Il miglior fabbro: mourning the passing of the great Italian translator William Weaver

pasolini ragazzi di vita

Above: William Weaver is remembered by many for his superb translations of popular writers like Eco and Calvino. But to many Italian literature cognoscenti, his masterworks are his renderings of experimental works by Carlo Emilio Gadda and Pier Paolo Pasolini (image via Barnes & Noble).

It was with great sadness that I read the news this morning (published over the weekend in the New York Times) that the greatest Italian translator of our generation William Weaver has passed at age 90.

I never had the opportunity to meet him but his work had a huge influence on my career as a translator and my intellectual life (and two of his students were mentors of mine).

Many American college graduates and literary buffs will remember him for his superb translations of popular writers like Eco and Calvino.

But his masterworks are his renderings of experimental works from the twentieth century by authors like Pier Paolo Pasolini and Carlo Emilio Gadda.

Weaver brilliantly translated the title of Pasolini’s 1956 Ragazzi di vita — a novel written in urban Roman dialect — as A Violent Life. The title alone (ragazzi di vita — which, slavishly, means the boys of life — is a colloquial expression that denotes street hustlers) marked a new era for Italian translation and translators. As in this case, he often abandoned accuracy for the verve and ethos of the original. And this bold approach set a new tone and a new benchmark for the generation of translators who would follow in his footsteps.

When I frequented literary circles during my New York years, Weaver’s name was invoked by translators from all fields — poetry, prose, French, Spanish, etc. He was a Virgil for many of us. And he taught us — in theory and practice — that the fact that translation can never be perfect does not stop translation from being great.

If you are so inclined, please read this essay (very short but indicative of Weaver’s work) which he published as an introduction to his translation of Gadda’s Acquainted with Grief (again, another brilliant rendering of a challenging title).

He was il miglior fabbro (the best smith [of the mother tongue])

Scenes from the “Pasolini in Rome” show at the Cinémathèque Française

Comrade Howard graciously sent me these images from the current “Pasolini in Rome” exhibition at the Cinémathèque Française where he toured the show last week with the museum’s director.

It runs through January 26.

La poésie, la politique, le sexe, l’amitié, le cinéma… The stuff that life is made of.

The track “Pasolini” in the slideshow comes from my band Nous Non Plus’ release Le sexe et la politique (Terrible Kids Music 2012).

pasolini

how to pronounce Xinomavro (and desperately seeking Zibibbo)

What a thrill to learn that the Greek Grape Name and Appellation Project was put to good use yesterday by the leading Italian wine blogger in the world today, Alfonso Cevola, who used the video above in his talk on Xinomavro at the annual Texas Sommelier Conference in Dallas (Texsom).

As the popularity of Greek wines and grapes like Assyrtiko and Xinomavro continues to explode in the U.S. (check out this brilliant post today by the hippest sommelier in America, the inimitable Levi Dalton), it’s remarkable how few know the correct pronunciation of Xinomavro.

I’ll be the first to tell you that I, myself, didn’t know how to pronounce it until I traveled to Naoussa and got a lesson from Constantine Boutari himself (he’s the owner of the Boutari winery group)!

He is such a sweet man and when I asked him if I could film him “speaking” Xinomavro, he improvised — on the spur of the moment — the talk he gave me (to the surprise of everyone in the tasting room at Boutari’s Naoussa winery).

You can listen to all the pronunciations over at the Boutari blog (where I have been posting for three years now).

naoussa

The Italian Grape Name and Pronunciation Project continues to expand and I have new videos to post this week.

I am looking for a native speaker to do Zibibbo. On Friday, a reader wrote me with a query about its pronunciation, which is trickier than it would appear. I’ll explain when I have a video ready.

But in the meantime, does anyone have any suggestions or requests for wineries/winemakers whom I should approach? Please let me know in the comments.

I greatly appreciate it.

And one last thing on this busy Monday morning: be sure to check out Alfonso’s superb post this morning on “Breaking the Code of Silence on Italian Wine.”

Now it’s time to put my nose to the grindstone. Buon lavoro, yall! Have a productive work week!

