Thank you, Susan.

July 23-27 The 23rd San Gio Verona Video Festival

We are in the midst of the annual San Gio video festival: This is organized every year by our pal Ugo, assisted by Michael.

I spoke to a fellow who photographed the Beatles in Tahiti in 1964.(Piero Oliosi)
He said: “I was there to photograph Marlon Brando on his Island. I got to talking to a local guy who said: ‘You know I ‘ve rented my boat to an English band. The Bootles. The Battles. Something like that.’ I immediately rented a boat and went out there, told them who I was and
they invited me on board.”

I asked him how old he was at that time because he must have been a boy. He told me he was 32, to which I replied ‘No Way!’
He said: If you do something you enjoy, something that makes you happy, you never get old.”

He later photographed Michael and me and said he was going to send the photos to his New York agency. I said to Michael: “Gee, just think we may find a photo of ourselves in an adult diaper ad some day. Yikes!”

I talked to a guy from Germany who, when he was young and needed money, wrote the captions for porno films.

“I never saw the films,” he added hastily. “They only sent me the scripts.”

I asked him if there were plots or just – Yes. Yes! Yes!! and Now. Now! Now!! and Harder. Harder! Harder!!

He said there were plots. I said: “Like. Hi, we are carpenters. Do you want to see our tools?”

He conceded that yes, that was pretty much it.

Many years ago when I was living in New York…I needed to make a little extra money. A friend of mine (doing creative writing at Columbia) confessed that he wrote “letters to the editor” for Pent House Magazine. He said: “I’ll arrange an interview with the editor for you and go with you…but you have to tell him that what you are going to write is true. Everybody knows that this is not the case but we all have to pretend.” So, I got the interview and did my pitch: phone sex. I wrote what I thought was incredibly naughty stuff. A few weeks later I got a rejection letter from the very nice editor who said that my submission was “too romantic”. Man, I wish i had saved that rejection letter.

An Iranian documentary filmmaker told me she wanted to invite me to Iran to do a documentary, featuring me tasting Persian food (traditional and contemporary). I said okay, secure in the fact there was no way I would be issued a visa to go to Tehran. I like the idea of tasting Persian food…but geeze I no longer like the discomfort of long-distance travel. Also the distance between an idea for a film and the production of an actual film is a long, long one…and often the original idea gets lost along the way.

So things are turning over here in Verona.

Ugo arranges for winery visits in the morning (with the festival taking place in the late afternoon and evening.

We visited. Le Mandolare (www.cantinalemandolare.com), owned by the Rodighiero family. A lovely visit, charming company. At the tasting the winery’s entry-level Soave wine, went down a treat: fresh, with a burst of apricot on the middle palate that carries on through the finish. It was just what was needed on a hot day.

I asked Chiara Rodighiero what she would have done had she not entered the family business. “Music,” she said. “I play the Sax and the French Horn. My husband went to the conservatory and studied French Horn.” She still plays in a band under the direction of Carlo Montanari.

COFFELE. (www.coffele.it) Wow! What a visit! The Coffele family pulled out all the stops, giving the San Gio crowd an exceptional experience. We visited their animals – donkeys, goats, chickens and a really fine work horse -, we lolled on the lovely lawn overlooking the most splendid view of Soave, and then they provided us with a bang-up lunch. (The chef was the winner of Hell’s Kitchen Italia). AND the wines were – of course- great as always. Among them there was the elegant, pear-tinged 2015 Soave Brut and the Ca Visco Soave, with its enticing undertow of ripe pears on the palate.

We also visited another producer, who has a very beautiful facility but has not yet come to grips with what it means to do a winery visit.

PRODUCER TIP: If it is a broiling hot summer day, with the sun directly over-head (as it is around High Noon), then it would probably be best to NOT deliver the lengthy opening remarks in a shade-less, chair-less portion of the terrace. In the same vein, it would NOT be wise to take a group of people who can still feel rivulets of sweat sliding down their spines into a chilled cellar room (ice cream would not have melted or even softened in this environment) to stand for over 30 minutes. In short: visitors are human beings and should be treated with the courtesy you would show to any mammal.

