Feels like the first time: heading back to Italy after more than a year and a half.

Breakfast with the family this morning brought on an emotion not felt in more than 30 years: this erstwhile Medieval poetry and now wine scribbler is heading back to their spiritual homeland since being away for more than 18 months.

And it feels like the first time.

As the girls were getting ready for summer camp, an old and addled box of photographs found its way to my desk.

That’s a photo of me, above, in Ostia (the Roman coastal city) in 1987 during my first academic year in Italy on the University of California Education Abroad Program, the only curriculum at the time that allowed students to study side-by-side with Italians — with instruction in Italian.

That experience forever shaped my professional and personal life.

By year’s end, my first piano bar gig came along.

That’s me, above, playing my very first show at the Bar Margherita on Piazza della Frutta in Padua.

The person in the lower right-hand corner is Ruggero Robin, one of Italy’s top jazz guitarists. He would become my first friend in Italy and we would play countless gigs together when music was the income that kept me afloat during my studies.

This guitar player was way out of their league when they they played with Ruggero but the money was always decent and we would always have a blast together. (If you’ve ever been to VinNatur, you might have heard Ruggero play. He’s super tight with the Maule family.)

In normal years, this Italy-bound traveler would go to their spiritual homeland six times a year, between teaching, researching and tasting, trade fairs, and client visits. There was one year when I made nine (!!!) trips to Italy in less than 12 months.

But after being separated so long from my signora, this one feels different. It feels big like that first time, that first contact, that first kiss with the country that would become my lifeblood in so many ways. It even made for the connection between me and my life partner, Tracie, mother to our children.

On Sunday, I leave for three weeks of teaching at the Slow Food University of Gastronomic Sciences in Piedmont. There will be some good eating and drinking, too. And maybe even some music.

Sister Italy, my alma mater, where would I be today without you???!!!

I can’t wait to leap into your arms and feel your embrace!

Wish me luck and wish me speed. See you on the other side…

Falling In Love Again, a new song for Tracie P by Parzen Family Singers

It’s been a great summer for our family so far and it’s been a magical time in our lives as we can get out again and our work is thriving.

And… I’m falling in love again.

“I’m Falling In Love Again”
written, performed, recorded, and produced
by Parzen Family Singers
Baby P Studios
Houston

Do you ever wonder
How the stars aligned
Strangers passing in the night
Honky tonks and wine

What was it that caught your eye
When I happened to pass by
Was it just that note I wrote
In a long ago July

Every little bit of sunshine
Every little bit of rain
Every little bit of joy and laughter
Every little bit of tears and pain

Every little bit of sunshine
Every little bit of rain
I’m falling in love again
I’m falling in love again

When I was a little kid
They told us a fairytale
All you had to do in life was to
Set your ship to sail

Find the perfect lover
Then it may come true
What makes the world go round & round
When I first looked at you

Every little bit of sunshine
Every little bit of rain
Every little bit of joy and laughter
Every little bit of tears and pain

Every little bit of sunshine
Every single day
I’m falling in love again
I’m falling in love again

Who could ever know
How much our love would grow
Who could ever see
What our love could be

And as you look at me
It’s no mystery
I’m falling in love again
I’m falling in love again
I’m falling in love again
I’m falling in love

The world’s first sommelier was a woman.

The goddess Hebe as portrayed by the 19th-century Franco-German painter Louis Fischer (image via Wikipedia Creative Commons). In paintings and sculptures from that era, she is often seen serving wine to her father Zeus, who appears in the form of an eagle.

Bacchus is the ancient figure that most point to when they speak of the “god of wine.”

But when we dig a little bit deeper, we find that the first deity associated with wine and — more significantly — wine service was Hebe, the daughter of Zeus and Hera.

I was reminded of Hebe when I was browsing recently through the “Barbarous Odes” of Giosuè Carducci, the 19th-century Italian poet and first Italian Nobel laureate.

(The odes were written in Italian using ancient Greek meter. That’s why Carducci ironically called them “barbarous”: they would sound outlandish or “foreign” to the ancient Greeks if they could hear them. Prosody in Carducci was a focus during my graduate student years.)

In his ode “Ideale” (“Ideal”), Hebe and the ambrosia she pours are an allegory for the revival of classical learning of his time.

Inspired by the image of the proto-sommelier, who poured wine for the gods, I have translated the first four stanzas here.

Happy Friday and happy reading!

Oh Hebe, wrap me in the aroma of ambrosia flowing from your cup and make me drunk with the ancient knowledge! Renew me in your soft glow!

