May 2016

1First things first: Books.  A few months ago Publishers Weekly sent me a collection of short stories featuring detectives Bryant and May by Christopher Fowler to review.  I laughed out loud as I read. I vowed I would find as many of the novels featuring Bryant and May as possible. Once again the fabulous Glenn at the Book Barn in Connecticut came through, finding me 4 books.  I, of course, read them one after the other. Witty dialogue, fascinating peeks at London history and characters who are fun to know.  Who could ask for more?  I am very glad that there are 10 more Bryant and May novels out there waiting for me.

 

 

May 9 Terra di Pietra

2We go out to Torbe, a hilltop village in Valpolicella to taste the wines of Terra di Pietra and visit their new vineyard. The tasting and dinner were held at Trattoria Caprini. (www.trattoriacaprini.it).

One of my favorite wines from the tasting: 2013 Le Peste (vinified in cement) Soft ruby. Fresh, pure nose. On the palate: red berry fruits, black cherries and a delicate floral note (hybicus). Silky texture.

“I wanted to make a good superior without wood and using natural yeasts,” says Laura Albertini, co-owner of the winery.  She succeeded.

After the tasting, they served the best pasta I have every had (10 eggs for every kilo of flour and the pasta is rolled out by hand using mega-long rolling pins.)  I was so impressed I asked one of the owners (it has been family-owned for generations) for a business card.

He said : “We don’t have business cards anymore because with technology nobody needs them…BUT we have bookmarks instead.  They are always useful.”  On one side there is the address etc of the place and on the other there is a poem by a dialect poet.

Do I need to tell you the surge of love I felt for that man and the restaurant at that moment?  “Bookmarks are always useful!”   If you know any small business owners suggest they do this; they will certainly garner the loyalty of the Real Book Reading cult.

May 11  Dining with the Players!

Albano Bizzarri (goal keeper) surrounded by fans.
Albano Bizzarri (goal keeper) surrounded by fans.

I went to a Chievo Calcio (Soccer) Dinner. There were 130 fans, 3 Chievo players and a couple of people from Chievo’s management.

When the players arrived there was as much applause and I thought: If Cumberbatch walked into a BSI (Baker Street Irregular) or ASH (Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes) event there would be the same goofy pleasure on the faces of those present, the same level of applause, the same amount of surreptitious (and blatant) selfies, the same amount of polite and respectful requests for autographs. Hummmm fans.  There has been a Big Dispute for the past few years among some factions of the U.S. Sherlockian world about using the term “fans” to describe, well, those with a more literary turn of mind.  I believe that the English Sherlockians (called Holmsians) don’t really care about that kind of nomenclature and just get on with enjoying the camaraderie. But perhaps they have their own tiffs about this matter.

NOTE for Italians: Tiff.  This is a lovely word that means a little quarrel.

May 19 Getting the boot(s) in Soave

 

567The three highpoints of this visit to Soave in the rain.  (in order of occurrence) 1. The rubber boots laid on for the visitors at Coffele Winery (www.coffele.it )    2. Ciara Coffele’s beagle puppy and 3. The superb 2005 Soave Salvarenza from Gini – lively, evolving flavors. (www.ginivini.com)  I took my glass of the wine from the tasting to the dinner.  I sniffed it every 5 minutes.  After 40 minutes it was still firm, fresh and fragrant.  I could have continued my experiment in longevity but I couldn’t hold out any longer and drank the wine for the pure pleasure of doing so.

Note for Italian readers: The expression “to get the boot” means to be kicked out.

21 and 22 in The Colli Euganei

8I went to the Colli Euganei to present my book about the zone to groups of journalists at various points throughout the 2-day event. I arrived hoping that I would only have to speak in English (hooray the Germans, Scandinavians, Poles and Japanese – not to mention the English, Australians and Americans – usually speak decent English.) And in fact – thank goodness – the Italian travel writers also understood English. When I addressed this latter group I had made myself so nervous that I just threw in the towel and did my little song and dance (a.k.a. presentation) in an insane mix of the two languages.

I become irrationally nervous when I must address a group of Italian who are strangers to me.  In my head there are always two monologues going on: 1. What I have to say and 2. The voice that is noting, with mounting hysteria, every error – after it has emerged from my mouth.

9 - Colli Euganei e nuvoleI can do interviews on wine and books in Italian. (Usually it is just me and the interviewee so a kind of comfortable intimacy evolves.) I can easily do simultaneous translations of the things said to me in Italian – BUT standing in front of people who would rather be eating their lunch/dinner completely unnerves me.

NOTE on English/American expression for Italian readers:

To throw in the towel means to give up in order to avoid further punishment when facing certain defeat. The expression derives from boxing: when a boxer is being beaten up and has no chance of winning, his manager literally throws his towel into the ring as an indication to stop the fight.

NOTE for those who do not know what the Colli Euganei are:

10-VignetiThey are the most unusual collection of hills you will find on this planet. Over the centuries those inspired by them – poets, artists, and geologists – have most often describe them as looking like islands emerging from a wave-less sea.  The hills were formed (between 34 and 33 million years ago) by a series of seismic shifts of rock substrata. In some cases, these shifts allowed molten lava and gases from deep within the earth to surge upwards, pressing against but not quite breaking through the ocean floor. As a result of erosion of this type of formation some of the hills have an odd, soft rounded shaped, like a soap bubble emerging from a bubble pipe. Others are the conical form we typically associate with volcanoes, although they are not actually volcanoes, as an eruption never took place. Most of the hills have a volcanic core. They are simply amazing to see.  This area – it should be noted – was fundamental in the development of Venice as we know it. Venice is paved with stone from Colli Euganei quarries, wood from the Colli Euganei forests was used to build the Venetian armada and produce and grains from the Colli Euganei zone were carried by boats along canals to Venice in order to feed hungry Venetians.  In the summer – to escape the heat of the city – Venetians built superb summer homes here (complete with stunning gardens).  All this plus thermal spas that were famous since Roman times and some excellent wines as well.  Really, who could ask for more?

Highlights of the visit:

111 Seeing old pals

2 Floating in the thermal pool at the Abano Ritz (www.abanoritz.it ) I would take up residence in this hotel if I could.

3 Doing a Sudoku while sitting on a bench in front of Villa Beatrice d’Este on Mont Gemola. The breeze was fragrant with scents of new mown grass, pine sap and meadow blossoms, and the only sound was bird song and the soft rustling of leaves.

