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

Frondisti and malpancisti, interesting Italian political nomenclature

With all the talk of Berlusconi’s imminent fall, the Italian media often mentions the so-called frondisti (the rebels in the Berlusconi coalition) and the malpancisti (literally, those who suffer from stomach aches).

The frondisti take their name from the frondeurs of 17th-century France: the Parisian mobs who used slings (fronde in Italian, frondes in French) to hurl stones and other missiles “to smash the windows of supporters of Cardinal Mazarin,” minister to the French monarch (above, left).

“In 1644, Mazarin tried to prevent [the city of Paris from] growing further and to raise taxes by fining those who built houses outside the City Walls. This policy produced widespread resentment. The Fronde began in January 1648, when the Paris mob used children’s slings, frondes, to hurl stones at the windows of Mazarin’s associates.” (From the Wiki.)

An early documented use of malpancista dates back to 2004. It refers to members of a political alignment who express dissent or disagreement. Their “stomach ache” belies a change of heart (heartburn?).

As Italian journalist Aldo Grasso recently noted, a stomach ache is generally relieved by a visit to the toilet.

My advice to Berlusconi? Vai a cagare…

The story behind Freudian Slip (new album)

Click here to purchase my new album, “Freudian Slip,” now available (Amazon, iTunes, our record company direct, etc.).

Whereas blogging is all about the immediacy of the medium (literally and figuratively), writing, recording, and releasing an album is a long process whereby the initial inspiration is transformed through a complex and articulated series of steps to final track — composition, demo, recording, overdubs, editing, mixing, mastering, printing, distribution etc.

In January 2011, when I wrote and recorded the first demo of “Freudian Slip,” which became the title track of the new CD, I had just returned from Houston where I had learned that Cousin Marty had been diagnosed with bladder cancer. If you’ve been following along here at my blog, you know the avuncular role he’s played in my life since I moved to Texas nearly three years ago: not only has he embraced me with the warmth of a long-lost and newfound cousin, but he’s also shared with me his gusto for all things enogastronomic.

Growing up a teenager in La Jolla, California, I didn’t have much of a relationship with father Zane, Marty’s first cousin: a classically trained Freudian psychoanalist, Zane was estranged from our family after an inquiry revealed that he’d been having sexual relations with his patients: an egregious and bourgeois transgression that began before I was born and that emerged publicly when I was eleven years old — a family catastrophe that received brutal coverage in the local and national media.

Finding and forging a relationship with Marty was like being given a second chance to have a father, someone who rejoiced in my successes and shared the burdens of my challenges in building a new life here in Texas with Tracie P, whom he adores.

When I found out that Marty was ill, I became depressed and stressed by the anxiety (a bitter twist of fate?) that I would lose this happy relation so shortly after it had been born. Marty had already brought so much joy into my life and thankfully he beat his cancer with flying colors. But at the time, the prognosis was uncertain and I selfishly let my fear express itself in a dark song I called “Freudian Soup” (the title of the earliest version).

When I sent it to my writing partner, Céline Dijon (my good friend and sister I never had, Verena Wiesendanger), she set about writing the lyrics as a dialogue between Zane and the woman who most famously sued him, changing the title to “Freudian Slip,” acte manqué in French.

Today, when I listen to the track, nearly a year later, the cathartic drum fill that opens the song (by Julien Galner of the Paris-based band Château Marmont), chills still run down my spine.

All but the vocals for this track were recorded in my studio in Austin. The arpeggiated harpsichord is the very same one from the original demo.

When he finished mixing the record this summer, Jean-Luc Retard (Dan Crane, the third element in our writing troika, my bandmate and friend since 1998) suggested that we call the album “Freudian Slip.”

Thanks for listening and for reading and thanks for the support… It means the world to me…

Here’s the video for the new single, “J’en Ai Marre (Had Enough)”, a song that Céline and I wrote about bullying:

Ligurian wine and pasta aglio olio peperoncino, perfect summer supper

It’s pure coincidence that we happened to open a bottle of Bisson Ü Pastine last night with some penne aglio, olio, e peperoncino for a light supper — one of the most simple things and one of my most favorite dishes to prepare. This afternoon, Facebook friend Evan R sent me a link to Alan Tardi’s article on the Bisson winery, its owner Piero Lugano and his underwater-aged sparkling wines, which appeared today in The New York Times. (The article is great, btw.)

