@NousNonPlus NEW ALBUM OFFICIALLY HERE!

My band Nous Non Plus’ new album is finally (officially) here. I love and cherish all of our music but I’m particularly proud of this collection of songs because there is so much of Georgia P in them… songs that I wrote while singing to her… songs that made her smile… I’ve included a few Soundcloud links at the bottom of the post… thanks for listening!

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Le sexe et la politique
Nous Non Plus
October 2012
Terrible Kids Music

The centerpiece of “Le sexe et la politique” (“Sex and Politics”, Terrible Kids Music, October 2012), the latest release by indy French rockers Nous Non Plus, is a quote from twentieth-century Italian director, poet, and essayist Pier Paolo Pasolini (1922-1975).

In one of the last interviews that Pasolini gave before his assassination by a prostitute at the Roman seaside (Ostia), he told a French journalist in Cannes: “I believe that it is one’s right to shock people; that being shocked is a pleasure; and that those who refuse the pleasure of being shocked are moralists, so-called ‘moralists.’”

The quote spoke to the band on many levels and in many ways represents the arc of Nous Non Plus’ raison d’être.

The occasion of the interview was the debut of Pasolini’s 1975 film Salò o le 120 giornata di Sodoma (Salò or the 120 Days of Sodom), his controversial adaptation of the Marquis de Sade’s famous work. Pasolini would be found dead on the beach outside of Rome six months later.

The quote can be heard — in his own voice and translated into French — in lead singer Céline Dijon’s homage to Pasolini, Italy’s towering intellectual celebrity of the 1960s and 70s, in the song devoted to his life as an artist (entitled simply “Pasolini”).

The track reflects the band’s recent fascination with electronica and computer-generated music, a genre that appears in Jean-Luc Retard’s coup de maître, a soundscape entitled “Le menteur” (“The Liar”). In this stirring piece, Retard juxtaposes primitive and repetitive drum programming with his silky Fender Stratocaster and Céline’s luscious voice — the only “real” instruments in the recording.

But the group’s flirtation with computer-generated music on this effort is counterbalanced by its love for rockers like “Moto” (a song about a girl obsessed with a man’s motorcycle) and “Stockholm” (a foray into sadomasochism and role-play). And true to its roots, Nous Non Plus also delivers a suite of classic 1960s-inspired tracks, like the playful duet featuring Dijon and Retard, “C’est vrai, bébé!”, and the stunning performance rendered by Dijon on “Nadia”, a song about a Russian spy and her unrequited lover Vladimir.

The red threads that connect the dots of this eclectic collection of songs are sex and politics. As Nous Non Plus reminds us with this new album, passion and power are what make the world go round.

Click here to hear the track “pasolini”.

Click here to hear the track “c’est vrai bébé!”

New York Public Library gems (a Quintavalle autograph)

The New York Public Library is one of the city’s greatest gifts to America and a trésor for which the entire world should be grateful.

When I travel to New York, I do so primarily for business (meetings with clients and editors), to catch up with dearly missed friends, and to revisit the convivium and rock ‘n’ roll of my 30s.

But my greatest pleasure is the precious hours I spend at the library.

This latest trip delivered the discover of an Uberto Paolo Quintavalle autograph — a dedication to New York publisher Blanche Knopf (above)!

The twentieth-century novelist was a good friend of Pasolini and appeared in his last film, the Salò or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975).

(This film and my study of Pasolini continue to recur in my life and work… My sojourn in the city delivered an incredible first-hand anecdote about the movie and I will write about it in a post later this week.)

What a thrill for me to get to examine his handwriting!

food guides italy 50s

Another gem was this 1957 food guide to Italy (above).

This visit’s research was devoted the origins of famous Roman dish. I think that many of you will be surprised by my findings and I’m looking forward to posting them tomorrow.

In the meantime, buona lettura!

Sensuous world: Marx, Gramsci, Pasolini, food and wine

Just as nature provides labor with the means of life in the sense that labor cannot live without objects on which to operate, on the other hand, it also provides the means of life in the more restricted sense, i.e., the means for the physical subsistence.

