In memoriam: Pietro Cheli (1965-2017)

Photo by Giovanni Arcari.

Who Was Pietro Cheli
by Giacomo Papi
Il Post Libri
November 6, 2017
(translation mine)

At dawn on Monday, November 5, 2017, Pietro Cheli died in his bed as the rain fell over Milan.

“I’m fine,” he had told his wife Alba Solaro shortly before the moment arrived. He may not have realized that it wasn’t true.

He was born in Genoa in 1965. He was 52 years old. He often said he would pass soon. Genoa was his favorite soccer team. He was a cultural journalist, meaning that for his entire life, he had worked in publishing, reading and publishing books, appearing at presentations, speaking on the radio, on television, and editing culture columns at the newspapers where he worked.

First at Il Giornale and La Voce with Indro Montanelli; then at Glamour and Diario with Enrico Deaglio; and finally at Amica where he was the magazine’s deputy editor. He was one of the great “men-machines”: When it came time to close an edition, he had an incredible capacity to edit its pages with a level of concentration and attention that made it appear seamless and almost easy.

He was a voluminous man whose enthusiasms and aversions often overflowed. He was a generous and contrarian man who sometimes used his body — his belly mostly but also his hands — as his own language. He could use it to spark the interest of strangers, intimidate his adversaries, and embrace his friends. Going by appearances, he seemed a man unafraid of the world and a singular voice of culture. In fact, he struggled with his doubts as to whether he should join in or keep his distance.

He hid but also rallied behind the character he had created. His way of hiding was by taking up all available space.

After they met, Luis Sepúlveda put him in one of his books. He called Cheli “a portly detective nicknamed ‘the Brooklyn Bambino’ by the homicide squad.”

Even when he spoke ill or gossiped about some one — as he often did, especially when it came to those he felt had usurped a position of power they didn’t deserve — his perspective was shaped by his disappointment and his amusement at the human comedy. But he never grew angry. He wasn’t ever able to avoid fools and hangers-on because he knew that fools and hangers-on nearly always had stories to share. And I believe it was also because he didn’t want to hurt them.

He was an elegant man (years later, he still laughed about an article that appeared in a Genoa newspaper wherein the author wrote he had “the elegance of a Finollo,” an old men’s store that catered to Genoa’s upper classes). He was a man full of wit. He could lash out but he also knew how to protect.

When he liked someone, he always knew how to identify the perfect anecdote or mannerism to describe him. He would reveal it for everyone to see, whether he intended to screw that person over or make him a legend.

As he lay dead in his room, he was elegant and rotund, surrounded by his books. He was cherubic, like a peacefully slumbering adolescent’s big baby doll.

*****

See this video of Pietro speaking (in Italian) about his recent book I’m A Racist But I’m Trying To Quit.

We’ll miss you dearly, Pietro.

Solidarity with our sisters and brothers in France: vive la France! et vive l’ironie!

paris in winterYesterday’s vicious attack at the offices of Charlie Hebdo resonates and reverberates far beyond Paris, where the very notions of free speech and freedom for all people were enshrined during the great Age of Enlightenment.

As we have read the coverage from Europe, including reports of Italy’s heightened sense of vulnerability, I can’t help but thinks about one of the journalistic trends that emerged during the months that followed the Tragedy of the Twin Towers in New York in 2001.

“Is irony dead?” asked many writers and critical theorists at the time.

In the wake of what happened yesterday in Paris, it’s more important than ever for us to embrace irony.

The despicable men who committed this atrocity are so convinced of their misguided, evil beliefs that they — quite literally — held no quarter for irony and the satirical medium employed by the editors of Charlie Hebdo. And where and when irony were to be eliminated, there would be only totalitarianism.

Without irony and without negation (as the critical theorists would call it), there can be no truth because truth cannot exist in the hermetically sealed world of totalitarianism. And that’s what the attackers want more than anything.