6 July Maddalena Crippa at the Teatro Romano

I like the trend of allowing women to play Shakespearean kings and princes.  A few years ago, the great British actress Fiona Shaw played the role of Richard II and of course last Glenda Jackson appeared as King Lear.

We arrive at the Teatro Romano, built in the late 1st century BC, to see Richard II, the title role performed by Maddelena Crippa.

For those that need reminding, here is a brief description of Richard II, from 1066 And All That: A Memorable History of England, comprising all the parts you can remember, including 103 Good Things, 5 Bad Kings and 2 Genuine Dates  (yes, I get most of my British history form this wee bookie.)

Richard II: An unbalanced King

Richard II was only a boy at his accession: one day, however, suspecting that he was now twenty-one, he asked his uncle and, on learning that he was, mounted the throne himself and tried first being a Good King and then being a Bad King, without enjoying either very much: then, being told that he was unbalanced, he got off the throne again in despair, exclaiming gloomily: “For God’s sake, let me sit on the ground and tell bad stories about cabbages and things.” Whereupon his cousin Lancaster (spelt Bolingbroke) quickly mounted the throne and said he was Henry IV Part I. Richard was thus abdicated d was led to the Tower and subsequently to Pontefract Castle where he died of mysterious circumstances, probably a surfeit of Pumfreys (spelt Pontefracts).

 

June 2017

June 2017

I have tried to correct the year to 2017 in every way I know how…to no avail. So I have given up. YES, it is supposed to read 2017.  Perhaps it will correct itself in time…who really knows?

First things first: Book Fairies and more Book Fairies 

The Book Fairies (http://www.thebookfairies.org) “collects reading materials for people in need throughout metropolitan New York. The reading materials foster literacy and academic success, provide a respite from personal struggles, and nurture a love of reading across age groups. Visit the site to find out how to become involved.

And internationally…

The Book Fairies (http://ibelieveinbookfairies.com/)

started in London with the Books on the Underground project, but has now spread to 26 countries. Anyone can become a Book Fairy. Take a look at the website.

20 June Lunch with Maz and Arne

I have known Maz for a very long time: she can cook, she can sew and she is the only person in Italy that I would trust in my home with a hand drill.  We brought a magnum of sparkling wine of 2010 Berlucchi Cellarius (Franciacorta, bright, lively, mature pleasure. www.berlucchi.it/i-franciacorta/cellarius/) Maz and Arne opened a bottle of a Swiss Chardonnay made by Donatsch (a touch of wood, nice.  www.donatsch.info/chardonnay-passion.)

24 June Dinner at Daniels

We brought a 2002 Giulio Ferrari, disgourged in 2014. Bright gold. Firm persistent bubbles enliven the palate. “There is still enough acidity there – it’s still nervy on the palate. We’re tasting a Grand Old Dame,” said Daniel.  Daniel opened a 2015 Soave from Pra called Otto. (a fine amalgam of soft ripe pear and a pleasing frisson of acidity. www.vinipra.it/it/vinipra) The name is not derived from the number eight, rather it is the name of Graziano Pra’s dog.

Wine Tasting memories

In the 1980s wine tasting in New York was a competitive sport (and it probably still is). There always had to be winners and losers. I remember being invited to a young wine salesman’s apartment for a Burgundy tasting. He threw open the door instantly at my knock. A manic brightness gleamed in his eyes.  Superciliousness burst from every pore. He pulled me into the room, thrust a glass of red wine in to my hand and exclaimed: “Identify this wine!” I glanced at the dozen or so people, each turned toward us, waiting for the show to begin, and silently I thanked Daddy for all those games of poker we played in my childhood. For I knew in an instant that whatever was in that glass, it would surely not be Burgundy. Only the day before I had read about French producers who had invested in the United States. I knew the answer to his question before the scent of the wine reached my nostrils. I casually waved the glass under my nose handed it back to him and said, “Oregon Pinot Noir.”  He gaped, stepped back and frowned. One of the spectators, a brash young man given to wearing yellow ties, stepped forward and said, “Who’s the producer?”  I promptly supplied the name. A frisson of pleasure rippled down my spine as I watched him crumble. Game, set and match to me.