“Universe in a glass of wine”: who really said that? The answer…

galileo wine glass

Above: Portrait of Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) by Justus Sustermans (1597-1681; image via the Wiki).

Reading the excellent Italian-language food and wine blog Porthos this morning, I was reminded by the authors of the famous and brilliantly topical lecture by U.S. physicist Richard Feynman, “The Universe in a Glass of Wine.”

“A poet once said,” it begins, “‘the whole universe is in a glass of wine.’ We will probably never know in what sense he said that, for poets do not write to be understood. But it is true that if we look in glass of wine closely enough we see the entire universe.”

Click here for the entire text (it’s very short) and the audio. If you’ve never heard it, it’s worth listening (in part because Feynman’s immense ability as orator).

(Today’s post on Porthos takes the form of a Socratic dialog on biodynamics and Natural wine and the interlocutors cite Feynman as an example of the powerful mythology of Nature as expressed through wine.)

Feynman doesn’t seem to know who the poet was. (And he notes — for comic effect but erroneously in my view — that poets “don’t write to be understood.”)

I believe that the imagery comes from a “scientific letter” by Italian philosopher Lorenzo Magalotti (1637-1712) who cites Galileo’s [attributed] maxim, wine is a compound [mixture] of moisture [humor] and light (il vino è un composto di umore e di luce).

Note that humor denoted moisture in seventeenth-century Europe (cfr. “1697 Dryden tr. Virgil Georgics i, ‘Redundant Humours thro’ the Pores expire,'” Oxford English Dictionary).

This celebrated observation of the physical world was transmitted anecdotally by Galileo’s student Raffaello Magiotti (1597-1656), who is quoted by Magalotti in the letter.

magalotti letters

In the text (the fifth letter in the collection), he uses the maxim as a thesis in his dissertation on the nature of light. The grape and its transformation, he writes, are a perfect example of light’s ability to “penetrate a body.”

In Dante’s Commedia (Purg. 25, 76-78), the Latin poet Statius compares G-d’s creation of life to Nature’s transformation of moisture into wine by means of light:

    E perché meno ammiri la parola
    guarda il calor del sol che si fa vino,
    giunto a l’omor che de la vite cola.

    [And, that you may be less bewildered by my words,
    consider the sun’s heat, which, blended with the moisture
    pressed from the vine, turns into wine.]

(Some have translated Dante’s omor [umore] with the English sap but moisture is a more accurate translation, especially given the context.)

In the light of Dante’s popularity during Galileo’s time, it’s likely (guaranteed, really) that Galileo was familiar with these lines. Magalotti cites the Dantean verses as well in his letter.

So did a poet once say that you could see the whole universe in a glass of wine?

It’s possible but unlikely.

Did the poets, as far back as Statius, consider wine to be a substance that could reveal the nature of the universe? Yes, most definitely.

Like me (however small I am compared to those giants), they were negotiating the epistemological implications of oenophilia.

Thanks for reading…

Defending a diacritic in Cogno’s “Anas-Cëtta” TY @brittanieshey

cogno anas cetta

A note of thanks to my friend and colleague Brittanie Shey (Houston-based music and lifestyle writer) who brought this New Yorker piece to my attention: “The Curse of the Diaeresis.”

It interests me for three reasons: 1) my doctoral thesis on medieval & Renaissance prosody (meter/versification) and transcription included a chapter devoted in part to diaeresis; 2) I have always been annoyed by the New Yorker’s hypergrammatical (yes, that’s a term; I didn’t coin it) use of the umlaut (aka diaeresis); and 3) Valter Fissore uses a gratuitous umlaut in the proprietary designation for his Cogno Langhe Nascetta.

Continue reading

The most brilliant wine blog post ever… period… by @hawk_wakawaka

morlacco

Above: Today, for lunch, Georgia P had tortelli stuffed with stinky Morlacco (cow’s milk cheese) and seasonal asparagus in the village of Rolle (in the heart of Proseccoland). She loved them.

Among the blogs I follow, there were a number of stand-out April’s fools day posts.

Pope Alfonso shared a vision of a harmonious world where some of the most litigious among us actually get along.