*****

“Ideal”
an excerpt

As the serene aroma of ambrosia
Wraps itself around me, flowing from your cup,
Oh Hebe, with the gait of a goddess,
You glide by smiling all the while.

Neither the shadow of time nor the icy
Cures are what I feel on my head. I feel,
Oh Hebe, the serene Hellenic
Life flow through my veins.

And the ruined days, fallen from the slope
Of the sorrowful time, have arisen anew.
Oh Hebe, they are yearnful to
Be renewed in your soft glow.

And the new years gladly pull
My face out of the fog.
Oh Hebe, your rising, trembling,
Ruby splendor greets them!

Cecilia Mangini’s lost films resonate powerfully today. Don’t miss the opportunity to stream them.

Above: Italian filmmaker Cecilia Mangini in Rome in 2020. She died in January of this year. Her films are now being rediscovered by a new generation of cinephiles (image via Wikipedia Creative Commons).

Honestly, until my good friend Ben Shapiro (a noted filmmaker himself) brought them to my attention, I was unaware of Italian director Cecilia Mangini’s wonderful pseudo-documentaries, which have recently been rediscovered, restored, and are now being streamed for free by Another Screen.

Her oneiric and highly lyrical depiction of the Italian proletariat (omg, did I just out myself as a Marxist?) in the 1950s and 1960s resonates powerfully today as the pandemic has drawn a stark line and divide between the world’s disenfranchised and the management class.

(A few days ago, a Galveston woman had to be escorted out of a bank after she refused to wear a mask despite the business’ requirement that patrons wear a mask. A police officer was tasked with getting her out of the bank in what became a tragicomic scene. Some will see a parallel between the police officer and the southern Italian Carabinieri who had to face off with bourgeois protesters in 1960s Italy. Pasolini, a Mangini collaborator, wrote extensively about them at the time.)

I highly recommend checking out the link on the Other Screen site. It makes for great viewing and I believe it’s free only until Monday (I also encourage you to donate to Another Screen to support their efforts in preserving film archives).

See this Times profile of Mangini from last year (how did I miss this?).

Buona visione. Enjoy the films. You won’t regret it.

“Ten years gone & you’re still turning me on.” HAPPY 10th ANNIVERSARY TRACIE P!

Scroll down for the song I wrote for Tracie for our 10th wedding anniversary: “Ten Years Gone (and You’re Still Turning Me On).”

Tracie and I were married 10 years ago today in La Jolla, California where I grew up.

Our first kiss and first dance happened back in August of 2008 in Austin, Texas (at the Continental Club, where else?) after we’d already been in touch through our blogs for many months and many emails and texts had been sent back and forth.

By February of 2009, we were engaged. I had asked her to marry me after my band played a show in LA. We drank Bruno Paillard in our hotel room that night.

On January 31, 2010, we got hitched. Tracie’s dad, the Reverend Branch, officiated.

We drank Bollinger rosé all night that night at our reception at Jaynes Gastropub, one of our favorite restaurants, owned by our close friends, in San Diego.

After our honeymoon in Italy (where else?), we settled into a little house we rented in Austin. Both of our girls were born in Austin (Georgia in 2011, Lila Jane in 2013) and we brought both of them home to that little house on the corner of Gro[o]ver and Alegria (streets have never been so aptly named!).

In early 2014, we moved to Houston where we rented and still live in a bigger house in a neighborhood that we love and a community where we have put down roots.

Georgia’s eight years old now and Lila Jane’s 6. Our house is always filled with lots of music and now a couple of chihuahuas, too.

We’re still as broke as the day we met (well, maybe not quite that broke) and we still struggle to get by. But we’re all happy, healthy, and doing things we love and enjoy.
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Poetry is the Devil’s Wine: origin and meaning of the expression

In the 1980s, my high school’s literary magazine was called “The Devil’s Wine,” a reference to the ill-attributed and much misunderstood but often repeated proverb: poetry is the Devil’s wine.

Most dime-store quotation aggregate websites ascribe the quote to St. Augustine. So does the editor of “a compendium of… dark verse,” Tom Piccirilli.

In fact, St. Augustine did not conceive the axiom. Nor did Francis Bacon. But the origin story leads us back to the English critical theorist and scientist (above).

In his essay “Of Truth,” Bacon wrote: “One of the fathers [of the Church], in great severity, called poesy vinum daemonum, because it filleth the imagination; and yet it is but with the shadow of a lie.”

The word vinum means wine in Latin. The word daemonum id the plural genitive of daemon meaning demon (not devil).

A more apt translation from Bacon’s Latin would be the wine of demons.