How did I know the name of the producer?  Elementary, my dear reader. From the proprietorial way in which he asked the question I deduced that it was probably he who had brought the wine to the tasting. I knew who he worked for and I knew what Burgundies his company represented. I recognized, from the article I had just read, that one of those companies had had successful results from their plantings in Oregon. Did I gushingly confess this line of reasoning to the assembled company? Of course not. As Sherlock Holmes says. “Results without causes are much more impressive.”

At other times winning the New York tasting game seemed to be determined by the volume of a player’s voice and by the length of time he could monopolize the conversation. The occasion of a tasting allowed a player to recite every great vintage he had ever sipped and the name of every Important Person he had ever met. The name of practically anyone English rated almost as high as Nobility. There also seemed to be points for getting as many of these names as possible into each minute of play. I found these lengthy digressions as interesting as listening to a baseball fan recite the RBI stats of every World Series since the year dot. George shared my opinion on this.

One evening we dined with two rich wine collectors. The starters came and our hosts launched into a detailed list of their Great Wines Past. The main courses arrived and they continued their recitation without a pause. We ate, they talked at us. Over the remains of our steaks and the drone of our hosts, George leaned over to me and said quietly: “You, know, Patricia, I have always wondered why you and I never became lovers.”

“Because you have a girlfriend,” I replied.

“Couldn’t I have two?”

“Not with me.”  Silence suddenly drenched our table. The rich collectors had, at last, lost their ability to speak.

 

May 2017

First things first: Books With Strong Girl Protagonists! 1 images tammyTamora Pierce is the winner of the 2013 Margaret A. Edwards Award for Lifetime Achievement in Young Adult Literature, the RT Book Reviews Career Achievement Award, and the 2005 Skylark Edward E. Smith Memorial Award for Imaginative Fiction. She is a New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling author of more than 28 fantasy novels for teenagers, and has been Guest of Honor at numerous conventions, including Worldcon 2016. She has written comic books, radio plays, articles, and short stories, and currently devotes her minimal free time to local feline rescue. TORTALL: A SPY’S GUIDE, a collaborative effort with other experts on her Tortall universe, will be out in October of 2017, followed in Spring 2018 by the first in a three-book Tortall series, TEMPESTS AND SLAUGHTER. Tammy lives in central New York with her husband Tim Liebe and their uncountable number of cats, two parakeets, and the various freeloading wildlife that reside in their back yard. You may find her at www.tamorapierce.com, on Facebook, and on Twitter. I first met Tammy in the very late 80s when we were living in New York City. Back then she had written a martial arts script and got some NYU film students on board to film it. I “acted” in it – I had a death scene… unfortunately I had a hard time remaining immobile. We even did some clandestine shooting in Central Park, as I recall. I often wonder what ever happened to that film. It would be nice to see us so young and deliciously exuberant. At any rate, I am extremely happy that Tammy has succeeded in bringing strong and daring girls and young women to the forefront in her fiction.

 

May 27 – A Trip down Memory Lane 2 IMG_1173We go to the Osteria Carroarmato for dinner. A few months ago, I took 5 cases of wines from older vintages there. I figured that if they stayed in our wine closet they would never be drunk. At the Carroarmat we could open them and share them – which is exactly what happened. Annalisa (the owner of the Carroarmato) and I trooped down to the cellar and pawed through the cases and chose a 1988 Amarone and a 2009 passito.