  1. An olive oil tasting conducted by Devis from the Cornoleda Olive Mill. He has great energy and knowledge. (www.frantoiodicornoleda.com )
  2. A ride on a canal boat.
  3. Dinner at “Relais La Montecchia”, a restaurant run by the exceptionally talented and imaginative members of the Alajmo family.
  4. Listening to hypnotic, ancient Chinese music at the Museo Nazionale Atestino in Este.
  5. Tasting the wines of Ca’Lustra (www.calustra.it ) outside, in good company and with – as always – a stunning view. My favorite wine of those I tasted today was the 2007 Sassonero (100% Merlot) Long finish, backbone and brambly fruit, with an undertow of dark tones that are reminiscent of tar.

1227 May The Goose Man

I prepare a stuffed goose neck made by www.michelelittame.it.  The Goose Man gave a little talk and a taste while I was in the Colli Euganeis. My favorite quote: “We decided to raise geese because goose was the only meat not found in the supermarket.”  Very tasty, too.

These wonderful photos of the Colli Euganei were taken by Elena Bianco.

FEBRUARY 2015

27 February Hoopla in Venice
1A 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.

4GIorgios Copertina_Colli_EuganeiI was fortunate2 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).

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9 february TheVerona Sherlock Holmes Tour (sort of )
7Peggy 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.

January 2015

31 January Amarone Anteprima

Elisa's tatto is the Greek word for "to be amazine"
Elisa’s tatto is the Greek word for “to be amazing”

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.

 

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAWe 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.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAIt 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.

4But 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
KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAFriday: 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.

 

7Michael 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

 

 

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERASunday 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….

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAI 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.

 

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAMy 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

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAMonday 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.

18Marinella 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
19My 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!
KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAMy 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
21I 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.”

 

6 January At the Gepperia
KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAWe go to Geppie and Germana’s for a bang-up lunch made by Germana, with a few things made by Geppie’s mother.
“You are lucky to have a mother who cooks so well,” I say.
“No,” he says. “I am lucky to have been born in Naples.” This means that the food in Naples is better than anywhere else.

The regular gang is there: Auntie Leo and Claudio, Silvio, Steffie and Ugo.

Eleonella (a.k.a. Auntie Leo) brought all the ladies a souvenir of her visit to Naples: a befana. A befana is an old crone with a broom. In these parts she brings presents to children around Christmas time and she is also burnt as a sign of the passing of another year.

OCTOBER 2014

31 October
1Our pal Ugo teaches small children at a public school. Because he is a lively person the school board decided that he should be the school’s English teacher. Fine – except for the fact that he does not speak English. The school board sent him to an accelerated 6 week course. Fine – except for the fact that Michael did his homework for him.
Well, Ugo called Michael and asked him to come to his classes today to explain Halloween. Michael, quick thinker that he is, said: “But Halloween is an American holiday, Patricia should come too.” I spent the morning drawing witches and pumpkins on the blackboard, which I enjoyed. And Michael and I repeated HALLOWEEN! TRICK OR TREAT! WITCH! HAT! overandoverandoeverandover again.

 

 

25 October – The Byblos Art Hotel (www.byblosarthotel.com)

We are invited to take part in an artistic field trip organized by Ten Star community. I cannot even begin to tell you how beautiful and creatively invigorating the Byblos Art Hotel is. I took no pictures because I knew that any photo I took would never convey the feel of the place. Among my favorite works of art was a beautifully restored 1950s juke box that played recordings of poetry rather than music. Works by Damien Hirst and Vanessa Beecroft, as if by magic, fit comfortably into the the grandeur of the Venetian Villa’s main reception room. The tuna at the buffet wasn’t bad either.

 

13 October – Bacchus of Baker Street is mentioned in the Guardian!
bacchusTim Kline, a fellow Sherlockian, kindly sent me a link to the article.
http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/oct/11/sherlock-holmes-exhibition-museum-london-dispelling-myths

It is once again time to say that there is a at least one creepy pirated version of Bacchus out there in the world. The cover you see here – with the nice Basil Rathbone-esque Holmes drawn by Gianni Burato – is the Real Version. Accept no substitutes.

 

 

October 11 The Canova Prize
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).
For the first time since its inception, I could not attend the prize giving ceremony. I sincerely regret this because I love this prize. Here’s why:
Italian wine producers are always trying to link their product to Art. Seldom do they actually seem to be truly interested in the subject. It’s like people who go to fancy dinners in order “to be seen” as opposed to going to a dinner to chat with people and enjoy an evening out.
The financial and organizational support provided by the Guerrieri Rizzardi wine company is one of the very few collaborations in which the motivation is art and not just “being seen” to support Art.
This year’s winner is Maria Savoldi, 25, from the Accademia delle Belle Arti di Bologna

 

 

10, 11 and 12 October In Friuli-landia for the Scioppettino Fest
3 vineyard shotScioppettino 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.
Scioppettiono has a dark ruby color, and is full bodied, with a soft black pepper tone over richly textured fruit flavors, which include wild blackberries, raspberries and blackcurrants
The lesson is over, we can now return to the diary…

We – me, Michael and Stanley J. Dog – arrive at the tiny train station of Cividale del Friuli and after much toing-and-froing arrive at the B&B Il Vecchio Gelso, which also produces wine. The staff is gearing up for its post-harvest picker’s party. The owner shows us the certificates that will be awarded to The Harvester Who Always Arrived On Time, the one who Picked The Most in a Single Day and The Biggest Brontolone (grouch).

 

5 with taniaThen we are off to a dinner with producers at Ristorante da Mario in Abano – and a fine wingding it is too! Marco Grasso, the owner, is exceptionally kind to small Stanley, bringing him water and informing him that the meat course would arrive soon. The food is excellent, as is the company.
By chance, we sit at the table hosted by Flavio Schiratti, owner of RoncSoreli and Tania, his able marketing director. I am relieved to discover that I really like his wines. They are very well- balanced, juicy and satisfying. Here is a photo of Tania and me, note the leash attractively looped around my neck.

 

 

 

 

4 weedWe arrive back at Il Vecchio Gelso around 1 a.m., in time to hear the last blast of the harvester’s ball. The happy harvesters are singing and bopping along to the Black Eyed Peas – let’s get it started…in here!

The next day we are informed about a European Union Project that combines research and promotional activities between the wine producers in Propetto and their neighbors over the hill in Slovenia. Then we stroll down the street to watch the blessing of the new open air exhibition space (and potential roller-skating rink). In the space are local foods and wines are on sale, as well as kiosks offering 5 or 6 other local (Slovenian and Friulian) products. Among these is Konopljino Olje – Yes! Oil made from Cannabis Sativa. Note the happy dancing plant on the labels.

