Padua! Our first sip of Prosecco like a first kiss

Except for a tight connection in Paris, our trip has been seamless so far: we arrived this morning in Padua (Padova), checked into our hotel, and made a beeline for the legendary Bar dei Osei, a tiny hole-in-the-wall sandwich place in the Palazzo della Ragione.

I can’t even begin to express the thrill of tasting this first sip of Prosecco with Tracie P in Padua, where I spent so many years of my life studying and playing music! It was just a clean, bright commercial Prosecco but man was it sweet on her lips… like a first kiss…

Tramezzino tonno e uovo sodo (tuna and hard-boiled egg) and tramezzino con la verdura cruda (raw vegetables), the latter a specialty of the Bar dei Osei. Isn’t it wonderful how some things never change? Took me back literally 20+ years!

Glorious radicchio! Radicchio trevigiano, radicchio di Castelfranco, radicchietto

The signore were out and about doing their Saturday morning food shopping at the many vendors underneath the Salone, as the Palazzo della Ragione is known. You can always tell where the best stuff is to be found: just look for the lines!

She hasn’t had a chance yet, but Tracie P is excited about her first taste of sfilacci di cavallo cured, shredded horse meat.

O how I love the Veneto… We also made it to see Giotto’s Scrovegni Chapel, which I hadn’t seen since the restoration was completed. Even more stunning than when I first saw it all those years ago…

Amarcord (I remember): Tonino Guerra honored by WGAW

Above: A still from Fellini’s 1973 Amarcord, screenplay by Tonino Guerra (image via Verdoux).

As if by some seaside romagnolo-infused magical realism, a press release found its way to my inbox this morning. It recounts how one of the greatest screenwriters of all time, Tonino Guerra (below), is to be “fêted” by the Writer’s Guild of America West: “Iconic Italian screenwriter Tonino Guerra has been named the recipient of the WGAW’s 2011 Jean Renoir Award for Screenwriting Achievement, given to an international writer who has advanced the literature of motion pictures and made outstanding contributions to the profession of screenwriter.”

    “Tonino Guerra is by any standard one of the great writers of our times. His medium is the screenplay. He has written or co-written more than a hundred films, among them L’avventura, La notte, L’eclisse, Red Desert, Blow-Up, and Zabriskie Point for Antonioni; Amarcord for Fellini; Nostalghia for Tarkovsky; Landscapes in the Mist for Angelopoulos; and Exquisite Corpses for Rosi. Guerra’s work is the brave and moral thread that runs through the fabric of modernist cinema. He is a breathtaking poet, a generous collaborator, and is possessed of the largest heart. We are fortunate to have him among us and thrilled to honor his astonishing — and astonishingly influential — body of work,” said WGAW Board of Directors member Howard A. Rodman.

Comrade Howard’s list of Guerra’s credits reads like my personal list of all-time favorite movies. IMHO the Antonioni tetralogy L’avventura, La notte, L’eclisse, and Red Desert is the greatest work of cinematic art ever achieved. Chapeau bas, WGAW!

That’s comrade Howard, above, fêting us at our wedding nearly one year ago today! (Just wait to see where we’ll be spending our anniversary, btw.)

Watch the whole trailer below… you won’t be disappointed… I promise… and I remember…

Mario Monicelli, Italian cinema giant, free at last

One of the greatest artists of the last and current centuries, Italian film director Mario Monicelli, father of the commedia all’italiana, took his own life last night. He was 95 and terminally ill.

Please read this obituary in The New York Times, where Michael Roston quotes the director:

    “All Italian comedy is dramatic,” he said in a 2004 interview with Cineaste magazine “The situation is always dramatic, often tragic, but it’s treated in a humorous way. But people die in it, there’s no happy ending. That’s just what people like about it. The Italian comedy, the kind I make, always has this component.”

Please also see this obituary in the ANSA feed, where actor Stefania Sandrelli interprets his suicide.

I studied and loved his films in graduate school and have quoted them often here on the blog. The scene below (with Totò, Marcello Mastroianni, and Vittorio Gassman) is my favorite from I soliti ignoti (Big Deal on Madonna Street, 1958).

My favorite gag is when Mastroianni asks Totò if the famous safe-cracker Fu Cimin was Chinese. No, says, Totò, he was from Venice. “Cimin” was his last name. “Fu” means he died, he says.