Over time, some of Bacon’s editors have translated it as devils’ wine (note the English possessive/genitive plural), in other words, the wine of devils (and not Devil’s wine with capital d and singular genitive). I believe this is where the now colloquial expression was born.

Another important distinction: for Bacon, poesy, not poetry, is the wine of demons.

The term poesy, more akin to the Greek poiesis than the contemporary English poetry or poem, denotes not just poetry or poem but rather the art of composing poetry or a poem.

It’s a fine point, I concede. But there is a subtle difference that’s important here: in the context of Bacon’s essay, he’s arguing that literary artifice, the art of creating poetry, can obscure or bend the truth (read the essay here; it’s great, btw).

In his quote of the Church father, he’s probably blending — most scholars agree — a line from St. Augustine and a line from St. Jerome.

In the Confessions, St. Augustine wrote: “vinum erroris ab ebriis doctoribus propinatum” (“the wine of error poured for [me and my fellows] by drunken teachers”).

Like Bacon, who was inspired by him, he was discussing the ways words — literary artifice — can eclipse truth.

In one of his epistles to Pope Damasus I, St. Jerone wrote that “daemonum cibus est carmina poetarum” (“the poets’ verses are the food of demons”).

I haven’t been able to track down the original letter (yet). But I believe that St. Jerome is apologizing to the Pope for his use of a parable (literary artifice) to illustrate one of Christ’s teachings (according to descriptions of the letter, it describes and recounts the Parable of the Prodigal Son).

So the next time someone misattributes this erroneous quote, please correct them and tell them to pair the wine of error with the food of demons.

Thanks for reading.

Image via Wikipedia Creative Commons.

Bruno De Conciliis: “Wine and may the dance begin,” a poem (translation mine)

Wine is a game, a serious game, a joyful game,
a heroic game, an erotic game, wine is skittish, it’s
joyful, it’s sad, it’s solitary, it’s a sea, it’s a road,
it’s a destination, it’s silence, it’s entropy.

Breathe.

White wine is green, yellow, gold, sometimes orange,
red is ruby, purple, violet, sometimes black.

Wine is instinct, science, pure creativity, painting, music,
Johann Sebastian Bach and Mozart, John
Coltrane and Jimi Hendrix; how is it possible
to drink a baroque wine listening to Purple Haze?

Wine, an intense pleasure, a happy thought, sometimes
requires, sometimes suggests, an undisputed star
or distant tapestry that takes a backseat to conversation
or food, the little pleasures to share with a
friend or a lustful torrent that enchants the viewer,
wine is a friend to humankind and it can be its
worst enemy, wine is happiness, simple sharing or opulence,
comfort in solitude, glue of friendship, wine’s solitary
pleasure creates deep friendships or becomes the
energy of a clique born from happenstance.

Wine is study, knowledge, an immovable journey,
curiosity and sloth, overwhelming passion,
a cruel struggle, a sincere friend who knows the way
you need to go or invents one where there is none.

Memories that lead us to tenderness or move us to laugh,
to smile, to enjoy, enemy of regret and blame, maternal bosom
where you can nurse until becoming aware.

Wine is born from deep within the land, from people
who are bound to it by an umbilical cord
that hasn’t been voluntarily severed, from the uniqueness
of that land, from the specific variety,
from the culture and knowledge of those people, that people.

Wine is the experience of that land, that culture,
the history of a village.

Wine and may the dance begin.

Bruno De Conciliis
(translated from the Italian by Jeremy Parzen)

Bruno (below) and I will be leading a tasting of his wines at Sotto in Los Angeles on Thursday, January 25. Please join us. He’s one of the most fascinating grape growers and winemakers I’ve ever had the chance to taste with. And his wines are among the most compelling I’ve ever drawn to my lips. Stay tuned for details.

G-d bless us all: let America be America again…

american-flagPlease see this op-ed published yesterday by Harry Belafonte in the New York Times.

In it he quotes the great American poet Langston Hughes (1902-1967): “Let America Be America Again,” a poem written by Hughes in 1935 (published 1936).

Early in the morning of the 2016 presidential election, after a restless night, I am reminded as well of these lines from the closing poem of Hughes’ collection of poetry Weary Blues (published 1926).

We have tomorrow
Bright before us
Like a flame.

Yesterday
A night-gone thing,
A sun-down name.

And dawn-today
Broad arch above the road we came.

Hopefully tomorrow America will be America again.

G-d bless America. G-d bless us all.

Photo taken in San Diego, California, August 2016.

Epitaph for an Everyman: “I am America” (guest post)

Today, a guest post by my cherished friend Nico Danesi…

confessions of a crap artists dick“If this world’s all for the winners, what’s for the losers?”

