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|[09/13/2020, 23:15] ||A letter, found in an abandoned home, next to a stream of unconscious and constant agitation|
|[Editor's note: this letter was unsigned inside an envelope on the desk of the empty home. It could be the letter was written by the owner of the home. But we have no idea who lived there as all records disappeared after the Great American Passage in 2021.]|
What I am about to write to you might not be welcome. After all, I am merely an imperfect American. And we all know now that Americans are finally being leveled by their own foolish acts after all these years. Finally, the chickens have come home to roost.
And that is what I am writing about to you today ? home. Yours. And ours. Let?s start with yours.
You all spent three months in isolation, through the late winter and all through the spring. I know how hard it must have been to isolate in your room, your apartment, your chalet, your villa or your castello. You live to be with the others. And this confinement must have made you anxious for the outside world.
And so, as summer approached and as your country started lifting the restraints upon your personal freedom, seeing as the collective good was deemed to be no longer in jeopardy, you went out in the world.
Well, you couldn?t go to Thailand or New York, Singapore or Copenhagen, not so easily. But you still had Italy. And you went about country, making up for lost time.
And we all saw it in glorious color. The elaborate foods, the wonderful restaurants. Posing with the chef, sans masks. You were all so very daring. But not really. You believed you had conquered the coronavirus. Italy won in record time and had vanquished the interloper.
You took to the beaches and became as bronze as Zeus. You took to the sea and commanded the waves like Poseidon. You hiked in your mountains and became as Artemis. Because you are young and have been young all your life. As are the gods. And both immortal, as you like to believe.
But now summer is over. Coronavirus did not take the summer off. It took to the air and came to America. Here, in the realm of magical thinking, where no virus can ever conquer one?s thoughts or hopes or fears or ignorance. And here it had a field day. ?Like shooting fish in a barrel,? one overheard one of the coronae saying to another at a crowded bar. ?Another round for the house,? the other one said, and they laughed like the god Hades. And they moved down the street to another bar, and another bar, until the bars closed for the night.
And so it went. And so it still goes. America can look back to that first spring as the ?golden days? of the coronavirus. And as the days get shorter, and the weather gets colder, and the leaves begin to fall from the trees, the work here is just getting started. There are plenty more fish in the bucket.
Meanwhile, back in Italy, you are looking to your vines, and picking the grapes. Now the pictures on your social media feed will curate clusters of ripe grapes, and bladder presses and cute little videos of fresh grape juice waiting to metamorphose into wine. And in 9 months you will put pictures of glasses and bottles of the fresh ros? on your Instagram feed, along with your perfectly arranged plates of grilled calamari. And those of us watching from our 7th circle in Hell will wish we had found the cure, like you showed us you had. And we will once again be a little jealous of your freedom and your innocence and your youth and your resilience, #LivingYourBestLife, right in front of all of us ? suckers and losers ? Americanos. At least, those of you who survived the winter and the resurgence and the virus that knows nothing of miraculous ratiocination and social media and posts and stories and reels and likes and more likes.
And one of you will write to me, asking me why I am so angry, why cannot I just let you enjoy your life and your country and your home (or homes). And I will not say anything more, because, I will still be home, waiting for the storm to pass. This home, which is on this giant ship of fools, flinging itself across space at speeds unimaginable.
But if you have found this letter, chances are I have not made it through the winter and am now ambling about in some bardo looking for the door out. And you will have been right, for you are still alive and reading this, and I am no longer.
And who now, will drink your wine?
wine blog + Italian wine blog + Italy W
|[09/06/2020, 17:44] ||Dismantling the First Mountain|
|The life of a career. It?s a curious ascent. One spends so much energy in getting to the top of the mountain. To be the best. Number one. To master your craft. And to represent all that you stand (and climb) for the best that you can. To spend years climbing to the peak. To sacrifice any number of things, material and personal, in order to behold the sunrise at the summit. And then?|
Then is now. How does the song go, ?First there is a mountain, then there is no mountain, then there is?? Well, I?m in the wind up of ?then there is no mountain? stage. That first mountain has become an obstacle, and it must go.
And along with it, a lot of the habiliments that accompany it.