King Franco revealed that he’s closing up shop and going to work for Frescobaldi (and I actually fell for it; blame it on the sleep deprivation caused by traveling with a fifteen-month old and a mommy who is twenty-five weeks pregnant).

But… it was Hawk Wakawaka who wrote the best one. Indeed, she delivered what I consider the most brilliant — absolutely and of all times — wine blog post ever.

In it she recounts her visit to the winery of Jean-Luc Picard (former captain of the Federation Starship Enterprise).

It’s sci-fi meets wine blogging, Bradbury meets 1 Wine Dude. And it gives us a glimpse (just as Gene Rodenberry did) of a future just beyond our reach…

(For a little background on wine vs. synthehol, see here and here.)

most beautiful baby girl prosecco

Above: Remember the last time Tracie P and I were in Rolle? The view of the vineyards was gorgeous today (as well).

I can’t recommend Hawk Wakawaka’s post highly enough!

Buona lettura (happy reading)!

Bacalà ala visentina (baccalà alla vicentina) for Easter Sunday

baccala alla vicentina

Tracie P had a pregnancy craving for bacalà ala visentina and so my old friend Renato, manager and chef at the Villa Marcello Marinelli (Cison di Valmarino) where we’re staying, made some especially for us for our Easter lunch today.

carciofi in padella

He’d already been soaking some stockfish for himself and his family and so it was perfect. Man, was it good!

There was no room in the dining room (because the restaurant was already completely reserved for Easter). So we had “room service” in our apartment. He also made us some potatoes and artichokes saltati in padella (pan sautéed).

It couldn’t have been better. :)

villa marcello castelbrando cison

After lunch we took Georgia P for a stroll through the village. That’s the Villa on the left.

And then we went for a drive through misty Valdobbiadene and along the left bank of the Piave (my old stomping grounds)… It was so beautiful and peaceful. And as we drove back, all the folks were in the villages enjoying ice cream and their post-holiday passeggiata (stroll).

I hope everyone had a great Easter Sunday!

Piè franco, origins of the designation (more fascinating than expected @finewinegeek)

pie franco meaning

One of the Italian wine bloggers I admire most, Ken Vastola, wrote me this morning asking about the meaning and origins of the Italian expression piè franco.

The designation can be confusing, especially to the non-Italophone among us.

Here’s what he wrote to me:

    I have read in my places that Franco in “Pie Franco” means French. Thus implying European root stock. But Keith Levenberg wrote to me “a correction to the pages for the Pie Franco, “Franco” actually doesn’t mean “French” as is usually assumed — it means “free,” so, free feet as distinguished from feet that got cut off and tied up, I guess.”

    Can you clarify this for me? I know linguistic and Italian in particular is your specialty. I thought Franco was Piemontese, not Italian.

Piè franco is used in Italian wine parlance to denote ungrafted rootstock and is often employed to designate wines made from ungrafted, pre-phylloxera vines, like the Cappellano Barolo Piè Franco. It is akin, although not derived from, the French franc de pied.

The word franco means free or independent in Italian (not French). Lexicographers point to the Franks, third-century Germanic invaders of the Italic peninsula, as its etymology. They were “free,” unrestricted by Roman law.

By the time of the Renaissance, the term campo franco (free field) denoted an open field where a duel could be held.

By the end of the seventeenth century, the term lingua franca (free language or tongue) denoted a means of communication between speakers who did not share a common language.

Here’s where it gets interesting…

Piè appears for the first time in Italian in the fifteenth century, as a truncated form of piede (foot). One of the earliest instances is found in humanist poet Politian (Poliziano, who was from Montepulciano, btw). The wonderfully maleable Italian language is ideal for poets and prosodists: syllables can seamlessly be elided and vowels can mellifluously be fused in the name of versification (my dissertation was devoted to Italian Renaissance prosody).

The expression piè franco (literally, free footed or free standing) begins to appear in the eighteenth century, the age of the Italian enlightenment (Parini, for example) meaning with unclouded thought. It’s borrowed from religious parlance, where it meant free willed.

Camminare a piè franco meant to walk with a free gait, as in the English expression to go one’s own gait, in other words, to pursue one’s own course (OED). (It’s interesting to note that Manzoni changed piè franco to passo libero or free passage in his 1840 edition of The Betrothed. But that’s a longer conversation!)