“Well, somebody’s got to hold the horses.”

Before I first crossed the Atlantic, there was a man who brought me to America. He took me there without ever going.

He took me to places where America is colored by the exasperated reflections of legend and contention, where poetry is fragmented into hallucinatory but vivid images, unreal only in the eye of those who believe in proclamations and don’t know how to listen to humanity in pain, imperfect but beautiful nonetheless.

Sam Peckinpah’s ugly mugs and Altman’s moonstruck players. Arthur Penn’s humble heroes and Cimino’s emarginated immigrants. Coppola and Scorsese’s Italians. Hal Ashby’s unknowns and Monte Hellman’s taciturn characters but also the Beat provocateurs and especially the hyperbolic jazzers with their impossible solos as long as a long illness is long.

If, in her or his propaedeutic arc, a functional wine drinker sets out as an “Absolute Beginner” drinking the “bestest wines” of the world, would she or he understand them?

Surely, she or he would be hard-pressed to describe them or offer commentary but she or he would surely enjoy them. Such enjoyment would come in brilliant flashes and would deliver a deep well of wonderment upon which the most solid of foundations could rest.

I believe the same holds for artistic expression as in music, cinema, poetry, and literature.

As a child, I was nourished by an uncle who was more like a friend and big brother. He fed me words and magical images that drifted inside of me as they evoked a limpid but also often terrible America.
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“Pasolini’s girlfriend” and a poem in the shape of a rose

pasolini poems poetryImage via GoogleBooks.

Happily, I’m not alone in my insatiable interest in Italian essayist, poet, and filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini.

With the current financial crisis looming over Italy and the nation’s general malaise, many Italians agree with me that his writing is more relevant today than ever.

A number of Italian intellectuals have invoked his name, for example, when addressing the continuing controversy over the construction of a new high speed train in the northwest Alps.

Sadly, most Americans know Pasolini only as a cineaste. In fact, his essays and his poetry are the works that have most greatly shaped his legacy following his assassination in 1975.

Beyond my scholarly fascination with his writings, Pasolini has become a sort of code word for me. In my social interaction, the utterance of his name is a synecdoche for an overarching attitude and an ideological stand against consumerism, the reification of our bodies, and the subjugation of the disenfranchised.

And Pasolini has also been the catalyst of some of my most cherished friendships.

One of those best friends is Paolo Cantele, who is also my client.

Earlier this week, he brought a wonderful blog post to my attention: “Pasolini’s girlfriend,” by Rome-based blogger and author Carmelo Albanese.

However apocryphal the story may be, it touches the heartstrings of Italians’ self-awareness and counter-culture today. The comments to the post, alone, would merit the attention of a doctoral thesis: this is the power of Pasolini’s towering presence in the country today.

I loved the story so much that I have translated it for Paolo’s winery’s English-language blog.

Please click over to read it.

Spoiler alert: the tale’s denouement revolves around a poem by Pasolini, “A un papa” [“To a Pope’].

Unfortunately Stephen Sartarelli’s translation of the poem was not included in his landmark Selected Poetry of Pier Paolo Pasolini, a Bi-Lingual Edition, published last year by University of Chicago Press. (Stephen is a friend and a mentor and he’s the Italian translator I admire most.)

But here’s a note on the importance of the poem by James Ivory (the celebrated director) who wrote the book’s introduction.

“Early in 1959…,” he writes, “problems” with Pasolini’s then publisher Bompiani arose “because of a polemical poem [by him]: ‘A un papa’ (‘To a Pope’), a rhetorical invective against Pope Pius XII, Eugenio Pacelli, considered by many to have been compromised by his silence and inaction during the Fascist-Nazi epoch. As the publisher was close to the Vatican, the controversy created strife with the editorial board… The poem itself, part of a series of what Pasolini called ‘epigrams,’ represented a new vein for him, merging politico-moral invective with verse, which he would tap with varying degrees of frequency for the rest of his life.”

Carmelo reveals in the post that he’s not an avid reader of Pasolini’s poetry. And I wonder if he was aware of the significance of the work in the arc of Pasolini’s literary career.

Anyone intimately familiar with the Pasolini mythologies would surely agree with me when I say that Carmelo’s post is even more moving because of the very fact that he hadn’t ever read the poem.

When you read Carmelo’s post, you might wonder — as I did — why he didn’t call the post Poesia in forma di rosa (Poetry in the Shape of a Rose, Pasolini’s famous collection of poetry published in 1964).

I hope you enjoy my translation as much I did composing it. Buona lettura!