I?ve said many goodbyes to people and things during this moment of exile and self-examination. Just like in the garden, when a summer plant cannot live in the colder months, so it must be cleared out. Mind you, it isn?t just me doing it. It?s also being done to me. I?m no longer producing fruit, so I must not take up space in the garden. I?ve had my day; I?ve delivered my harvest. Now, it is on to the next mountain.
Does it mean I?m no longer a knight of the vine, or whatever it is they will now call it? Frankly, I don?t care. I spent 40 years doing what I did on those slopes. 40 harvests. Millions and millions of bottles of Italian wine. But the cycle doesn?t stop because someone gets off the merry-go-round. It needs to keep on spinning. But with younger energy. So it goes.
Years ago, I took apart a small building the owner of the property wanted to develop it into something else, and he gave me a couple of months to salvage the materials. You can learn a lot about building something by taking it apart. And I did. I took those materials and built a workshop and started a business.
So, I?m not thinking, necessarily, about blowing the mountain up. There are a lot of good bits in that first mountain. Maybe not for making a second one. Maybe just for the mindfulness one was given on that mountain, to know that even when it has been leveled, the climb isn?t over, not quite yet. But the shroud of unknowingness around the second one is lingering, like the fog one sees in Piedmont, around this time of the year, in those hills where the Nebbiolo and Barbera are coming into ripeness.
It?s funny, I wander around the screen before me and watch all the drama of those still climbing their first mountain. I did it too, so I cannot fault them or criticize them. They feel the urge to ascend and achieve. I understand. I?m just not there, anymore. I?m occupied with unveiling the shroud from before me, here on my new base camp, in this dawn of a new ascent.
wine blog + Italian wine blog + Italy W
|[08/30/2020, 14:34] ||Everyone?s gone to the moon (or ?We?re here and they?re not?)|
As we beat the month of August, once more, to death, September howls like a newborn that was cast away into a dumpster. No one hears her little cries to a universe unprepared and unattended. For Italy, as for much of the world, has been abandoned.
How many times can one walk the beach between Alcamo Marina and Castellammare del Golfo in the shortened summer days of September and feel any of the hope one felt in May or June, when the Linden trees were in bloom on the Adriatic? Now, in New York City, at Fifth Avenue and 54th Street, at noon, an eerie and similar scene mirrors Sicily. An unattended world. Where has everyone gone?
To the solitary traveler, it isn?t anything new. All the years I?ve wandered the earth, whether in Italy or in America, I never felt isolated as much as liberated. To crawl up the grimy streets of Pozzuoli, with the raw balm of anchovies and lemon, the baked focaccia streaming the aroma out into the streets, mingling with the smoke of a Nazionale offering up base notes. Where is everyone? (nearby, a Greek Chorus refrains, ?We?re here and they?re not.?)
From a window above the little shop, where the merchant in rolling down the door for his afternoon nap, above him a woman calls, ?Ma cche staje faccen'? O ppane?? Ah, so, once again the furast?re is sleepless, roaming the streets like a scugnizzo. Once again, "nun sacc? niente."
And once again, many of us now are wandering, roaming the streets at all hours of the day and night. But everyone on a street in their own little world. We?ve masked up and in doing so, it seems like we?ve found a secret door into another universe. And like Rome on August 15th at 1 PM, where is everyone?
It?s an odd thing, to be strolling around an abandoned Italy in September, when just a few weeks before, typically, it would be teeming with bodies. Children running where the sand meets the sea. Pensioners, sitting under an umbrella sipping on a gassosa or a cedrata. Music playing from a number of things, phones, Bluetooth speakers, cars, overhead PA systems. Songs, cries, pleas, whispers. Humanity buzzing about. But not now, not in September. Not in 2020. Now, everyone?s gone to the moon.
wine blog + Italian wine blog + Italy W
|[08/23/2020, 17:39] || Italy, a beacon for continuity in the realm of magical thinking|
|Yesterday a young friend called me from Italy. Not just anywhere in Italy, but one of my favorite places in Italy ? San Benedetto del Tronto ? on the Adriatic coastline. And not just anywhere in San Benedetto del Tronto, but from the bar at the Excelsior Hotel. And there he was with a dear old, friend, Piero, the bar manager. He was alive. He was well. And he was reflecting the sunny life of summer in Italy. It made my day.|
Actually, it shook me to my core. I was elated to see and talk to Piero. I didn?t know if he would still be working, he?s almost the same age as Anthony Fauci. But he was like a constant beacon, a lighthouse, just like I?ve always known him. It was a thread of continuity that reinforced my faith in enduring things.