I always crave wines from Liguria during the summer. From the light-colored, nearly rosé Rossese to bright Pigato and Vermentino, the wines tend to be light and low in alcohol, fresh and spicey- and fish-friendly.

Frankly, before last night, I’d never had a wine made from 100% Bianchetta grapes from Liguria. In fact, Bianchetta is more famously grown in the Veneto and South Tyrol, where it is used to make an easy-drinking, food-friendly light white wine.

The Bisson was delicious, more unctuous than any other Bianchetta I’ve ever had, very salty and with nice white stone fruit. I was worried that the 2009 would be a little tired but it wasn’t. The acidity was kicking and happy (like little Baby P inside Mamma P’s belly!) and I saved a glass to taste tonight at dinner.

Of course, my philological curiosity got the better of me this morning, and so I did a little research on the name of this wine, ü pastine.

Regrettably, the importer’s website reports that the name is “local dialect indicating a very special product.”

And equally lamentable, a major U.S. retailer reports “‘U Pastine’ in the Ligurian dialect means, essentially ‘a gift that is specially crafted by someone for someone in particular in order to be an extra special present.'”

With all due respect, where do these people get this information? Beats me.

In fact, ü pastine is a Ligurian dialectal term that denotes the [a] field reserved for grape-growing. Used also in Tuscany and even as far south as Latium, pastine or pastene comes from the Latin pastinum, denoting a kind of two-pronged dibble, for preparing the ground and for setting plants with. In Ligurian dialect, pastinare means to till. In other words, ü pastine denotes the parcel of land chosen for grape growing because of its ideal conditions for raising wine.

I’m glad that we cleared this up!

And I plan to add pastene and pastine to my Italian winery and vineyard designation project, which I will revisit this fall.

Alfonso is coming over for dinner tonight and I’m not sure what we’re opening to pair with Tracie P’s pasta con i porri e la pancetta but I’m sure it will be good! Stay tuned… and thanks for reading!

Tarallucci e Vino (biscuits and wine), an attempt at documenting the proverb

From the “una faccia una razza (one face one race)” department…

Above: Generic however delicious taralli served to us in Apulia at the Radici Wines tasting.

It all started back in June when Jancis tweeted: “Best inter-wine nibble ever: taralli from Puglia.” For three days, we had been sitting next to each other tasting and scoring Southern Italian wines at the Radici Wines festival in Apulia.

It was our last day of tasting together and one of our Italian counterparts (I can’t find the tweet) quipped back, tweeting “Finiamo a tarallucci e vino,” literally, “we finish [the tasting] with [small] taralli and wine.”

The irony in this context is owed to the proverbial meaning of the expression in Italian. To end with tarallucci [an affectionate diminutive of taralli] and wine means to resolve a dispute by pretending there were no dispute to begin with. In other words, we argued, we disagreed, but let’s have some savory biscuits and wine and pretend that there is no acrimony between us.

While the saying can be applied to express the sentiment that all’s well that end’s well, it can also be used ironically to denote that I believe you’re wrong but there’s no use fighting about it. (The sentiment and expression are by no means unfamiliar to Italians or those who frequent Italy and Italians; it’s often used in Italian journalistic parlance to allude to the hypocrisy of Italian politicians.)

Above: Taralli probably share a kinship with Greek koulouri (I believe the unleavened biscuits in the photo, tasted at Boutari’s Santorini tasting room, fall in the category of koulouri in the Hellenic culinary canon).

Not much is known about the origins of the term tarallo. The Cortelazzo (Zanichelli) etymological dictionary notes that the etymology is obscure, possibly from the Latin torrere, to dry up, parch, roast, bake, scorch, burn. Some point to the Greek δάρατος (dàratos), a type of Thessalian bread.

I have yet to find any reliable source that addresses the origins of the expression tarallucci e vino but the tarallo’s significance as a gesture of hospitality clearly emerges in 19th century literature. It was one of the earliest street foods of pre- and post-Risorgimento Southern Italy (Pitré, Biblioteca delle tradizioni popolari siciliane, 1883) and was presented by and to travelers when they arrived. In The Bagel: the surprising history of a modest bread (Yale 2008), Maria Balińska suggests that the tarallo may be the predecessor of the bagel.

Above: Jancis and the rest of our group paired sweet taralli and spicy Sicilian chocolate with aged Primitivo at the Pichierri winery in Sava (Taranto, Apulia).

