Beauty (and ugly) in Italy

Above: A wasp feasts on newly picked Ribolla at Venica & Venica.

A quick post today, on this autumnal Monday back at my desk in Austin, comprised of photos from my trip, some of the most beautiful things I saw through my lens while in Italy. It was an incredible journey, replete with felicitous confluences, some serendipitous and delightfully unexpected, others grounded in epistemlogic contemplation and convex self-reflection.

Above: Pancetta offered to weary travelers, also at Venica.

In the days that follow, I’ll begin posting in-depth accounts of my conversations and tastings with winemakers and restaurateurs in Tuscany, the Veneto, and Friuli. I am so grateful for all the comments, emails, Twitter mentions, and Facebook notes encouraging me and sharing insights into what I photographed, smelled, tasted, drank, and masticated over the course of the nearly three-week trip. And I am especially thankful for the incredible hospitality and generosity of spirit of my (literally) myriad hosts and guides.

Above: A view from one of the dining rooms at Trattoria al Parco in Buttrio (Udine).

Immense and extreme beauty is offered to the willful traveler of the Italic peninsula: from her generous landscape to her innate and intrinsic humanity (both historical and topical), Italy continues to inspire me (and hopefully you) by revealing some of the mystery and joy of life through her topographic, aesthetic, and sensual pleasures.

Above: A view from the Abbazia di Rosazzo in the Colli Orientali del Fiuli.

While I thoroughly enjoyed her bountiful intellectual and sensorial gifts, I was however acutely aware of the seemingly insurmountable societal and cultural issues and turmoil faced by the inhabitants (Italian and otherwise) of this profoundly gorgeous land.

Above: Hay for Chianina cows near Pienza, Tuscany.

Whether it’s Berlusconi patently using one of his media outlets (in this case, Il Giornale, a top national daily) to sling mud at his rival Fini (now embroiled in a sticky familiar real-estate scandal) or the impending expulsion of Roma (following the highly controversial and contested model employed by Sarkozy), Italy and her peoples find themselves in circumstances eerily however distantly reminiscent of the “era between the two wars.” When I commented on the recent changing of the guard in the political regime of the region where she and her family make wine, one winemaker observed wryly but not inronically, “we were better off with the fascists in power than the [newly instated] separatists.”

Above: Sunset in Montalcino (Tuscany), viewed from the estate of Il Palazzone.

Perhaps it’s this precarious balance of salt and sweet that makes Italy always taste so great and greatly on our tongues. Thanks for reading…

Some of the more beautiful things I saw in Italy

The caliber of my photography never rises above the amateur (in the etymologic sense of the word) but sometimes I get lucky. I guess it’s about place and time.

Tasting with the Marquis Carlo Guerrieri Gonzaga at the Tenuta San Leonardo in Trentino. I was moved at the thought of shaking the hand of a descendant of one of the most influential families of the Northern Italian Renaissance.

I photographed this bee at the highest point in Cartizze, the top growing site for Prosecco. Matteo Bisol of the Bisol winery opened his family’s Prosecco Cartizze and we tasted it right there among the vines. It was fun to return to Valdobbiadene where I spent so much time during the summers of years at university in Italy.

The baroque basilica at the Abbazia di Novacella was most impressive. That was the farthest north I’ve ever traveled in Italy. Driving through the Alps, I couldn’t help but think of the line from Petrarch canzone 128:

    Nature provided well for our safety when she put the shield of the Alps between us and the Teutonic rage.

The incipit of the song is one of Petrarch’s most moving and appeals to the then divided and bellicose Italian states:

    My Italy, although speech does not aid those mortal wounds of which in your lovely body I see so many, I wish at least my sighs to be such as Tiber and Arno hope for, and Po where I now sit sorrowful and sad. (translation by Robert Durling)

I’ve been traveling to Italy for more than twenty years and as in years past, I took time to catch up on my newspaper reading and to ask people about their outlook for the future. In my view, the Italians’ “tenuous sense of nationhood” seems more fragile than ever (between the jockeying of Berlusconi, Fini, and Bossi) and the balance of Po, Tiber, and Arno all the more precarious.

But the beauty of this country has always been accompanied by peril — the one seemingly unable to exist without the other.

I’ll begin posting about my trip and other developments next week. Stay tuned and thanks for reading…