It tastes vaguely like peanut skins. It probably doesn’t have any mood-altering properties. We could not resist buying a bottle. “It will be a talking point,” said Michael. The nice man who sold the oil to us (and threw in the flour for free) said it was good for the digestion.

 

Off to Castello di Albana for a tasting of Scioppettinos. The fellow leading the tasting barked out a loud, maniacal laugh whenever he said something that he thought was amusing. Fortunately this didn’t happen all that often.

 

The Contessa of the Castella (a.k.a. Isabel von Teufenstein, Financial Assitant/Programme Manager for European Cross-Border Co-Operation) says I can let Stanley off his lead. He races around the courtyard – a wild and free smallish dog. She finds a stick and the three of us attempt to engage Stanley in a game of chase and fetch. Isabel’s family also happens to own a winery in Switzerland – Tenuta Bally & von Teufenstein ( www.tenutabally.ch ).

 

We visit the RoncSoreli estate. It will be a real showplace once construction of the additions to the winery are completed. Again, I am delighted that the wines; they are fresh and flavorful and very well made.
Back to town…

 

8 HildaAfter a bit of aimless roaming and waiting around, Paolo I. (the valiant organizer of this 3-day event) whizzes us in his van to Vigna Petrussa (www.vignapetrussa.it).

This lovely estate is owned and managed by the dynamic Hilde Petrussa. What was intended to be a winery visit and tasting instantly became a relaxing, amusing party among friends. Some fifteen of us settled chairs in the fragrant garden and chatted and tasted some exceptional wines. Among them her superb Picolit.

 

7 crates of grapesPicolit’s production zone is limited to the Friulian Province of Gorizio and Udine. The variety seems to have arrived on the scene in a blaze of glory in the late 18th century, when Count Fabio Asquini created a market for a sweet wine made from Picolit grapes, which he considered an alternative to Hungarian Tokay. The grapes for Picolit are usually semi-dried before pressing.

 

2 October Lunch with Angelo P. at Trattoria Al Pompiere (www.alpompiere.tv/it)
11 angieAngelo asks me to pick the wine. I am uncomfortable picking wine when someone else is paying. I say I want something from Alsace or Loire and leave the fine tuning to him. He chooses a Marcel Deiss 2006 Marcel Altenberg de Bergheim. Oh, man, is it yummy – honied yet with a fine slicing acidity, a fragrance that excited the imagination. (www.marceldeiss.com. )
Among other things, Angleo wants to talk about the New Face of Bardolino. The producers are going for a paler, more Provençal-style rosé. I like Angelo. He is creative, intelligent and has a sense of humor.

 

 

 

September 2014

28, 29, 30 September Off to the Hills Once Again
KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAI went to the Colli Euganei (a.k.a. The Venetian Hills) to visit the sites with Francesca Salvan (President of the Strade del Vino) and Franco Zanovello, my favorite winemaker. Why is he my favorite winemaker? Because he makes satisfying and elegant wines (which also just happen to be organic). I think of them as Audrey Hepburn wines. I also like him because he actually reads poetry! And those of us who like to read and who enjoy poetry are duty bound to stick together.

A few of the places we visited:

The garden at Villa Barbieri-Pizzoni. Armando Pizzoni came loping up the path to show us around the vast grounds. He is wearing shorts, a T-shirt, a ball cap and around his waist is a utility belt with secateurs and other handy devices tucked into its pockets. I ask him about it:

“Oh, I always wear it,” he said. “With a garden this size there is always something that needs to be done.”

We are shown around Praglia Abbey by Brother Mauro. We see the formidable library and the immaculate wine cellars.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAI stay at the Abano Ritz, a 5-star hotel-spa. Like all the spas in the zone it has its own source of mineral-rich water from the hot springs.

Because the springs are located within the confines of the Regional Park, there can be no new building. This means that the common rooms of the hotels often retain the ornate elegance of days gone by, with gilt mirrors, marble flooring and Turkish carpets. This touch of grandeur goes a long way in creating the sensation of timelessness that is fundamental to the spa experience. They are also often family-run affairs, which leads to a reassuring continuity of commitment.

Standing in the cool night air watching vapor rising from a grid of thermal pools fed by the hot springs leaves a lasting impression.

“When I was a child, the water level was higher and you could see vapor like that at all the fountains in town… and even coming from the drains along the streets. It was like living in a fairy tale,” says Ida Poletto, whose family owns the Albano Ritz. (www.abanoritz.it).

Villa Dei Vescovi
Villa Dei Vescovi

I have a massage. In place of the irritating New Age Elevator-Music usually played during such occasions, the masseuse slaps on a Leonard Cohen album. I haven’t listened to an entire Leonard Cohen album since 1972. And then I only did so to impress a new boyfriend with my intellectual cool.

We (Franco Z., Giorgio and Rosanna Salvan) have lunch at La Montecchia, which is run by the Alajmo family. (www.alajmo.it)

The food is simply sensational – imaginative, tasty, an experience.
I did not take notes on the food because I simply enjoyed what was placed in front of me.

“Dining here is like going to the theatre,” says Franco.

Among the wines we tasted was a 1997 Merlot Riserva from Salvan that is still fresh and flavorful and a 2000 Merlot from Villa Alessi (Zanovello) that is juicy and elegant. These wines are proof of the level of quality and longevity that is possible in the Colli Euganei.

25 September L’Ambasciata di Quistello
KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAThis restaurant, in the little town of Quistello (not far from Mantua), is a landmark in Italian dining. We, along with some 10 other journalists have been invited to lunch as part of a re-launch of the restaurant. For fans of the place let me assure you: Nothing has changed, the chef is the same, the food is still superb, the service impeccable and the décor remains as it ever was.

The dining room reminds me of a rich child’s playhouse decorated with the castoffs of Grandmama, the Duchess: Turkish carpets, silver serving platters, candelabras, china teapots, mammoth floral arrangements and stacks of books.

On the way home Diego, who kindly took us to the event, said that they are looking for a young chef who would like to apprentice there, with an eye to eventually taking over kitchen responsibilities. If you know any talented young person who would like to live in the Mantua area….this is a golden opportunity.

17 September Venice and the Canova Competition
8 -Tiziana and me on the boatA moment of genuine laughter with Tiziana Ravanelli on the Grand Canal on our way to a press conference for the Antonio Canova Sculpture Competition, sponsored by Guerrieri Rizzardi. I love this event because it offers young artists a significant opportunity to gain recognition for their work.