It was as if all the changes we have seen recently were vanquished to a bubble of memory and sent to a room, to hover all by itself, alone. It would be fitting, seeing as that is much of what many of us have been doing. But the moment in which I saw something familiar, and dear, brought me back to a life of hope.
I haven?t been to Italy in a year and a half. All those plans to go were put on hold, while this storm crashes and keeps crashing upon our shores. I see Italy, if not in reality, at least pretending that things were getting back to normal. The bar at the Excelsior, where one could get a good coffee. Where one could have a chat with a friend, who has seen it all, behind his bar, as the world came to him.
I played along. I pretended. After the call, I ?went? back up to my hotel room and put on my walking shoes. And headed out the door, straight to the Lungomare and turned left. I walked to the center of town, to the square, where the Hotel Calabrese sits. Where children were playing. Where youths were engaged in a tennis match. Where a pair of aged men were playing checkers, while the breeze off the sea lilted through the palms, and the full tufts of white hair of the elders. It was a beautiful afternoon, and it was aperitivo time.
So, I strolled to our favorite bar nearby the Florian, and had a glass of water, with a dash of Anisette, made nearby, and a slice of orange. And sat outside and watched the passage of time. Nearby young women were staring at the newly arrived shoes in the window of the boutique. And across the street, the bookstore, long gone, but still there in my memory, announced the latest novel by Elena Ferrante.
One of my local friends stopped by and said hello. He was on his way to the Caff? Sciarra, his favorite. ?Yes, yes, we?ll stop by after dinner and have a gelato or a cognachino with you all, by all means.? I knew that would be hours from now, so I bided my time sitting here, enjoying the continuity of a life I only get to touch occasionally.
But it all seems so much more real to me than this world we are living in now. Oh, not to worry, I?m not going to fool myself into some kind of magical thinking. I?m just taking a break from the harsh reality, an aperitivo della fantasia.
Meanwhile dinner time is approaching. Let?s see, what to eat and drink? It?s warm here on the coast in August, and this is a pasta and seafaring dominant food destination.
Let?s start with the traditional appetizer, Olive Ascolane, with a nice Pecorino wine from the region, the Ciprea from Simone Capecci. Ciprea is a full-bodied white, almost with the weight of a red. The wine sees no oak, only stainless steel and long ageing on the lees. What was once an obscure wine is now a DOCG (Offida).
Let?s also have some olive ascolane and squash wrapped shrimp. Maybe a plate of calamari, some grilled gambero and langosto, and some baby clams. As well, a bottle of Trebbiano d?Abruzzo, for Gambero old times sake. Maybe something fancy. Why not? The asteroid is heading our way, supposed to be here November 3rd, what are we saving it for?
I know we?re in the Marche region, and most people never even get to Marche, or their neighbor, Abruzzo. Their loss. Our gain, for those of us who pilgrimage there more than the occasional wine junket. Great weather, fabulous food, reasonably priced, great beaches (which means great seafood) and therein provides the attraction for a crisp clean white like Trebbiano. And Abruzzo is the omphalos for this wine. Trebbiano soothed many a sunburn, assuaged many a plate of mezze manche with tiny clams and helped expedite the finishing off a plate of grilled langosto.
Speaking of pasta, I?m in the mood for something spicy. Abruzzo has long had a tradition of deeper colored ros?s. The spicy arrabbiata pasta I?m thinking of having infused in me a love for Cerasuolo d? Abruzzo. Made from the Montepulciano grape, this is a good fix for folks who love fruit-driven red wines that are spicy but who want to power down from the big red when the weather is warm. Again, not so fashionable in the world of marketing, where the anemically pale Provence style of ros? is currently de rigueur. But one would never know that on the Adriatic coastal towns, where Cerasuolo flies off the tables, and where we like our ros? wines, like our summer bodies, well-tanned.