 

 

 

 

4WINE LESSON: When tasting older vintages, you look to see how the wine has evolved over time. You revel in the evocative tertiary aromas and enjoy the kind of pleasure it still gives. Example: Paul Newman in his 70s. Yes, he is old…but the corn-flower blue eyes still sparkle and his bone structure is firm. He isn’t the same as he was when he pouted his way through Cool Hand Luke, but he still attractive and vivid. So, a wine that can age well is – in my mind – a Paul Newman wine.

 

1988 Amarone from Masi: A dark, rich tariness over a raisiny fruit. A vaporous scent of grapiness rises from the glass. It still gives pleasure. After 20 minutes, it opens up. The nose has an enticing floral note. I think it is safe to say that they don’t make wines like this anymore. 2009 Fiordilej Passito Villabella. Pleasing. After 20 minutes a touch of honey emerges and is bouyed by mandarin-tinged acidity. Unofficial note: pretty yummy. Annalisa offered a 1988 Cesare Passito from La Salette that was still vibrant and fresh.

 

May 19 Soave – Come Rain or Come Shine We took the bus to Soave for a tasting, a couple of vineyard visits and to hear some speakers who – for the most part – were indeed interesting. Wines that made the trip worthwhile:

Gini 2013 Soave Classico Salvarenza – a citrusy sherbet-y note. I would be happy to wear this scent…so fresh and uplifting.

Soave Classico ”Monte Carbonare” 2012 Creamy texture, an elegant grown-up vivacity. I love this wine.

Domaine Sigalas Assirtiko “Santorini” 2016 Fresh, Vibrant. Citrusy. http://www.sigalas-wine.com/english/ Assirtiko is a white grape variety that is indigenous to the Greek island of Santorini. To protect the grapes from the driving wind and fierce sun the vines are trained to form a basket. .

 

8For Importers (and wine fans) looking for something new from Soave: Franchetto http://www.cantinafranchetto.com/ The Franchetto family turns out elegant, satisfying wines. Of particular note: Franchetto Soave La Capelina 2015: Bright, sprightly. Elegant nose. Lightly thyme infused flavor over subtle white fruits (peach and pear) La Capelina 2016 – barely ripe peach sorbet – I want to eat it with a spoon. When we arrived, we learned that La Capelina had won the Decanter award as “The Best White Wine of the Veneto”. So there! If you need more assurance that the company makes good wines let me say this: Of the seven wine journalists present at the winery visit and tasting, three of them bought 3 to 6 bottles of the company’s wines to cart home. Everyone in the wine trade knows that wine journalists only buy wine if the wine in question is indeed special and the price is low with respect to the wine’s value.

 

17 and 18 May Verona Wine Top 9Was a judge once again at the Verona Wine Top tasting. The wines are tasted blind, That means that we tasters do not know that names of the producers. However, we do know the type of wine, such as Soave, Custoza, Valpolicella, Amarone, etc. There were around 8 judges on each of the three panels. My impressions: Of the wines my panel tasted I found the whites to be of a very high standard, with my highest scores going to Custozas.

 

 

WINE LESSON: What is Custoza? Custoza is made from a blend of indigenous varieties – Garganega, Trebbianello (a biotype of Tocai Friulano) and Bianca Fernanda (a local clone of Cortese. Where is the Custoza production area? Near Lake Garda. The reds were more problematic. The Ripassos were often unbalanced and many of the older Amarones had not aged well – they were hollow on the middle palate and there was not one whiff of what they might have been in their youth.

 

12-17 May Reading Jenny DSCN0726Our friend Jennifer arrived. The first thing she said was: “I need something to read”. I handed her Brilliant by Marne Davis Kellogg. A fine piece of escapist reading, tightly woven plot, witty narrative, great fun. When Jen finished it, she said: “Wow! What an ending. I didn’t see that coming.” Jen was an ideal house guest – she spent most of her time reading and drinking win on the balcony. We sang show tunes at the top of our voices and if she wanted to see sites she was content to amble out on her own…a pleasure to have her visit.