—Karl Marx, Economical and Philosophical Manuscripts, Paris, 1844

One of the things I couldn’t stop thinking about on this last trip to Italy (where I stayed at a 5-star resort, ate in a Michelin-starred restaurant, and tasted verticals of some of Southern Italy’s most famous wines) was Marx’s concept of alienation (estrangement), Gramsci’s concept of reification (objectification), and Pasolini’s “fear of naturalism” (“the natural being”) and the insight that they provide us in viewing the current global epicureanism as an expression of the bourgeoisie’s (and I count myself and you, my readers, as members of this privileged class) deep-seated yet unanswered yearning to cast off the yoke of consumerism.

Even though we know that sunlight is bad for us, we all know that wonderful feeling of feeling the sun on our skin, watching a sunset, or walking through a park on a bright summer day.

And even though we know it’s not bad for us, a view of verdant pastures or ancient olive groves somehow soothes us. The same way we enjoy reading Virgil’s Bucolics, viewing an 18th-century painting of a pastoral scene, or reading about “hardcore” natural winemaking in Spain on a favorite wine blog, food and wine writing allows us to escape the workaday din of the consumer-driven, globalized, and frighteningly reified world in which we live.

Sadly, in the post-second-world-war industrialized and globalized world, our bodies have become mere objects and the nutriments which give us life have become mere objects and we have lost touch with the pre-industrial expressions of the one and the other. Even as we consume “heirloom” food and wine products, as good and as healthy and as wholesome as they may taste, we cannot ignore (however much we would like to) the fact that the chain of supply that has delivered them to our dinner tables has rendered them into mere objects for consumption (it has reified them) by polluting the world with its carbon foot print as it couriers otherwise nutritious sustenance to consumers.

Marx would have called this “estrangement” (or “alienation” is some circles of Marxist parlance). There are very few among us who have any direct contact with the origins of the foods with which we nourish ourselves. As for Marx’s worker, food as become a mere object for us, even though it is the very substance that gives us life:

    The more the worker by his labor appropriates the external world, sensuous nature, the more he deprives himself of the means of life in two respects: first, in that the sensuous external world more and more ceases to be an object belonging to his labor — to be his labor’s means of life; and, second, in that it more and more ceases to be a means of life in the immediate sense, means for the physical subsistence of the worker.

From his jail cell, as he witnessed Mussolini and the fascists industrialize Italy (“the trains ran on time,” etc.) and promote an exodus from the countryside and a migration to the great urban centers (because they needed humanpower to populate the factories), Gramsci distilled Marx’s estrangement into his notion of the cultural hegemony, whereby the capitalist cultural model drives humanity to negate its humanness.

Pasolini took this notion a step further, I believe, when he wrote of the bourgeoisie’s “fear of naturalism” and the “natural being.” As he witnessed Italy’s youth embrace the materialism and aesthetic models of middle-class America (in part thanks to the Marshall Plan and in part thanks to the emergence — for the first time — of globalized media), abandoning the values of the generation who had come before them, he recognized that this was a result of consumerism’s revulsion toward the natural being and the natural world (this theme pervades Pasolini’s work, from his early Friulian poetry to his last films; Pasolini was born in 1922, the year Mussolini marched on Rome and rose to power, and he was assassinated by a Roman prostitute in 1975, at the peak of the Christian Democrats’ hold on power and the hegemony of its capitalist model, both economic and ethical).

Now, more than ever, I am convinced that food and wine writing represents can represent, however powerless, a subversion of the hegemony of consumerism in the world today. Whether we take joy in reading or writing about a farmer who casts off chemicals to grow grapes and shuns industrial yeast to make wines that “taste of place,” we are subconsciously repelling the yoke of consumerism as we attempt, however unaware, to recoup, recuperate, and recover the humanness that has been negated by the human condition in the industrialized and globalized world.

Food and wine and food and wine writing offer us a historically unique confluence of the objectification of the sensuous natural world and the means for living. Unlike the natural substances transformed by Marx’s worker as she/he worked in a pre-world-war factory (like iron used to build arms, for example), food and wine as Marxist objects in today’s world are at once the transformed object and a source of nourishment. As such, it gives us a historically unique opportunity to express our humanity through its exegesis (and in many cases, its worship and fetishization).