Bellissima: an Italian cinema great has left us

Comrade H brought the news to my attention over the weekend.

Italian screenwriter Suso Cecchi d’Amico left this world last Saturday. Here’s the obituary in The New York Times. And see this post by ANSA.

She contributed to some of the greatest movies of all times and she did so in at a time when few women worked as writers in the Italian film industry.

The number of classic films on which she collaborated are too many to list here but you know her work the way you remember your Sunday prayers: Bicycle Thieves, Miracle in Milan, Rome Open City, Big Deal on Madonna Street, The Leopard, and the list goes on and on, nearly every one of them a sine qua non of the twentieth century.

One film that you may not remember, but one of my all-time favorites, was her first film with Visconti, Bellissima, the story of an over zealous stage mother in Rome (played by Anna Magnani) who is driven out of desperate poverty to make her daughter a star. It’s a comic-tragedy that simultaneously makes us laugh and cry as we sit on the edge of our chairs rooting for the girl, knowing all the while that poverty has driven the mother to forget that true riches lie not in wealth but humanity. Watch this scene where Maddalena (Magnani) quarrels with her husband Spartaco (played by Walter Chiari). I’m not sure but I imagine that Cecchi wrote this sequence. One thing I know for certain: even if you don’t speak Italian, it will move you to tears…

Man, they don’t write ’em like that anymore, do they, Comrade H?

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…

When this man is not writing screenplays, he’s wine blogging

When our friend Howard isn’t writing screenplays or composing poems to recite at our wedding (glass of Bolly rosé in hand), you can often find him tasting and discussing wine at his (and my) favorite wine bar in LA, where he and I have spent many an eve discussing the epistemological implications in the nuanced semiosis of a bottle of Cascina Francia by Giacomo Conterno (1998 was the last one we opened together).

He’s even been known to wine blog now and then, like this wonderful post he did today for a film promotion (click on the images to read his wine and cinema pairings).

Chapeau bas, comrade Howard! I will raise a glass to you tonight as I quote my favorite passage from Gramsci!

The monkey drinks the wine and gets dessert.

Above: I FINALLY got to taste one of the Cornelissen wines from Mt. Aetna in the home of total strangers, the lovely Lars and Kelly of Chicago, the other night! That’s the Susucaru, a field blend, as it were, of red and white grapes. Utterly delicious… Bibulously Yours brought that bottle.

Your probably wondering about the title of today’s post. It comes from a promise. A promise made in Chicago to Lars and Kelly’s sleeping twins.

I promised them that I would use their translation of the anisette poster (left) that resides in their bathroom as the title of this post: “The monkey drinks the wine and gets dessert.” As an accomplished translator of Italian with a doctorate in Italian and a few university press titles under my belt, I wholly endorse their rendering of the text into English.

Let me explain.

You see, wine blogging — despite all of the haters’s attempts to ruin it for everyone else — is really about bringing like-minded, nice folks together. And that’s exactly what happened the other day when Bibulously Yours (a Chicago wine blogger and wine lover whom I’d never met and with whom I trade emails and notes occasionally) wrote me the other day saying, “Welcome [to Chicago], and congrats on the new gig. Hope you’re having a nice trip. I’m sure you’re busy with work, but please let me know if you have any spare time while you’re here. I would love to meet up for a drink.”

Above: 1998 Valpolicella by Quintarelli. Lars got it on a close out and it showed splendidly. Do you ever say no to Quintarelli?

Since Bibulously’s son was ill that evening, we ended up in the home of his lovely friends Lars and Kelly who so graciously invited me to their home and so generously opened fantastic bottles of wine for me to taste with them. As it turns out, Lars and Kelly and I have a great deal in common since we have all been involved in the indy music scene and Lars even saw my old band play once in Detroit!

Above: This 500 ml bottle of 2002 Radikon Ribolla was opened at what might have been the perfect moment in its evolution, although I would guess it still has many years ahead of it. Brilliant wine. Simply brilliant.

Honestly, I was so thrashed from 3 days of eating way too much food and way too many tastings and meetings that I was entirely stoked to just hang out with the coolest folks, drink awesome wine, nibble on cheese and salame, and just shoot the shit and laugh my ass off.

As Anthony said the other day, I wish folks would stop drinking the “hatorade.” THIS IS WHAT WINE BLOGGING SHOULD BE ABOUT. Sharing wines, sharing experiences, learning and giving, having fun, and fueling our curiosity and minds with interesting wines and enriching our hearts with generosity and kindness.