Is there anything more we can eat? Well, we have one more wine to drink, another white, so something must show up, if only a nice clean, simple plate of grilled fish with olive oil and lemon.
How about a bottle of Verdicchio from Matelica, from La Monacesca? Maybe something with a little age on it, when it gets a (secondary) toasted coffee bean aroma and nutty flavor? I?m all in.
Look, I cannot travel like friends Ian or Roger, or decamp to my Tuscan hideaway like my Texas friend (who will not be named). I?m completely at the mercy of my magical thinking at this point. What, I should follow the upcoming political party convention instead? I ?d rather weekend in Guantanamo.
Before this fantasy ends, though, we must find my way to Caff? Sciarra, for a nightcap of an aromatic grappa and a cone of pistachio gelato, to gird us for the walk back to the hotel. It?s almost midnight, the dance music is bleating in the little piazza in front of the caff?. The revelers would be going at it until 2021, if they could. I have about 45 minutes left in my tank.
Continuity. The compost of memory. It keeps the good vibrations fertilized and ready for the next season. Maybe like Piero, always there, always a comforting constant, maybe we can just pretend some things will never end, while we wait for this scourge we currently find ourselves held hostage in, to finally cease.
wine blog + Italian wine blog + Italy W
|[08/16/2020, 18:31] ||A most unusual Ferragosto|
|Ever since I have been decamping to Italy, almost 50 years now, the middle of August (Ferragosto) signaled a time to recharge, rest, play, sun, eat, drink and love. I cannot remember a time in my life when that cycle has been interrupted for so many Italians, and really, anyone who is in Italy in this moment. 2020 - It has been a most unusual Ferragosto.|
From what I am reading and seeing from my Italian friends, it?s a mixed bag. The young ones seemingly are unphased over the virus, and if they are economically advantaged, they are enjoying a moment of rare privilege. The older adults in my feed tell a different story. They are exhibiting a more sedate moment in time. After all, 35,000 of their countrymen and women died this year from the virus. It certainly is not anything to celebrate over a bottle of growers Champagne and beluga caviar.
It is as if Italy, and by extension, the western world is split. Many have hunkered down, and are still laying low. It isn?t as if anyone has found a cure. And it isn?t like the virus has magically disappeared.
There are, however, a surplus of folks employing magical thinking about the world they live in. But is that really anything new? Haven?t there always been scores of humans who live in a world of their own facts and fantasies, often with rarely a distinction between the two?
Meanwhile, the grapes are growing. Harvest is coming. And the summer of 2020 will soon fade into the past.
I am not someone who lives in fear of the future. I am hopeful it will be better, but I cannot simply will it to be so by wishing it so. My Italian friends who have vineyards, though, must prepare for harvest, even if the virus is resurgent. Even if there are fewer workers to pick the grapes. And even if the demand for wine in the near future might not be so great. That?s a farmer?s fate.
What will the wines of 2020 be thought of, say, in 2040, or 2060? I won?t be around to find out. And even if I make it to 2040, I will still have wine enough from the 1990?s and the early 2000?s to supply any need for wine. So, once again, I am an observer. As we all are right about now.
What would I like the wines of 2020 to be remembered as? Well, for one, as having been made, first and foremost. Look, 2002 and 2003 were very challenging years. But we made it through them, and the wines that were made, managed to give pleasure to some. Not great, in general, but the show went on.
And in 2020, the show must go on, too. I look forward to Verdicchio, Trebbiano, Soave, Vernaccia. And Pelaverga, Arneis, Barbera, Montepulciano. These, and others, we will be able to dip in and try relatively soon. Maybe even before we find a total solution to this worldwide scourge.