Browsing the Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, I read that the Greek δάρατος (dàratos) was a type of unleavened bread “offered at marriage and registration ceremonies” in Hellenic Greece. And I cannot help but wonder if the tarallo’s circular, adjoined shape does not belie its use as a symbol of friendship (Balińska addresses the Italian ciambella, a similarly round unleavened bread, its relation to the bagel, and the ancient custom of presenting it to one’s host). There’s no doubt that the tarallo travels well and is easy to preserve (in Campania taralli are made with shortening and are often adorned with almonds; in Apulia, they are made with olive oil and adorned with fennel seeds).

If anyone has any insights to share, I’d greatly appreciate them. As a devout philologist, I will not rest until I get to the bottom of this conundrum and we will genuinely be able to conclude a tarallucci e vino.

Thanks for reading!

The best meal in Greece, the most beautiful Greek woman, and the CORRECT pronunciation of Xinomavro

Many great meals were thoroughly relished by a wine blogger last week in Greece but the one that he cannot stop thinking and dreaming about was a dinner prepared by Maria Constandakis, who — together with her husband and agronomist Yannis — oversee the Boutari winery in Crete.

The meal began with a Cretan dakos, a wholewheat rusk, a bit larger but similar to the frisa of Apulia, where they top it with diced mozzarella, tomatoes, and tuna. Here, tradition calls for fresh tomato purée and crumbled feta. And while the Apulians gently soak their frisa before dressing it, the Cretans use the water naturally purged by the tomato when it is tossed with the salty cheese.

Next came the classic Greek zucchini “meatballs,” the kolokithokeftedes. The wine blogger had experienced this dish before but in his own words, “to have Maria’s, made from zucchini she grew herself in the winery’s garden, is a game-changer.”

The next morning, said wine blogger photographed Maria’s zucchini.

When you travel in Greece during summer, horiatiki — the classic village or summer salad — is served at nearly every meal. But there was something different about Maria’s. Upon further inquiry, the blogger discovered that Maria included freshly torn glistrida or purlane in her salad, also grown in her garden.

Still used as an effective folk remedy for certain ailments of the mouth, purlane grows wild in Greece (the blogger even found it along the sidewalks of one of the small towns he visited in Northern Greece). Like nettles, it slightly stings the tongue and according to legend, those who consume it are prone to loquaciousness. (Said blogger has never been accused of being long-winded! But true to legend, he stayed up late into the night discussing philosophy and politics with his companions over many glasses of raki.)

The pièce de résistance, however, was Maria’s slow-roasted lamb. Even though, technically, the meat had not been smoked, the effect was the same: the bones were so tender that that crumbled gently in the blogger’s mouth, rewarding him with their sweet marrow.

Said blogger is rarely said to eat dessert but there was no way for him to resist Maria’s yogurt topped with cherries she had stewed herself.

Said blogger enjoyed many great meals in Greece but none came close to that prepared by Maria.

In other news…

In the days that followed, said blogger, an accomplished linguist, learned that he had been incorrectly pronouncing the name of the most noble red grape variety in Greece, Xinomavro.

Click here to listen to the correct pronunciation.

Ciliegiolo: Italian grape name pronunciation project (and a fun post about Lambrusco)


Before I left for Greece, Wine Parkour requested an episode of the Italian Grape Name and Appellation Pronunciation Project devoted to the ampelonym Ciliegiolo.

So I reached out to my friend and excellent producer of Morellino di Scansano Gianpaolo Paglia, who graciously agreed to video himself pronouncing the grape name. (You may remember Gianapolo for the excellent meal he and I shared last year in Maremma and for my posts about his decision to sell his barriques and his declaration that he would no longer age his wines in new small French oak cask; click here for the thread.)

I wouldn’t exactly call Gianpaolo the “Dustin Hoffman” of Italian wine but you will definitely walk away from this video knowing how to pronounce Ciliegiolo (not an easy one for Anglophones)!

In other news…

However jetlagged today, I managed to churn out a fun post this morning for the Houston Press on Lambrusco. My editor there has been very generous in letting me create my “wine as exegetic tool” posts (read “wine as a pretext and excuse to study culture”). Have you ever visited Emilia-Romagna? Then you’ll know what I’m talking about!

