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.

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.