This is the reason why I continue to post here on my blog and this is the reason — I hope — why you’re reading. Thanks for making it this far into the post.

And buona domenica

The basil of Salerno and Lisabetta’s tears

Above: Basil was prized for its healing properties for external wounds in the Middle Ages. The image of basil (note the presence of a woman and man) on the verso (left) is taken from the Tacuinum Sanitatis, in this case Codex Latinus 9333 from the Bibliothèque de France in Paris (click here to view a larger version). It was also a symbol of hate (read on).

I never imagined that my post the other day on Fake Pesto would lead to such a long comment thread here at the blog and over in the Facebook feed.

Here at the blog, Hande pointed out rightly that pesto, literally pestle, denotes the dressing for pasta made of ground basil, cheese, pine nuts, garlic, and olive oil. I was surprised to learn that the Genoese Pesto Consortium’s officially sanctioned recipe allows for walnuts (as a substitute for pine nuts) and Parmigiano Reggiano along with (the more traditional, in my view) Pecorino. As per Hande’s comment, when I wrote that pesto is traditionally served with boiled potatoes and green beans, I should have noted that the dish is properly called pesto avvantaggiato, literally, enriched pesto, whereby trenette or trofie (noodles) are tossed with the pesto, the boiled potatoes and green beans, and some of the cooking water from the vegetables. Thanks again, Hande, for keeping me on my toes!

Image via SchoolGardenWeekly.

But when friend Leslie noted (over in the Facebook thread of the post) that basil is an anti-depressant, I began to think about one of my favorite novelle from Boccaccio’s Decameron, the Tale of Lisabetta da Messina.

    Lisabetta’s brothers slay her lover: he appears to her in a dream, and shews her where he is buried: she privily disinters the head, and sets it in a pot of basil, whereon she daily weeps a great while. The pot being taken from her by her brothers, she dies not long after.

    And so, saddest of women, knowing that she might not bewail him there, she would gladly, if she could, have carried away the body and given it more honourable sepulture elsewhere; but as she might not so do, she took a knife, and, as best she could, severed the head from the trunk, and wrapped it in a napkin and laid it in the lap of her maid; and having covered the rest of the corpse with earth, she left the spot, having been seen by none, and went home. There she shut herself up in her room with the head, and kissed it a thousand times in every part, and wept long and bitterly over it, till she had bathed it in her tears. She then wrapped it in a piece of fine cloth, and set it in a large and beautiful pot of the sort in which marjoram or basil is planted, and covered it with earth, and therein planted some roots of the goodliest basil of Salerno, and drenched them only with her tears, or water perfumed with roses or orange-blossoms. And ’twas her wont ever to sit beside this pot, and, all her soul one yearning, to pore upon it, as that which enshrined her Lorenzo, and when long time she had so done, she would bend over it, and weep a great while, until the basil was quite bathed in her tears.

    Fostered with such constant, unremitting care, and nourished by the richness given to the soil by the decaying head that lay therein, the basil burgeoned out in exceeding great beauty and fragrance.

There is so much I’d love to share about this truly fascinating (at least to me) story and the role that basil plays in it. Boccaccio’s Decameron has so many wonderful references to food and wine in it. (Read the entire tale in English here.) But, ahimè, professional duties call… I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

In the meantime, here’s a scene from Pasolini’s version of the tale:

I Am Love (I Am Cinema) and good things we eat and drink

Above: Over the weekend, Tracie P made cabbage leaves stuffed with shredded pork and rice and then braised in puréed tomato. Delicious…

The same way some of my favorite wine bloggers share my passion for music, like McDuff and Eric the Red, many of my blogging colleagues share my passion for cinema, like Lyle and Tom. (They tell me I know a little about cinema and Italian cinema in particular.)

Over the weekend, Tracie P and I finally went to see I am Love, the (relatively) new (to American audiences) movie by director Luca Guadagnino. We both loved it and I highly recommend it (and I thank Comrades A and H for nudging us to see it!).