If not, we might have to crash the Ferragosto 2021 party of the young and the privileged, and help them drink all their fancy wine and food that they have so carefully curated, as they are #LivingTheirBestLife somewhere, on a secluded, and, most likely, exquisite island.
wine blog + Italian wine blog + Italy W
|[08/13/2020, 05:34] ||#TBT - Master Class in Indigenous Wines ~ As Taught by a Donkey, a Rooster and the Spirit of Place |
|#TBT - from the archives|
There are aspects to life that don?t travel so well on the road. One of them is the lack of interaction with creatures other than humans. Maybe it is a pet, or the birds in one?s back yard, any number of life forms that constitute the daily connections one has, sometimes not even thinking about it. The other, if one is so inclined, is the interplay one has with nature, the grounded lifeforms that don?t move. Maybe it is a tree, or a bush, a plant with fruit or vegetables. And while traveling, those elements that form part of the identity of one?s life, be it only an inner one, they aren?t able to be packed into the suitcase.
This week, in and around Bari in Southern Italy, has been a wonderful experience tasting many wines from indigenous varieties, thanks to all the great folks at Radici Del Sud. Meeting people, some old friends, and some new, getting them to tell their story, opening a wine or two, an immersion of sorts. It has been a really great way to have an exposure to a world that is vibrant, and to a large part, unknown to wine drinkers back in places like Texas, or for that part, California and New York. These aren?t household names, Susumaniello, Nerello Mascalese, Verdeca, Aglianico, Nero di Troia, Minutolo. Oh yes, the somm-set or the wine geeks are fully briefed on these matters. But for the other 99.9%, these are exotic, foreign, unknown.
While at one of these tastings, there came a point when the introvert within pulled the car over to the road and had a little talk with me. ?Look, this is all fine, but you?ve got to give me a moment to breathe. Meeting 35 people in 2 hours and having them tell us their story, and taste their wine, well, it?s taxing. I need to step way for a moment and recharge.?
We were in Minervino Murge at Masseria Barbera, tasting Nero di Troia, Primitivo and other indigenous wines. All well and good, but the alcohol was searing my throat. I needed a breather. So I quietly slipped off from the group for a moment and walked outside to smell the rosemary.
Once outside, the forces of nature led me in a new degustation; a little like tasting a wine, but the glass is a bit larger. Here a kitten searching for the warmth of her mother?s bosom. There is the bouquet of wild flowers gathered by a darkly tanned man, the same one who rakes the rocks with a handmade tool, smoothing them out with as much intent as a Zen monk in his rock garden.
Walk a little ways and there is a secret little pine forest, where the breeze choreographs the branches beyond anything Diaghilev dared dream possible. In the middle is a worn down stone trough, perhaps carved hundreds of years ago by a soul who could never have dreamed what the 21st century would bring. Nonetheless, his (or her) influences, their touch, still makes an impression across the span of those many years.
A ways off, there is the call of a peacock, the nervous murmur of the chicken, the assertive alarm the rooster makes to all those under his care, all assembled in their courtyard, taking on the seeds and the little dramas of their daily lives.
Nearby is Maria Pia, the chef?s solitary donkey, penned in and shaking off the flies that swirl around her legs, eyes and back. How patient she is. She comes up to me, looks me in the eye, and that missing connection, one that is had at home with the cat or the dog, is made. ?Tell me about your land, Maria Pia,? I ask her with my eyes. And her eyes answer back. And we walk alongside each other for a moment, before another tree, a peach or a plant, a wild artichoke, calls me over to tell me their story.
And so it goes.
Understanding wine, especially esoteric ones that showcase the distinctive richness of Italy, isn?t always just a matter of tasting them. What makes these wines so unique are also the little swirling stories around the wines. If one is to understand Nero di Troia or Primitivo, I need to also know what the animals think is important about this place, what compels the cardoon to grow abundantly in the clearing, why the peaches here are so sweet and so close to the sea at that. Then I can try to ask myself what is this Nero di Troia, what is this Minutolo, and perhaps find a better understanding of why they have decided to live out their life here, while I flit about the earth, from place to place, missing what it is I have left behind.
wine blog + Italian wine blog + Italy W
|[08/09/2020, 16:38] ||Taking one's place along the river|
|?All we are not stares back at what we are.? - W.H. Auden|
What are we looking for? Whether it is in a vineyard or a desert? In a lover or in the mirror? On the road or self-quarantined? What do we expect to find? What has been lost? Where is this all leading to?