The press conference is held in Palazzo Fero Fini in a room whose walls are covered in hand-tooled leather. It is a bit like being inside a rich man’s humidor. (The question arises: do poor men have humidors?) The ornate, white glass chandelier is the size of a Volkswagen. Two former winners – Daniele Salvani and Alberto Gianfreda – are there, along with Agostino Rizzardi (son ofi Maria Cristina Rizzardi, who conceived the idea of a prize to support young sculptors).

After the conference we wandered back toward Stanley J. Dog’s favorite osteria: Bacaro da Fiore. Who should we see upon entering the bacaro but Agostino Rizzardi. Clearly this place appeals to a vast range of clients.

I told the woman behind the counter that we returned because everyone had been exceptionally nice to our dog – and to us – the last time we were there. She said it was because everyone who works at the bacaro has a dog. She then confided that dogs were much easier to deal with than children. “I don’t know what it’s like in other countries,” she said. “But here in Italy…parents come in and start talking on their cell phones, and pay no attention to their children.” Foreigners, she believes, at least insist that the children stay in their chairs.

14 September Talking on the Phone
I called Roberto Cipresso, intrepid flying winemaker and owner of a the La Fiorita wine estate and luxury B&B in Montalcino, to get a bit of clarification about the conman who tried to sell false Brunello. I learned the word furfone…which means scoundrel.

11 September Floating down the canal
12We go to do some more voice-over work. Hooray. I want to do more voice work.

We then head out for the Colli Euganie for a visit to a country house and Villa dei Vescovi (a national treasure). And – the main event – a ride in a canal boat. The organizer kindly agreed to let Stanley and Michael come along.

Here we are on the boat trying to imagine what it would be like if we weren’t cold and damp. The answer of course is: It would be wonderful….the strange lunar-landscape of the Colli Euganei…the magnificent villas….

10 September Scandal in Montalcino
I interview the President of the Montalcino Consortium, Fabrizio B. about the recent scandal (cheap wine in bottles labeled Brunello) for wine-searcher.com. It was the consortium who tipped off the police. Their quick action nipped the scam in the bud before any of the fake bottles reached the market.

7-8 September Soave Versus

Aldo L. & Paparazzi
Aldo L. & Paparazzi

This year Soave Versus, the annual Soave thrash, was held in Verona’s Grand Guardia. This stately building is in Piazza Bra, across from the 1st century Roman Arena.

Here are the names of some of the producers whose wines I tasted and enjoyed: Coffele, Vicentini, La Cappucina, Gini, Le Albare, Portinari and Le Battistelle. There were other wonderful wines on show but we didn’t have time to taste everything.

What I liked about these wines was their freshness and structure. Very nice Soaves!

 

6 September The Venice film Festival

James Franco and Paparazzi
James Franco and Paparazzi

“It is a world of pretty young things and scruffy old men,” said Michael as we sat nursing cold beers at the Venice Film Festival.

We hear waves of girlish shrieks and go investigate. The exception to Michael’s pronouncement is beaming from the Red Carpet – a nattily attired (though shorn) James Franco. He is surrounded by paparazzi. I snapped his picture.

We saw three films – all of them mind-numbingly earnest…two of them prize-winning.

 

The Vicdentinis
The Vicdentinis

We go to Ugo’s annual Bisato d’Oro (The Golden Eel) Awards Ceremony. It is held at Tiziano Wine Bar on the Lido. The owner has prepared what looks like a seafood buffet but is in reality a series of marzipan and cake creations. He is very proud of his work. I will admit to being a bit sadden that those nice fat, gleaming muscles are really compressed almond paste. There is of course the traditional platter of eel. The wine for this evening’s festivities was provided by the excellent Soave producer Agostino Vicentini and his wife Terresa Bacco. I like Agostino: he always says exactly what he thinks….no holding back. Therefore he is always good fun.

 

August 2014

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAIn August many Italians take the entire month off from work and devote themselves to getting a tan and eating spaghetti alle vongole in a trattoria on the beach. This mass urge to frolic in the sun can be traced directly to Italy’s pagan past, although some Italians try to pin the work stoppage on the Virgin Mary and others think it has something to do with workers’ rights.

 

In 18 B.C. the Roman Emperor Augustus decided to gather up all the rituals and celebrations devoted to the harvest gods and place them in the month that bears his name. What better tribute to himself than officially establishing a continuous eating, drinking and orgy binge? In the fifteenth century the Roman Catholic Church began to absorb pagan rituals into their own rites by tying them to an existing Christian celebration. The fifteenth of August had been designated, since the sixth century, as the date of the Virgin Mary’s assumption into heaven. Hence, the harvest festivals metamorphosed into a celebration of the Virgin Mary. The fifteenth is now a national Italian holiday called Ferragosto. And thus, thanks to Augustus, the lazy tail end of summer is still given over to holiday-making.

 

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAI, however devoted my August – in equal measure – to writing a book and lying in the hammock on the front balcony and watching the clouds change shape.

In the middle of the month I received an email asking me to write a news follow-up on a flooding incident that occurred in the Prosecco zone. Fortunately I have the private cell phone numbers of a couple of producers and was able to get quotes – not an easy thing to do in Italy in August. And, as with all news stories, it had to be written immediately.

 

Then the WSET (The Wine and Spirits Educational Trust) sent me an email asking if I could suggest someone who could translate their course work into Italian. I had a bit of time tracking down the person I wanted to recommend – she was on vacation, of course. But I found her and all’s well that ends well.

 

Shortly after this, I got a call from a voice from the past telling me that a book project that I had given up for dead, had a chance – after six (yes, 6) years – of being resuscitated. How nice if this actually comes to pass. But I no longer get excited by these offers. I save my excitement for when my payment check clears.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAWe went to dinner at Silvio’s…on the roof of his building. It has the most beautiful view in Verona. We weren’t supposed to dine on the roof because the condominium contract clearly states that it can only be used for drying laundry. But once the tenants had seen the view (particularly at sunset) tables and chairs began to appear. I brought a bottle of Bucci Verdichhio 2011 to the festivities. I love this wine. Order it should you see Bucci on a wine list.

 

In September we are off for a day in Venice – the film festival and Ugo’s prize giving ceremony. But for now, I think I will watch the clouds roll by.

JUNE 2014

June 26 GT(almost)Os at Maternigo

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAThose of a certain age will recognize GTOs as meaning Girls Together Outrageously.
My favorite Verona journalists/sommeliers (Clementina, Maria Grazia, Antonella and Monica), and a very nice photographer named Elisa, and I met up with Sabrina Tedeschi at her family estate Maternigo in the Mezzane valley.