Above: Summertime means PANZANELLA chez Parzenella… so yummy…

There are plenty of insightful reviews of the movie but I wanted to make one (I feel) important point about it. So many reviewers have made reference to Guadagnino’s homage to Visconti in this work (and there is a Viscontian influence here, no doubt). But there are many other cinéaste and cinephilic references here.

I’m not the first to note that Pasolini’s Teorema is a patent model for this work, where chef Antonio is a parallel to Terrence Stamp’s character in the former.

But I may be the first to point out that Antonioni’s influence is also immensely felt here: the shots of Milan and in particular industrial Milan are clear references to Antonioni’s tetraology, L’Avventura, La Notte, L’Eclisse, and The Red Desert. And even more significantly, the characters’s sense of alienation and the “substitution” of one relationship for another in the search for elusive happiness owe much to Antonioni’s thoughtfully two-dimensional world.

Above: Some southern girls knew how to make fried green tomatoes even before they went Hollywood! Gelatinous on the inside, crispy on the outside.

Most significantly, I Am Love is a film that is aware of being a film and being part of a great cinematic tradition: I am Cinema. The shots of industrial Milan and the textile factories, for example, evoked a genre of Italian nationalist documentary filmmaking that first emerged during fascism and reached its peak during the “economic miracle” of the 1960s. The use of Giacomo Giulio da Milano’s font Neon in the credits and captions was a sort of epicinematic allusion that paid homage to the grand tradition of Italian design at its peak in the 1930s (Neon was forged in 1935 at the Fonderia Nebiolo in Turin). Those same “happy years” of fascism saw the Recchi family expand their influence, power, and wealth (remember the conversation between Edoardo and his colleague?).

Above: The 2008 Sauvignon Blanc by Clos Roche Blanche is probably going to be my white wine of the summer. At under $20 (available at The Austin Wine Merchant, where we got it), this delicious wine paired stunningly (and affordably) well with the pork medallions that Tracie P served with shredded cabbage and homemade pear chutney. Really and truly one of those sublime pairings.

The overarching theme of Gaudagnino’s film and story is one that belongs steadfastly to Italian cinema, especially when viewed in its inherently Marxisant paradigm: the alienation of a sense of humanity through the reification of the body.

And, here, I am confident that Gaudagnino would agree with me: Antonio the proletarian chef, whose craft brings him into contact with an otherwise elitist and esoteric group (after he “beats” Edoardo in the race), becomes a conduit that allows the characters to “return to nature” using a Leopardian and ultimately Rousseauan lexicon.

The food porn sequence (where Emma eats a shrimp, how phallic is that?) and the farm-to-table sex sequence (a symphony of cross pollination) represent the triumph of nature over materialism.

After all, when the chef at some chichi lower Manhattan restaurant regales her/his patrons with tales of the farmhouse where she/he has sourced her/his heirloom cultivars of elderflowers used to infuse her/his coulis, is it not an extravagant (in the etymological sense of the word) attempt to cheat materialism for the sake of a false Mother nature?

I hope that Emma will find what she’s looking for in Antonio, but somehow I don’t think she will…

I am love, I am cinema, and I am a fried green tomato. Thanks for reading…

And buona visione, as they say…

Accattone and old Italian Cabernet

Above: The label on Gasparini’s Capo di Stato (Head of State) depicts Charles de Gaulle as Alexander the Great. The original owner of the estate, Count Loredan Gasparini, was the descendant of a Venetian patrician and doge. Imperialist leanings with your Cabernet, anyone? I used to drive through Venegazzù in the Trevisan hills where this wine is made nearly every week on my way to play gigs when I was a student in Italy in the early 90s.

Last night, following meetings and a business dinner in Dallas, I headed over to Italian Wine Guy’s house for a killer bottle of wine and one of my favorite films, Pasolini’s Accattone (1961)

In my view, Cabernet Sauvignon is a terribly misunderstood grape. In the U.S. and Italy people tend to drink it when it’s too young and too tannic (and as a result, too many modern-style winemakers trick it out to make more “drinkable” early on). This nearly 30-year-old beauty was stunning: lively acidity, truly silky tannin, and gorgeous red fruit. I haven’t tasted any recent vintages of Capo di Stato lately but this wine was made before the barrique craze took off in Italy (following Maurizio Zanella’s historic trip to California with Luigi Veronelli).