You?re staring at a TV screen for months and the story is laced with fear and woe. The next day, you?re sitting behind a windshield, and the landscape of the great American West is cascading by you at 60-70-80 miles per hour. Inescapable though, is the hope that ?the crisis? is far away. The land, the great healer, is now weaving the tales, and it is long, and hot, but endurable. I say this with gratitude, that one can witness this other side of the world we live in.
That couldn?t always be said for how we encountered this land, 200-100-50 years ago. I drove through New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and Nevada, in the span of one day. Now, all I have to do is get to Oregon.
It?s a strange rhythm that invades my little ecosystem in the car. After three days, and over 2,300 miles, it begins to feel like one is in another reality. Driving through the states I drove through, there was this intensified energy, like I?ve felt nowhere else on earth.
Growing up on the west coast, there is an inexorable gravitational pull from the coastline. Maybe the present moment doesn?t provide the best juncture for a breather. Nonetheless, it?s happening.
Although Oregon isn?t the final destination on this journey, it is a short layover. After driving three long days, through mostly desert, the lakes, rivers, forests and mountains of Oregon will provide a cooler breathing space.The sound of the road relieved by the sound of the river.
It was as if, while on the road, the problems that bombard us on the screens weren?t there. But they didn?t really go away, did they?
That is one of the questions that comes to the surface, as I put the car in park and pull over for the day.
I opened a bottle of wine, while the river below bubbled and swirled. Rosabella it was called, and it was both ros? and beautiful, as the Italian name connotes. The wine was slightly petillant with a mid-summer?s blush. It tasted like a peach, was all I wanted in a bottle of wine, or, from a summer day. It was drinking marvelously right now. It had that perfect blush peach color with aromas of fresh berries. The flavors, dry and crisp, but in its youthful stage, were vibrant and vivacious. A perfect drink for the moment.
The full moon of Oregon?s July was waning, but still burned bright in the western sky. The nearby river was churning, with the Cutthroat trout in the last throes of procreation on the shallow beds of gravel at the river bottom. Unlike their cousins, the Pacific salmon, they do not die after they spawn. Lucky them. They?ll have another go at it, next year. Will we?
Calmness, comfort and communion with the nature all around me. I drove to find this, not knowing I was looking for it. Often, I would find this, in the past, in Italy. In a meal, in the sharing of a bottle of wine, in the rapport of friendship and community. But now, on a smaller, more intimate scale. Just that which is presented before me, Nature in all her grand efflorescence.
I slept as if dead to the outside world. It was curative and invigorating. I was ready to take on the day. Again, not knowing what to look for. But to make the stab, one more time. What funny creatures we humans be.
Now, Italy has receded into the rear-view mirror of the past. The Italy I know faded away as soon as I saw it. The endless files of photographs from the past attest to a place that once existed. Now, only in our memories and in the old films of the time. I?ve been watching a lot of them, trying to reconnect with the Italy I fell in love with.
But when something dies, do you stop loving it? Or, do you stop loving the living? The wine we drank last year is gone. The wine in the cellar awaits. That is the Italy that, even though it will never be the same, I will love it as it presents itself to me in all its guises and contours.
?Love each other or perish? - W.H.Auden
wine blog + Italian wine blog + Italy W
|[08/02/2020, 20:03] ||The valley between the mountains|
|"Gone to look for America"|
The assistant at the hotel reception desk in Farmington was Navaho. He bore familiar marks of his tribe, even shielded by a mask. He was friendly, asked me where I was from and where I was going. ?Made it here from Texas. Dallas. Heading to the Pacific Northwest. Hoping to make it as far as Elko, Nevada today. Ruby Valley nearby, great place.? His attention had wandered after Dallas. Maybe he had other things on his mind. In New Mexico, where Native Americans are 9 percent of the population, they make up 75 percent of the state?s deaths. And with Covid19, that number wasn?t decreasing anytime soon, from what I witnessed the day before.
I was in for a long haul today and needed to get on the road. I had several states to plough through.
Colorado came up fast and disappeared in the rear-view mirror almost as rapidly. I was cutting through a corner of the state. But the part of Utah which bordered Colorado was gorgeous, even if it seemed deserted at 9AM on a Monday morning.