Above: Bibulously’s wife stayed home with their kid. But she sent over this excellent savory cake. She said “the cake was plain and simple,” Bibulously wrote me the day after, “olive oil and preserved oranges.” It was off-the-charts delicious.

Everyone who knows me knows that I rarely eat desert. I was chubby as a kid and so I only eat desert when I REALLY LOVE it.

That night in Chicago, the monkey drank the wine and he got desert, too!

Thanks again, Nathan, Lars, and Kelly. You guys R O C K! And thanks for reminding me what it’s all about

The wine world mourns the loss of Alfredo Currado, one the “great elders” of Langa

Above: Alfredo Currado (left) and Bartolo Mascarello. Photo courtesy Weimax.

My friend Michele Scicolone sent me a Facebook message yesterday to let me know that one of the most beloved figures of Italian wine, Alfredo Currado, has sadly passed away. He will be remembered for his “pioneering” work in crafting cru Barolo and Barbaresco, for his revival of Arneis, his winery’s single-vineyard expressions of Barbera, and his legacy as a true humanist winemaker. Mr. Franco Ziliani and I have published an obituary this morning at VinoWire.

Italy vs. Google

Above: The night we stayed in Bologna on our recent trip to Italy, my friends (some of whom I’ve known for more than 20 years), shared this Youtube video of Italian politician Francesco Rutelli butchering the English language. The video has been the subject of much ridicule and parody in Italy, a country with a rich history of biting satire that stretches back to the Renaissance and beyond. My friends said it was an example of their culturally and morally bankrupt government.

Between our re-entry into civilian life, our move into our new home, a ride-with with a rockstar winemaker in northern and eastern Texas, and the mountain of thank you cards that Tracie P and I have just begun to chip away at, an interesting news story slipped through my cracks this week: according to a story published on Wednesday by The New York Times, an Italian court convicted three Google executives for “violating Italian privacy laws.” (For more detailed background on the case, see also this Reuters post.) Many see the ruling as part of the Berlusconi government’s attempt to curb freedom on the internet and part of an over-arching plan to maintain control of public opinion through the cultural hegemony of television (as head of state and thus chief executive of public television and owner of the major privately-owned television channels, Berlusconi has a virtual monopoly on what is televised in Italy).

Above: To appreciate this parody of the Rutelli clip, you need hear the “interpreter’s” markedly Roman accent. The short film is indicative of Italians’s embrace of the internet as a viral medium for satire. And again, I can’t underline enough the centrality of satire in Italian culture. Just think of the pasquinades of 16th-century Rome — same idea, different medium.

If you’ve visited Italy in recent years, you know that connecting to the internet can be a daunting challenge there. At least one restaurateur explained I spoke to in 2008 said that this is because the Italian government holds the internet providers responsible for what their users and customers post on the internet. It’s simply not worth the hassle for restaurateurs, for example, to provide internet access to their customers (and this guy was an entirely hip and successful winemaker in German-speaking Italy, who has a sleek, contemporary restaurant in the Alps). When you can get online in Italy, some businesses (like hotels) ask you to sign a written document stating that you are fully liable for what you publish on the internet.

Above: A quick search on YouTube quickly rendered an example of the type of virally circulated clip that might bother Berlusconi.

Does any of this have any bearing on the world of wine? Yes, in my opinion, it does. Now, more than ever, Italian wineries need to use the internet as a medium for viral marketing of their products to English-speaking consumers. This is especially true right now when the enosphere is shifting radically to the internet as its preferred medium of communication.

Okay, time to get down off my soap box… If you made it this far into the post, thanks for reading!

Buona domenica a tutti…

Brunello manga (yes, manga)

Yesterday was the last day of Benvenuto Brunello in Montalcino and my friends over at Montalcino Report and Il Palazzone both posted on the annual unveiling of the artist’s plaque commemorating the release of a new vintage. This year it was crafted by sister and brother Yuko and Shin Kibayashi, creators of the immensely successful manga, Drops of God.

In other news…

I tasted some pretty incredible, unusual, and remarkable wines yesterday and met and talked to some pretty interesting folks… It’s only been two days that I’ve been on the road but all I can think about is what it will feel like when I can plant these lips on those belonging to my lovely lady tonight… Two days on the road feels like SIX!