There was some irony in sipping such an extravagant bottle of wine and watching a film about a Roman small-time pimp, set in the squalor of the outskirts of Rome. Accattone was Pasolini’s first film and it launched his career as a leading and highly controversial filmmaker and intellectual.

In this sequence, Accattone, played by Franco Citti (remember him from The God Father II and III?), has accepted a challenge and bet that he can survive a dive from a bridge into the Tiber after consuming a large meal. The danger, as is perfectly clear to any Italian, is not the dive itself but rather the contact with water immediately after eating. Throughout the film — which is sometimes funny and ultimately very sad — Accattone (The Sponger) is constantly complaining about how hungry he is and devising schemes to get a free meal.

In other news…

Check out Tracie B’s Joly post over at Saignée, part of the 31 Days of Natural Wine series there. I’m at a Starbucks outside Waco right now catching up online. I’ve had a rough couple of days with work and other stuff. But knowing I’m going to see that lovely lady tonight is like sugar in my bitter coffee.

In other other news…

You can download a really cool new Italian DOC and DOCG map here.

Poetry for Sunday: my favorite Pasolini (and Orson Welles)

The embedded video below is one of my all-time favorite movie clips. It’s from an episodic movie called RoGoPaG (1963), to which Pasolini contributed the segment La Ricotta. In Pasolini’s segment, Orson Welles plays an American director making a movie about the life of Christ in Rome.* It is simply brilliant, on so many levels (I love the music and the dancing). It is rivaled only by the sequence where Welles recreates Pontormo’s Deposition in the Church of Santa Felicita in Florence.

In the clip, Orson Welles reads a poem by Pasolini, “I am a force of the past.” In thinking about culinary tradition, pizza paired with wine, and the recent censoring of “ethnic” food in Italy, I realize that the poem is actually and entirely topical (even more so when considered in the context of the entire Welles sequence).

I am a force of the Past.
My love lies only in tradition.

Here’s an as-of-yet unpublished translation by the Italian translator I admire most, my friend Stephen Sartarelli, who has also translated the Montalbano detective series. I wrote to Stephen who graciously shared his excellent rendering.

I am a force of the Past.
My love lies only in tradition.
I come from the ruins, the churches,
the altarpieces, the villages
abandoned in the Appennines or foothills
of the Alps where my brothers once lived.
I wander like a madman down the Tuscolana,
down the Appia like a dog without a master.
Or I see the twilights, the mornings
over Rome, the Ciociaria, the world,
as the first acts of Posthistory
to which I bear witness, for the privilege
of recording them from the outer edge
of some buried age. Monstrous is the man
born of a dead woman’s womb.
And I, a fetus now grown, roam about
more modern than any modern man,
in search of brothers no longer alive.

Io sono una forza del Passato.
Solo nella tradizione è il mio amore.
Vengo dai ruderi, dalle chiese,
dalle pale d’altare, dai borghi
abbandonati sugli Appennini o le Prealpi,
dove sono vissuti i fratelli.
Giro per la Tuscolana come un pazzo,
per l’Appia come un cane senza padrone.
O guardo i crepuscoli, le mattine
su Roma, sulla Ciociaria, sul mondo,
come i primi atti della Dopostoria,
cui io assisto, per privilegio d’anagrafe,
dall’orlo estremo di qualche età
sepolta. Mostruoso è chi è nato
dalle viscere di una donna morta.
E io, feto adulto, mi aggiro
più moderno di ogni moderno
a cercare fratelli che non sono più.

A little Sunday poetry. Thanks for reading…

Buona domenica a tutti…

* Pasolini was a deeply religious man and he made a beautiful film about the life of Christ, Il vangelo secondo matteo (The Gospel According to St. Matthew, 1964).