I can’t think of more urgent moment than now to shout at the top of my lungs, vive l’ironie! and vive la France!

To our French sisters and brothers, know that we stand with you!

The photo above was taken in February 2009 when Tracie P and I visited the City of Lights for a tour with my band Nous Non Plus.

Italian sayings: buona visione, buona degustazione, e buon weekend

It’s been a busy week here at Do Bianchi.

The other night I spoke about Fellini’s Notti di Cabiria and my semiotic approach to Fellinian wine pairing (semiotic or “Econian” as Vintuition pointed out) at the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin.

I wish the weekend at home with Tracie P were in the cards for me but — ahimè, alas — today I’m heading to Atlanta where I’ll be leading two wine tastings and seminars tomorrow at the Atlanta Food & Wine Festival.

It’s been a long week and it’s going to be even longer. And as I head off to another working Saturday, I’ll wish you all a buon weekend (a great weekend) with a list of Italian optatives… (Briciole and Avvinare, which ones am I missing?)

Work/Study

Buon lavoro = may your work be fruitful.
Buona lettura = enjoy your reading.
Buona lezione = may the lecture/class be fruitful.
Buon seminario = may the seminar/class be fruitful.
Buono studio = may your study be fruitful.

Senses

Buon appetito = enjoy your food.
Buon ascolto = enjoy the music [listening].
Buona degustazione = enjoy the tasting.
Buona spaghettata = enjoy your spaghetti [pasta].
Buona visione = enjoy the movie.

Travel/Recreation

Buona continuazione = enjoy the rest of your day/activity.
Buona domenica = enjoy your day of rest [the day of the Lord].
Buone feste = happy holidays.
Buon fine settimana [buon weekend] = have a great weekend.
Buona permanenza = enjoy your stay.
Buon proseguimento = enjoy the rest of your stay/activity.
Buone vacanze = enjoy your vacation.
Buon viaggio = have a safe trip.
Buon volo = have a safe flight.
Buon weekend [buon fine settimana] = have a great weekend.

Health/Rest

Buona guarigione = I wish you a speedy recovery.
Buon riposo = sleep well [get well soon].

Greetings/Salutation

Buona giornata = have a great day.
Buon giorno = good day [greetings].
Buona notte = good night [good-bye].
Buon pomeriggio = good afternoon [greetings].
Buona sera = good evening [greetings].
Buona serata = have a great evening.

What is not: a simpler manifesto for Natural Wine?

Last night, as Tracie P and I were sitting on our living room couch, watching our Sunday night TV (gangsters and zombies, please), munching on an excellent potato and leek torte that she made, and sipping Cornelissen’s 2007/2008 Rosso Munjebel 5, it occurred to me that one of the most tormented aspects of the tortuous quest to define “Natural Wine” is the fact that its definition is, by its very nature, a definition of what is not.

In many ways, the art and science of producing Natural Wine are defined by what the winemaker does not do: no chemicals in the vineyard, no pharmaceutical yeast in the cellar, and no manipulation of the vinified must (or as little as humanly possible, because human intervention is required on some level).

The Natural Wine Authorities seem to agree that Cornelissen’s wines are impeccably Natural (and I certainly do not want to descend into the abyss of the Natural Wine debate here). I’m sure even the Grouchy One would agree that Cornelissen’s wines are Natural (even though he’s probably pissed that he doesn’t import them).

In any case, Cornelissen’s “Natural Wine” credo, as published on his label (above), seemed to me a succinct and excellent way to define what Natural Wine is by describing what it is not. (Check out Cornelissen’s site here.)

O, and the wine?

For however difficult they are to track down and buy, Cornelissen’s wines are not prohibitively expensive.

Although the wine was slightly “hot” on the nose (as we say in the biz, denoting high alcohol content), we loved it: bright fruit, bright acidity, light in body, and a rich grapey meatiness that was fantastic with Tracie P’s torte.