 

 

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAThe 84 hectare estate – of which 50 are devoted to woods and 31 to vines, with the rest given over to olive groves – is immaculately maintained. Before the Tedschi family bought the estate the land around the collection of farm buildings had been used mainly as pasture. Now the steep hills are covered in straight, lush rows of vines.

 

Before the tasting we sample some cheese, meats, vegetables and mostarda from I Sapori del Portico (sapori@saporidelportico.com). Pure bliss.

Now to the serious work at hand – tasting.
Among the 7 wines offered – including vintages from the 1990s – here are two that particularly stood out for me.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA2011 Maternigo Valpolicella Superiore – very fruity, a satisfying example of Valpolicella.

1998 Monte Olmi Amarone Bruised plum color. Nose: distinct cherry fruit. Palate: Very full velvety fruit. Fine long finish. There is the incense-y quality that I find in mature Amarone.

 

During and after the tasting we had a very nice natter about biodiversity, the fact that cypresses and gingko trees could be either masculine or feminine, the difficulty of being a woman when it comes to managing a consortium, wine guides and the warring factions in Valpolicella. The prevailing viewpoint on this latter topic was that negotiation and opening a dialogue was more important that being right. After this we all agreed that it was nice to be just women tasting and talking.

 

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAValuable tip: Do not brush your teeth immediately after tasting Amarones – you must wait at least 2 hours. Brushing before that time can damage your enamel.

I teach Clementina the word punkin (a diminutive of pumpkin). She asks me what the word means because when I talk to the skinny little dog who roams the estate and lonely horse in the paddock behind the house, I call them punkin. Yes, I always start a conversation with animals who happen to pass my way.

 

June 18 through 20 Pinot Grigio – In Friuli with Stanley J. Dog.

 

6Pinot Grigio has become the magic name at Italian restaurants around the world, and its subdued aromas and flavors allow it to move easily from the bar to the table. It is little wonder that it is now the biggest selling Italian white wine in many export markets. Styles range from fresh and supple straw-colored wines, through barriqued versions; and on to splendid copper-colored wines (called ramato – rama means copper in Italian)

The difference in color and structure are determined by the length of time the juice remains in contact with the dark-colored skins of the grape before fermentation. It is sometimes forgotten that Pinot Grigio is, indeed, a red grape, a mutation of Pinot Noir.

 

Why am I telling you all this? Because I was asked to be one of 24 judges at the Pinot Grigio International Challange held in Friuli. A few days before the 3-day event was to take place, my husband Michael had to leave for England on family business. I rang the organizers and told them that it would be impossible for me to participate because, among other things, I had to stay home with my dog. Having met Stanley, they very kindly said I could bring him along.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

We boarded the train for Venice (where we would meet the bus that would take us on to Friuli with the other judges). Children came down the aisle to pet Stanley and have their picture taken with him. Other passengers smiled at him and told me about their own dogs.

His reception on the journalist bus was not so enthusiastic. I could feel the cold emanating from the other passengers when the saw him. Noone made eye contact. They were probably afraid that this would encourage me (and the dog) to sit down beside them.

However, Stanley behaved impeccably. Three days of: on-the-bus, on- the-train, in-the-car, lying quietly under the table while I tasted, trying to get some rest during press conferences, which were interrupted by applause. Stanley interpreted this noise as something along the lines of gunfire. But still he didn’t bark. He only got to his feet ready to run should the need arise.

 

In fact throughout this whole adventure he never barked, he never got in the way, he never begged at the dinner table, never ran around getting under people’s feet. Almost everyone was won over by him because there really was absolutely NOTHING they could complain about.

The Di Lenardos
The Di Lenardos

Now back to the Competition. We tasted Pinot Grigios from Austria, Germany, Switzerland, South Africa, Australia and other Italian regions.

The wine that I gave my highest marks to was Pinot Grigio Venezia Giulia IGT 2013 “Gossip” made by Di Lenardo. (www.dilenardo.it) It was a pale copper-colored wine, with personality!

I happened to meet Mrs. Di Lendardo and her son before the prize-giving ceremony. At that time we did not exchange names because we were busy chatting about our dogs. You can imagine my delight when I discovered that these unabashed animal lovers also produced the wine that I most enjoyed. By the way, Mrs. Di Lendardo’s dog is a little ragamuffin named Lili, who has even gone to St. Tropez with her mistress.

 

The overall winner of the competition was from Alto Adige: Pungll AA Sud Tirol Pinot Grigio DOC 2013 made by Nals Margreid. ( www.kellerei.it) It received my second highest vote and was a fresh and fragrant white. Third place went to Pinot Grigio Friuli Grave Doc 2013 from I Magredi winery (www.imagredi.com), which was also considered to be the best value for money. Once again, it was a fresh and fragrant wine.

We also tasted some Alsace Pinot Gris out of competition. Top in this small section was a superb AOC Alsace Pinot Gris 2013 Cuvée Sainte Catherine from Domaine Weinbach (www.domaineweinbach.com) A luscious mouthful.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERADinner at La Subida (www.lasubida.it ) was wonderful as it always is. They love dogs and the food and hospitality are beyond compare.
Here is a picture of one of Friuli’s signature dishes, fricco, as interpreted by La Subida. Yes, it is fried cheese on a stick.

 

 

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAJune 12 Sherlockians from Canada
I am so pleased that Verona has become a stopping point for Sherlock Holmes lovers on their European holidays. Peter C., his gracious wife and their friends stopped by. We ended up – as always – at the Osteria Carroarmato.

 

 

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAJune 11 My speech to the Veneto Wine Roads Presidents
I go to a little place near Padua to give a speech about how to improve the promotion of Veneto Wine Roads based on my study of wine roads in the USA, South Africa, Australia and Canada. I give those present a look at how two South African wineries increased their overall on-site sales by 30 and 45%, respectively, by simply modifying their website home page and by thinking about ways to make life easier for their visitors – such as parallel tea and juice tastings for designated drivers and children who may have accompanied the wine taster.

At the end of the day, one President raised his hand and asked: “But what’s the point of hearing about what they do in South Africa, we’re in the Veneto.”
It was one of those times that I thank my stars that I cannot speak impulsively in Italian. Had this all been in English, I might not have kept my patience. Let’s see….yes, why should Veneto producers try to treat their visitors better? Hummm, let’s see? 45% increase in on-site sales, perhaps?

 

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAJune 7 The Autographed Book
We delivered the book that Andrea Camilleri signed for Susanna during the interview I did with him a few weeks ago. What a nice man. Susanna made a Sicilian lunch in honor of the author and the dedication he wrote in her book.