Negro Amaro, false friends, and folkloric etymologies

Above: Paolo Cantele and I poured wine and spoke at an Italian wine dinner last night at Jimmy’s in Dallas, where Paolo’s wines were featured. I highly recommend Paolo’s wines and Jimmy’s for its Italian wine and Italian food selections.

For the last few days, I’ve been “riding” with Paolo Cantele (center) of the Cantele winery (Apulia) in Austin and Dallas. Every once in a while, the wine trade brings you in contact with folks you genuinely enjoy hanging out with. Beyond his wines (which are fantastic, btw, and very well priced; his family’s Fiano, Rosato, and Salice Salentino are my favorites), we discussed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Dario Fo and Pasolini, and he told me the funniest story about meeting Ninetto Davoli in New York in a food shop last week. (Paolo bears a striking resemblance to actors Gary Oldman and Edoardo Ballerini, the latter, a good friend of mine.)

One of the more interesting conversations that came up, was the origin of the grape name Negro Amaro. If you’ve followed my blog, you most likely have seen one of my posts where I marry my interest in philology with my passion for ampelography — the latter meaning, literally, the writing of grapes. (Check out my posts on Aglianico and Valpolicella, where I conjugate my love for philology and toponymy.)

Many believe that the origin of the grape name Negro Amaro derives from its literal meaning in contemporary Italian, black bitter.

While Calò, Scienza, and Costacurta (Vitigni d’Italia or Grape Varieties of Italy, Calderini, Bologna, 2006) concede that the origin of the name is unknown, they point the dialectal binomial niuru maru “due to the black coloring of the berries and its rich tannins which impart a bitter flavor to the wine or perhaps nero-mavro which could back [the theory that its name derives from] the black character of its skin” (p. 590).

Partisans of the nero-mavro camp believe that the name comes the Latin niger (black) and Greek mavros (black). The idea would be that the grape was named in Latin and Greek because of confluence of Greek and Roman culture in Salento (at the very tip of the heel of the Italian boot, at the top of the Mediterranean basin).

It’s important to note that mavros meant Moor in ancient Greek and that it denoted an inhabitant of North Africa and/or his language. As in other romance languages, moro in Italian ultimately came to denote the color black (probably by the 16th century, when many modern forms of grape names took shape in Italian).

But Paolo introduced a theory that I’d never heard before: that the binomial niger mavros could be due to the fact that Salento was a cross roads between the Byzantine (Greek-speaking) and Western (Latinate-speaking) empires.

The names of many grapes are early forms of wine marketing. For example, Primitivo (which was not cultivated until the modern era in Italy) is so-named because it is early-ripening (primitivus means simply early and was used to denote “first-fruits” in Latin). It’s likely that it was given that name by someone who wanted to encourage its use (i.e., this is a good grape because it ripens early, and hence, you will be able to harvest early avoiding potential bad weather during the later months of fall).

I don’t believe we’ve solved the conundrum of Negro Amaro’s etymon but I do think that its origins could lie in the fact that in antiquity it was cultivated in a place where Greek was the koiné or common language, adopted by all for expediency sake.

I have always thought that black bitter was what we call in linguistics a “false friend,” i.e., a reading based superficially on the immediately apparent meaning of word (for example, magazzino does not mean magazine in Italian in the sense of publication or weekly; it denotes a warehouse or store of military provisions). Why would anyone call a grape bitter? Historically, names were given to grapes for pneumonic or commercial value and not to encourage people not to grow them or consume them. My philological sensibility tells me that black bitter is a folkloric etymology and that the dialectal phrase noted by Calò et alia probably comes from a superficial reading of the grape name.

Either way, I’m happy to have found in Paolo a true friend and interlocutor.

Carissime Paule vale!

A propos good friends, Paolo and I have a good friend in common, Filena Ruppi, who produces a fantastic Aglianico del Vulture together with her husband Donato d’Angelo (for whom the winery is named). I caught up with Filena at Vinitaly, where she posed for my camera with her husband and an image of Mt. Vulture in the backdrop. Their Valle del Noce is one of my favorite expressions of Aglianico.