By the mid-nineteenth century, agronomists had begun to employ the term to denote free-standing trees. Many note how lower planting density in orchards can produce higher quality fruit. (The Bindoccis wrote about this recently on their blog in regard to olive grooves.)

Only later, toward the end of the century, does its usage as ungrafted begin to appear and by the end of the century, we see the first instances where it is used to apply to vines.

This makes perfect sense because the evolution of the meaning mirrors the emergence of the phylloxera plague of the 1800s.

So there! Thanks, Ken, for setting me down this path and nudging me to walk with my own gait!

The subtitle of my blog is: “Negotiating the Epistemologic Implications of Oenophilia.”

This little philological romp is just the type of thing that gets me going: using wine as a lens to see and better understand the world around us.

Thanks for reading.

Fruit flies, best way to get rid of them

best remedy fruit flies

Remember the malathion-spraying helicopters in the opening sequence of Robert Altman’s 1993 love letter to Los Angeles, Short Cuts?

That movie and the 1989 medfly invasion in my southern California are such vivid memories of my early adulthood.

If you work in or around the wine industry, you know that fruit flies can be a chronic problem.

Ever since Tracie P quit her job in wine sales to be a full-time mother, we’ve had a lot less trouble with fruit flies (she used to come home every night with a wine bag full of open bottles she had “shown” that day).

But especially as we have begun to consume a larger quantity of organically grown fruits and vegetables, we still get the occasional fruit fly.

Mrs. B (my mother-in-law and the world’s number-one nanna) can’t remember where she read about the remedy but it’s worked out great for us (thanks, again, Mrs. B!): simply pour roughly a “finger” of red wine vinegar into a glass and then add 3-4 drops of dishing washing detergent.

The little critters are attracted to the vinegar but when they land on the surface of the liquid, they are unable to free themselves from the viscosity of the detergent.

As cruel as it sounds, you need to make sure that they die before you flush them down the drain (if they’re still squirming, they can reside in the drain and reappear later).

Buona domenica! Happy Sunday, yall!

Neb[b]iolo and Politics in 1950s Italy

luigi einaudi vignetta large

Above: This caricature of the second president of the Italian republic Luigi Einaudi, farm owner and producer of Dolcetto and Nebbiolo, was published in 1950 in Italy. The monarchist publisher was convicted of libel. Click on the image for a larger version and note that Nebbiolo is spelled with one b.

The often workaday nature of my professional life is balanced by my insatiable curiosity and the unmitigated access to all kinds of information via the internets.

Yesterday, as I was roaming around the web and trolling for nuggets about the Einaudi winery in Dogliani (for one of the many restaurant sites that I curate), I came across this wonderful caricature of Italy’s second president (and winemaker), Luigi Einaudi, a figure whom I admire immensely for his opposition to historic fascism.

The Einaudi family has played impressive roles in Italian contemporary history, society, and culture, including Luigi’s son Giulio’s legacy as a publisher (the bookshelves of our home are line with works of literature and critical essays published by Einaudi, including collections of Pasolini’s writings), his son Ludovico’s legacy as a musician, and son Mario’s strident anti-fascism.

In 1950, when Luigi Einaudi became the second president of the Italian Republic, the monarchist review Candido parodied him in the caricature above.

Einaudi is the figure in the center, guarded by corazzieri (a presidential guard of Neb[b]iolo) at the Quirinale, Italy’s presidential palazzo.

The episode reveals how fine wine, and Nebbiolo in particular, was viewed as an elitist indulgence at the time. It also gives us an indication of how wine visionaries like Einaudi (he was among the first to modernize his winery and he was a pioneer in his vision of building the wine export industry in Italy) were seen as misguided.

The satirical message of the vignette is this is how our new president expects to rebuild our country… with wine.

Einaudi sued the publisher for libel and won.

An Einaudi Dolcetto was Eric and Levi’s top pick this week in their The New York Times tasting panel. I’m a big fan myself… for the wine’s traditional and classic style… and for the family’s legacy as anti-fascists and intellectual celebrities…