 

 

June 1 Chievo Soccer Club Fan Fest in the beautiful little town of Bure

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June 1 – 3 Richard and Sue from Kansas via Texas
A high school pal and his very nice wife (Richard and Sue) arrive in Verona and look us up. Their last visit was around 12 years ago. They are lovely people. Our pal Roberta has arrived from the UK to attend a film conference in Bologna and has also stopped by to visit. And a good time was had by all.

Dick n Sue

May 2014

May 27   I’m ready for my close-up, Mr. Demille
KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAAldo called last night and asked me to come out to Soave. I am not sure why. He said something to Michael about me talking about Soave to someone…. “Oh, and bring your hat,” said Aldo.

We arrive to discover that a film (feature-length, they say) is being shot in the beautiful vineyard of Borgo Rocca Sveva. I (and Giovanni and Alessandra) have been cast (by Aldo) in the role of expert sommeliers. I am seated next to one of the main characters of the film.

I soon learn that there is no script…everybody just wings it. During each take the actor turns to me and starts talking….saying different things each time and I reply. He is lucky to be seated next to someone who can Wing It! The director and crew are from Argentina, the actor is Italian, the motor of the production is, I believe, a world-class sommelier from Miami named Charlie.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA30 wine tasting extras, the 4 sommelier judges (dats me and the gang) and the actors sit at our places and wait. The sky darkens as we shoot a scene. Rain falls softly on my hat. In no time big fat drops of rain pelt down. The director mutters stop. We pick up our chairs and run for cover. The sun comes out. We troop out and sit down and watch time pass. We feel the wind as it pushes the fluffy clouds away. The sky grows dim. We start filming again.

 

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA“You are a natural actress,” says Aldo. “This is the role you were born to play.”

My hat is a big success.

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8 . Mr. C. and meMay 27    I love Andrea Camilleri
My interview with Andrea Camilleri is up on the Publishers Weekly site. Hooray!!! Below should be the link. If not, just type Under the Sicilian Sun: Andrea Camilleri into Google and the interview will pop up. I am indescribably happy.
www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/authors/profiles/article/62426-under-the-sicilian-sun-andrea-camilleri.html

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Mr. Venturini
Mr. Venturini

May 26   Cheivo Fans at Venturini (www.viniventurini.com)
I have always liked Venturini’s Amarone – juicy, elegant, firm backbone, satisfying.
I took the opportunity of a Chievo fan club outing to tag along and visit the new winery. 40 fans were fed some swell grub and served some very satisfying wines. His Valplicella was lush and appealling.  It was a pleasure to try these wines again.

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May 21 Stanley at the vets
We take Stanley and a vial of his pee to the vets. We wait for 2 hours. In the waiting room are two big, growly, teeth-baring dogs, whose ancient owners occasionally whine the command “Sit” at them.

I feel that as the dogs ignore the “Sit” command. They are highly unlikely to obey the “Release your grip on the neck of the little brown dog” command.

I suggest that Stanley sit under my chair and I prepare to fling myself into harm’s way should one of the Big Dogs get loose from its ineffectual owner.

 

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAMay22 & 23   Soave Frolics
We go to the Vicentini winery where we meet up with a pack of very nice German journalists and wine buyers. As readers of this diary already know, I like Vicentini Soaves very much. Fruity, floral, elegant.

We arrive at the Villa Aldegheri for dinner. This very beautiful house and garden is a B&B for the fortunate few who know that it exists. “We don’t advertise, “ says Luisa, the owner. “We depend upon word of mouth referrals.”
Even people who lived in the zone were impressed by the view.

The following morning, accompanied by Stanley, we met at the Coffele winery for a tasting of Soaves from various subzones.

One of my favorite wines of the day is from Pra. The wine is called Otto and is everything a Soave should be.
We visit Filippo Filippi. He is just up the hill from Coffele. His place is idyllic. Bees hum, brilliantly colored flowers at every turn. His vineyards are surrounded by thick woods. His wines sell very well abroad. They are not typical Soave but they are interesting wines.

“Stanley is a real Venetian dog,” they all say.
“Stanley is a real Venetian dog,” they all say.

May  15, 16, 17, 18 Venice with Stanley
We go to Venice to stay with Michelle Lovric, (www.michellelovric.com ) who writes books (for adults and also ones for children) that feature Venice. She has invited Stanley to join us. She also suggests that I write Stanley’s Diary of the trip. You can find this in the Writers & Writing section of this website.

I had never written as Stanley before, although I did write for our dog Ed for many years.

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Edmund Cane, Journalist and Poet
Edmund Cane, Journalist and Poet

Ed got his first byline in Decanter, a well-known British wine magazine. I had already contracted to write about the first wine fair ever held in Brazil for another magazine when I got the call from Decanter. My byline could not appear over both stories, so the editor and I agreed to assign the second one to Edmund Cane (a.k.a. Ed Dog), my alter ego. From there Ed’s career blossomed until he had contributed to every major British wine publication. Each time his byline appeared I would whisk his copy of the magazine down to Annalisa at the Carro Armato and she would give him a meatball for being such a clever dog.

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I never thought of Stanley as a literary dog. He surprised me when I sat down to write his diary.
Here is an excerpt for those who are not in the mood to press a button and read the whole diary:

“On Saturday we go to the fish market and buy plates of fried fish and glasses of wine. We take our vittles to the quayside and sit on the stone pavement to eat our lunch. Seagulls swoop overhead. One drops something into Michelle’s plate. Every molecule in Michelle’s body seems to draw tight and shimmer for a moment. She offers the remainder of her fried squid to me. I love al fresco dining.”

 

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAKONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAMay 6 Kafka Springs to Mind
I find myself in a very large castle in a very small town (a few hours from by train from Verona). I am here to be part of a jury that will be tasting a particular indigenous variety with an eye to giving out prizes to the “best” ones. There are around 9 other jurors, plus two event organizers who will taste the 40-some wines blind. In this case blind tasting means that the wines are presented without the tasters knowing the name of the producer. .

 

I learned a new word. Personalità. This evidently means “bad winemaking”.
How do I know this? After the first flight of 6 wines, one of the organizers who was tasting with us said. “Wow, that number 6 has loads of personality.”

 

Then he asked the question I was dreading: “What do you think of the wine, Patricia?”

 

I said: “It is cloudy. It is a faulty wine, with off-odors that I believe are linked to a fermentation problem.”

 

He said: “But it’s made in an amphora! It’s traditional.”

 

I think: “Yeah, even the Romans realized that wines made in amphorae were not great – that’s why they added spices and sometimes heated the stuff up…”

 

At dinner one of the organizers tells a racists joke.
I have been asked to let them know when I write about the event. I don’t believe that I will be writing about the event.