Is it a wonderful wine? Yes. Is it a life-changing wine? I’d have to say no. Tracie P noted that it reminded her of the vino paesano that she used to drink when she lived in Ischia.

We enjoyed it thoroughly with our gangsters and zombies and we remembered that sometimes the simplest things in life are the best.

Sangiovese: origins of the enonym (grape name)

Yesterday on the Twitter, Alfonso asked me about the origins of the enonym Sangiovese. (I bet you’re wondering about the significance of the “allegory of music” from an illuminated Renaissance manuscript to the left but more on that below.)

First off, in all of my readings, I have found no one and nowhere that point to sangue di Giove (blood of Jupiter [Zeus]) as a philologically tenable origin of the grape name. This is what philologists call a folkloric etymology, most likely due to the quasi-homonymic (and Romantic) rapport between the enonym and purported etymon (the literal sense of a word according to its origin). While divine blood plays a central role in Christian myth and liturgy (another element that most likely contributes to the folkloric etymology), it is not found in the Roman or Italian cults that honored Jupiter during the vinaliae (wine festivals) of late antiquity. (For the record, blood does play a role in the myth of Zeus, when the “blood from the birth of Zeus begins to boil up” in a “sacred cave of bees… said to be found on Crete.” See this profile of Rhea, who gave birth to the deity.)

Most scholars believe the most plausible etymon to be sangiovannina, a term which denotes an early ripening grape in the dialect of Sarzana, a township that lies on the border of Liguria and Tuscany in northwestern Tuscany. (Hohnerleien-Buchinger, 1996, cited in Vitigni d’Italia, eds. A. Scienza et alia).

It’s also possible that Sangiovese comes from sangiovannese, an ethnonym denoting an inhabitant of San Giovanni Valdarno, a town in the province of Arezzo. (I actually think this is the most likely answer to the conundrum; here’s a link to the Sangiovannese soccer team website.)

Others yet point to the etymon jugalis (Latin yoke), giogo in Italian, possibly derived from a vine training system. (There is a precedent in the enonym Schiava but I believe this an unlikely linguistic kinship.)

In my research last night (conducted in the golden hour, when the day’s toil is through, and Tracie P and I relax before dinner), I came across a wonderful journal devoted to Romagnolo (the dialect of Romagna). It’s called Ludla (click to download the edition I found), or spark in Romagnolo. In it, I found an article on the origin of Sanzves, the Romagnolo inflection of Sangiovese. Here’s where it gets really interesting…

It’s important to remember that the enonym appears for the first time in Tuscany in the 16th century as Sangiogheto (Soderini, 1590) and today, most ampelographers concur that Sangiovgheto or Sangioveto are geographically aligned with Tuscany while Sangiovese is more closely related to Romagna (on the other side of the Apennines).

The author of the Ludla article proposes that Sanzves might be derived (however remotely) from Mons Jovis, a site near the town of Savignano (where the Romagnoli believe the grape to have originated, another possible linguistic kinship), today known as Giovedìa, where Jupiter (Giove, in Italian) was worshiped in late antiquity.

The bottom line? It’s very likely that we will never know the true origin of the enonym. But that’s not important.

The images that adorn this post (allegories of musica and rehtorica) are culled from a Renaissance codex of De Nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii (On the Marriage of Philology and Mercury) by Martianus Capella, a pagan writer of late antiquity whose work formed the basis for the study of the liberal arts in western civilization. Philology is literally the love of words and Mercury is the mythical embodiment of commerce or intelligent pursuit.

While we may never know the etymon of the enonym, the journey of discovery by the way offers rewards all the more satisfying to our intellectual curiosity, emboldening our knowledge and awareness of the world around us.

When we marry the love of words and intelligent pursuit, only good things are bound to happen. The same thing happens when we pair a great bottle of Brunello with a bistecca alla fiorentina (something I hope to do later this week).

Thanks for reading…