Aglianico del Vulture: Italian grape name and appellation pronunciation project


Even though I had had the opportunity to taste and enjoy the wines many times before, I finally got to meet Sara Carbone of the Carbone winery (Melfi) at the Radici Wines festival last week in Apulia. (Btw, there are some great posts about the festival on the Facebook and Catavino just posted about our epic night of Prosciutto di Montone — “ram ham,” as he called it on the Twitter — and Aglianico.)

If ever there were an Italian appellation in need of Anglophone pronunciation help, it would be Aglianico del Vulture (see, click, and hear above). Between the palatal lateral approximant (gli) of the ampelonym and the dactylic toponym, this appellation name is laden with linguistic challenges for English-speakers. In other words, it’s a tongue-twister.

Sara is a delightful lady and I am a big fan of her wines (and I will begin posting on my favorite wines from the festival, including hers, next week). But I regret to report that she is terribly cross with me.

After I showed her my post where I dispel the myth that the grape name Aglianico comes from ellenico or Hellenic, she Tweeted plaintively about how she is now going to have to reprint all her labels!

Joking aside, Sara’s Aglianico is fantastic and it was one of the many excellent expressions of the grape variety that wowed me and fellow judges at the festival.

Thanks for speaking (and drinking) Italian grape names and appellations!

Primitivo (two ways): Italian grape name and appellation pronunciation project


Since I’ve spent the last week in Apulia, it only seemed appropriate to feature an Apulian grape this week for the Italian Grape Name and Appellation Pronunciation Project. And since we’ve already done Negroamaro, it seemed a propos to feature another one of the most widely planted grapes here, Primitivo. And so, the other day when we went swimming the other day in the Adriatic (at Torre dell’Orso, not far from Lecce), I asked Paolo to pronounce Primitivo for my camera.

Of course, Primitivo is one of the easiest for English-speakers to pronounce. And so I thought it would be fun to spice things up with a dialectal pronunciation.

I’m waiting until after the Radici Wines festival ends to start posting on the wines I’ve tasted, but I’ll give a little preview by revealing that I LOVED the Primitivo by Pasquale Petrera (Fatalone, Gioia del Colle). As it so happens, he uses the dialectal name of the grape on one of the labels of his excellent wines (and I’ll post on my tasting down the road): u Pr’matìv (Il Primitivo, in Italian, the Primitivo [grape]). And so I asked him to take a break from one of the preview tastings and pose for my camera.

Buona visione! And thanks for speaking and drinking Italian grapes!

The village of Parzen (Parzeń)

The most remarkable thing happened last weekend: my friend and Polish blogging colleague Andrzej Daszkiewicz — wine writer and author of a number of Polish-language wine blogs — snapped some photos as he passed through the village of Parzeń and sent them to me.

Like many Jews of Eastern European descent, my surname comes from a toponym, in this case Parzen, which at one time was most likely home to a shtetl. The name Parzen came to our family after my biological paternal grandfather died and my paternal grandmother married Rabbi Maurice Parzen in South Bend, IN. The Rabbi, who passed away when I was still a child, is survived by my great uncle Manny Parzen, his youngest brother, famous in his own right for his research in the field of statistics. The Parzens were from Lodz (Łódź) and they came to the U.S. in the first decade of the last century.

Here’s what Andrzej — to whom I am eternally grateful — had to report:

    Two older houses there have their roofs covered with asbestos, which used to be very popular (because very cheap) material for that. Now it’s almost gone, but in some places you can still see it, as here.

    This village is located at one of the roads I could take driving from Warsaw, where I live now, to Toruń, where I used to live and drink wine and still have many wine drinking friends. We had a friend’s birthday party on Friday, and on Saturday I took that road driving back to Warsaw (usually I take a bit faster, but much less scenic one)…

    It is a small village now, with several rather isolated farms and no typical village center, no church (at least I could not see any). Two neighboring villages are much bigger, more typical ones. It is so small that there is no speed limit stricter than the regular highway one (around 55 mph).

    Parzeń is about 15 km from a quite big (for Polish standards at least) city Płock, and around 120 km from Warsaw.

Just this morning, Tracie P said to me, after she finished a business call, “Well, I’ve certainly gotten used to my new last name.” It’s incredible to think that our family name — the name our children will have — comes from so far away from Austin, Texas.

A heartfelt thanks, once again, to Andrzej for the fraternity and the friendship, and this wonderful virtual window into the origins of our family.