 

STANLEY J. DOG VISITS VENICE

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We go to Venice on the train to visit Michelle Lovric (www.michellelovric.com), who writes books about Venice.

2- Michelle takes us to the Campo dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo to visit the Scuola Grande di San Marco. In a large room, with an ornate Renaissance ceiling, humans can look at primitive surgical equipment, including saws for amputations and slim picks for poking in eyes. The word “butcher” surfaces and I am interested in the place for twenty seconds. The humans go inside, I am content to sit in the sun in the piazza and meet dog friends and listen to their Venetian owners natter away with She Who Must Be Obeyed.

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Michelle asks if I would like to examine a dying bat crumpled against the wall of a narrow alley. I decline. I wait patiently while she takes a photo of it. Have you ever noticed how humans are attracted to every disgusting thing they find on the pavement?

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Saturday we go to the fish market and buy plates of fried fish and glasses of wine. We take our vittles to the quayside and sit on the stone pavement to eat our lunch. Seagulls swoop overhead. One drops something into Michelle’s plate. Every molecule in Michelle’s body seems to draw tight and shimmer for a moment. She offers the remainder of her fried squid to me. I love al fresco dining.

We go to Bacaro da Fiore, a crowded little osteria. I am fed meatballs and cooed over by the waiters. I lie down and they and their patrons are careful to step over me. People start telling She Who Must be Obeyed the names of their dogs: Franco, Dick, Zeus, Camilla. I fall asleep.

 

“Let’s get a picture of Stanley in front of Ca Dario, the most haunted house in Venice,” says Michelle. They hoist me up on the parapet of a tiny bridge and dance around trying to frame their shots. German tourists approach and I detect the enticing aroma of granola bars. She Who Must Be Obeyed loosens her grip on my hindquarters and I leap forward off the parapet and into the path of the tourists. “Dogs are very sensitive,” says Michelle. “He no doubt felt the ghostly vibrations.”

 

6aThey are cooing and coaxing and offering doggie treats to get me to pose with Michelle’s new book, The True and Splendid History of the Harristown Sisters. I don’t like having my picture taken. I don’t like the sound the camera makes and I don’t like that bright light that sometimes stings my eyes. When I hear the camera’s opening tune my usually elegantly floppy ears press back against my head and my round eyes take on a haunted look. It is a very good book and I am sure I would enjoy it if I read books….but….this picture taking business…. She Who Must Be Obeyed pulls me into her lap and whispers sweet things into the back of my neck and massages my spine. I will not be so easily seduced into compliance.

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I come upstairs after my nap. The humans are talking about Aldus Manutius (Aldo Manuzio), the re-inventor of the semi-colon. He married well and unfortunately passed away shortly before perfecting the hemi-demi-semi colon. I go to each person in the balcony room and let them know that treats would not go amiss but they keep on talking about punctuation. I curl up under the table and go to sleep. I dream of meatballs.

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We go into an antiques shop on the Zattere. The owner, a man with long hair who is losing the battle with middle-age, gives me a dirty look. Michelle points at a small canon. “It would be perfect for the balcony,” she says. Is she joking? I can never tell with humans. I spend a millisecond worrying about the brides in their gondolas who glide by Michelle’s balcony on the Grand Canal, and the young men in dinner jackets who whiz past in motor boats. Dogs and cats are in no danger because she unabashedly likes them. Here are some pictures of fine floating dogs she took from The Balcony.

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“Stanley is a real Venetian dog,” they all say.
“Stanley is a real Venetian dog,” they all say.
Stanley J. Seadog
Stanley J. Seadog

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We go home to Verona on the train
We go home to Verona on the train

OCTOBER 2012

More Indian

http://video.lyricsmint.com/video/navraimajhi/

and Pakistani music from Anadi Athaley

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7JDzfotML48

October 25 Frizzante

Our pal Silvio invites us to Frizzante, a new bar in Verona (via Marconi 15).  Bruno, the owner, worked for a time in Franciacorta and has spent time in London.  As the name suggests, the list of Champagne, Franciacorta and Trento Doc is  ample. We breeze through a few glasses of Ferrari Perle (on of my favorite sparkling wines) and head out to the movies.

October 20 Canova Museum

We are off to Antonio Canova Museo e Gipsoteca (www.museocanova.it) with Tiziana.  It was Canova’s home and has a superb garden as well as the sculpture exhibit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

October 19 Roberto Bravi’s Atomic Family

Robert’s work has been exhibited in Germany…but this is, I believe, the first time that something has been organized for him in Verona.

 

 

 

 

 

October 12 through 14 Sherlock Holmes Conference in Venice

Our first meeting point is in front of the Venice train station at 3 p.m.  Like a good Anglo-Saxon I arrive at 2:45 and start scanning the horizon for deerstalkers.  I see none.  At 3:10 I find my invitation – the one with the nice big silhouette of the great detective on it. I display it prominently and start cruising the pavement in front of the station hoping that someone will step up and confess to harboring some interest in Sherlock Holmes. In this way I meet Patrizia.  We spot other likely candidates and soon have a nice little pack.  At 3:40 Ivo the organizer of the event, appears leading a gaggle of Spaniards.

If “Italian Time” can be translated as “late”, to understand “Spanish Time” requires an Einstein-ian calculation that includes both time and space: for, after this first brief siting, the Spaniards disappear into an alternate universe, rarely to be seen again.

At 3:50 our tour begins.  “I will give the tour in three languages,” says a smiling Ivo.  Kate and I communicate telepathically and peel off to go get an aperitif. We find a café and sip Venezianas (a.k.a. Campari Spritzes).

Our next appointment is at the Casino at 6 p.m.. We take our seats and are treated to some welcoming remarks. Among these is the rare bit of information that the difference between Sherlockians and Holmsians is that Holmsians are serious. And just what does that make Sherlockians? I ask myself.

My hand shoots up in the air. I imagine myself racing down the aisle and grabbing the little man by his bowtie and shaking him while sayings things like: A lift or an elevator, a bonnet or a hood….whatever the word, the thing itself remains the same.  I would then drop him back in his seat turn to the assembly and declaim: What’s in a name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet!

I realize that this behavior would do little to further my cause.  I let my hand fall back to my lap and contemplate the venue’s décor.  The room itself is perfect –high ceilings, gilt detailing, Venetian glass chandeliers and sconces with tipsy shades. The walls are covered in faux marble.

The Concert for Two Violins and Holmes begins.  The violinists Sara Pastine and Federico Mechelli play with passion and are greatly appreciated.  Shouts of Brava! Bravo! Bravi! resound. Congratulations to the organizers for this venue and program.

We have an hour to kill before out 9:30 dinner reservation. We end up wandering the darkened alleyways looking for the restaurant.  Streets narrow to the width of Clydesdale’s rump. At 9 no Italians are out and about.  They are all at home, behind closed shutters, watching CSI Miami. We wander on – the trek takes on the nightmarish quality of that Escher staircase image: you feel like you will meet yourself coming up another set of stairs. And in a sense this happens.  Thrice we turn corners and come face to face with other small packs of bewildered Sherlockians.  Finally Takeshi Shimizu, a Londoner by way of Tokyo, says: “I think I know how to get there.” Mercifully he does.

Day two of the conference begins.  I turn a corner into the piazza in front of the deconsecrated church in which the lectures will be conducted, and I spot Bruce.  Bruce is an Italian from Verona (my town) who has assumed the name Bruce in honor of Nigel Bruce.  He is a collector of Sherlock Holmes films and books and he believes that the other Italian Sherlockians don’t take him seriously.  He is, of course, absolutely correct.

Bruce’s Sherlockian interest is more a symptom than a hobby.  I am sure that you have all heard of autistic children who can play complicated piano concertos but who cannot tie their shoes.  Well, that’s Bruce.  His balding head is chocked full of erudition and arcane Sherlockian facts but he is incapable of schmoozing, or even holding what would pass for a normal conversation.  I should tell you now that Bruce hangs around on my little street waiting for me to come out of my flat.  The poor fellow quite literally has no one else in Verona who will sympathize with his collecting compulsion and his narrow conversational range.  After a decade I have grown used to Bruce, and his sudden appearance no longer fill me with dread.  I know that my role is to be that of benign listener. He is, after all, a Sherlockian and I therefore want him to be happy.

We are milling in front of the church.  Suddenly there is a whoop from a waiter at a café in the middle of the piazza.  He grabs a broom and an hysterical rat about the size of an 8 ½ narrow races toward my black shoed feet, perhaps in the mad hope that they are rodent-allies.  I leap about moaning: omigod, omigod.  The rat dashes for the wall, then returns to my feet, then dashes toward the wall and back to my feet.  He is finally corned and bludgeoned by the waiter who wields the broom like a mallet.  After this quintessential Venetian experience we stagger inside for the first lectures.

Our next group excursion is a visit to a boathouse museum. 80 people pack into the area and receive a nice potted history of canal boats. We then line up and wait our turn to ride in one.  There are three boats that hold from 12 to around 17 people.  At around 9 p.m. I am handed into the last boat – the rowdy boat.  We glide through the canals peeping into people’s kitchen windows and – in some cases – waving and blowing kisses to the ladies who are peering down from the windows to see what all the commotion is about.  Ours was a lucky boat in that we got the added thrill of watching our boatman tumble into the canal.  I was near enough to see the terror in his eyes as he clung to the slippery, rocking side of the boat.  Fortunately his face did not dip below the surface of the water.  Had that happened it would have been a tragedy.

Day three finds us at the deconsecrated church.  I hear derisive remarks about the noisy Americans in the rowdy boat.  I immediately step up to defend the honor of my countrymen. “A Frenchman was the Master of Rowdiness,” I declare.  My protests are to no avail.

Stefano Guerra regales us with information about a play featuring Sherlock Holmes that was performed in Italy and he mentions that BRUCE! had – years ago – written a paper about various plays featuring Holmes. Bruce is not on hand to hear this positive reference as he is arriving by train from Verona.  I feel a pang, which I identify as despair.  I have, I realize, developed a tenderness toward Bruce, similar to what I feel toward small stray animals.  He may be a mad Sherlockian but he is MY mad Sherlockian, and receiving acknowledgment from the only group he could possibly be a part of would make him happy.

Around 100 participants signed up for this weekend, 34 of whom are non-Italians, coming from the USA, the U.K., Australia, Switzerland, France and (in theory) Spain.

Peter B..

“The fact that so many people from around the world have come here is very humbling,” says Enrico Solito, a past president of Un Studio in Holmes, the Italian Holmes fan club.

“The key to our society is friendship, so to host so many friends is a great pleasure,” says Michele Lopez, the newly elected president of Un Studio in Holmes.

The conference ends and Peter Blau takes three happy Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes to Harry’s Bar for Bellinis.  God Bless, Peter Blau.

And now for those who are or might become fans of Sherlock Holmes, let me mention THE SHERLOCK HOLMES MISCELLANY by Roger Johnson & Jean Upton  “This is the best introduction to Sherlock Holmes that I know and it also serves as a valuable work of reference. Written by two experts, presented with wit and published as an attractive hardback at a very modest price – there’s no better bargain for the beginner or the regular reader.” -Amazon reader review.

http://www.thehistorypress.co.uk/products/The-Sherlock-Holmes-Miscellany.aspx

10 October  Lunch on the Orient Express

I take the train from Verona to Venice.  Around 25 other journalists arrive and we board the Orient Express.  Yes, I am a lucky woman.  We will be taking a tour of the train, then sitting down to lunch, arriving back in Verona at around 12:30. The cars are filled with burnished wood and plush chairs.  The private compartments come equiped with bathrobes, slippers and everything a well-heeled traveller would need to pass the time as the train speeds along from Venice to Paris.

All the Real Passengers (as opposed to Journalists) look as if they travel with personal valets – no loose threads, so scuffed shoes, no creases in their slacks and no stray hairs on the sleeves of their cashmere jackets. Their faces look as if they have just been massaged with revitalizing essential oil.  I like looking at rich people. And I like eating foie gras, pan-fried salmon and little mounds of caviar (well, 5 tiny eggs on a biscuit, actually – but that’s enough) on good china plates and dabbing my mouth with a proper linen napkin.

What was all this in aid of? The 21st edition of the Merano Wine Festival  (http://meranowinefestival.com).  This exceptional opportunity to taste fine wine and gourmet food products takes place on 9 – 12 November and bills itself as “an exclusive event for gourmets.”

Meanwhile, on the train, we tasted the wines of Capannelle. www.capannelle.com and www.capanellewineresort.com) The company’s Chardonnay is bright, juicy and lively on the palate.  Very satisfying.

With dessert (Caramalized white chocolate mousse, pears sauteed in rum on nougat shortbread biscuit – too much of a good thing) we are served 2011 Dindarello from Maculan. Fragrant moscato to the max. Sweet and pure on the nose and palate.