So many years I?d gotten onto the freeway for work on a Monday, only to stop and slow and then wait for the bottleneck to clear up several miles down the road. Just so I could get to the office and try and figure out how to get more people to order and buy and drink Soave, Verdicchio, Chianti and Nero d?Avola. Those days are also in the rear-view mirror, fortunately. I?m free from the daily toll of convincing buyers and consumers that Italian wine is just as good as French or California wine. Now it seems more like folly than livelihood. For the journeymen and women knee-deep in the must of their careers, it isn?t, it?s serious stuff. Yeah, serious stuff.
Utah eventually flattened out around 11 AM. An inversion layer was building around Salt Lake City, as the temperature outside rose to almost 100?F. The shock of seeing (barely) a city in this desert woke me up. I drove on, past the never-ending Salt Lake, until I saw the welcome sign for Nevada.
I was close to Elko, and even though the day was not even close to being over, I decided to take a run around the town. I?d first been there in 1971. A college friend was from there, and one Thanksgiving I was invited to join her family for the holiday.
In August of 1971 I?d first set foot on Italian soil. The experience still lit me up, electrified me into November when we drove across Nevada, without speed limits at the time. It was nothing to go 100 mph on Interstate 80. And my friend?s Challenger, a 70?s pony car, was definitely up for the drive at any speed. This was better than the autostrada. Way better.
Once we arrived to Elko and settled in, my friends parents asked me if I?d like to go out into the country to their ranch for a day. Why not? I had no idea what awaited me.
Well, really no one was waiting. I was crashing their party. More like hindering their work. The ranch manager, Frank Temoke, was also the hereditary chief of the Western Shoshoni.
My recollection of Frank was that he was a strong person. He also didn?t talk much. But he was warm and friendly to this tenderfoot. They found a horse for me, Buck, who had a sweet temperament. It had been snowing, lightly, and the temperature was in the low 40?s. So, moving around on a horse kept my mind off of the cold.
After Frank and his crew rounded up a few cattle, he wanted to show me an area nearby. We were in the Ruby Valley, between the Ruby Mountains and Pearl Peak. This was long a Native American place. The white men who came did their best to subjugate the indigenous folks. In 1971 there was still a long way to go before there would be social justice. 50 years later, it?s as if we?ve gone backwards. And we have. But back in 1971, for one brief afternoon, I was riding Buck and following Frank to a grove of pine trees.
?We?ll stop here awhile. Frank started bending down to pick up little nuts. ?Depa,? he said. ?Maybe you know them as pine nuts.? Indeed. Pine nuts were important to Italians as well as the Shoshoni. Frank gather several handfuls, made a quick campfire and scattered them in a skillet to roast. And we sat out among the fire roasting the pine nuts, cracking them and eating them, while he told me stories of this place he called home country.
These ancient memories were emblazoned upon my psyche, and the photographs made that day aid in the recollection. Always with a camera. Wherever the trail may lead.
Back in 2020, as I pulled back on the highway, I looked over at the direction of Ruby Valley and the Ruby Mountains. How could 50 years have passed that fast, as the car reached 75 mph heading west, chasing the sun.
wine blog + Italian wine blog + Italy W
|[07/26/2020, 05:00] ||Looking for another mountain|
|"Gone to look for America"|
Driving through the Texas Panhandle seemed interminable. Speed up, slow down, pass through a little town. Bogdanovich redux. And repeat. Until the border. The further north and west one goes in Texas, the more red-hot it gets. And flat. Not to say there?s no life out there. There must be some life worth preserving, why else would everyone need a gun, as the endless billboards proclaim? That part of Texas is locked in a scenario that time has passed by. Every town is portraying their version of Mayfield. Everyone?s parents are Ozzie and Harriet. There is no pandemic. There is no need for a mask. Move along, nothing to see here. Leave us alone. Go back home. Leave it to Jesus.
One town I drove by, Memphis, looked like a set-in-waiting for a Sergio Leone revival. I could hear Morricone?s soundtrack as I crawled, at 35 miles per hour, through the place. Glen Rio, New Mexico was still 2+ hours away, as Elvis crooned Heartbreak Hotel on Spotify.
This week a young friend texted me and wanted to talk. I gave young friend a call. ?I want you to know I love you as a friend. But you are one privileged sonofabitch, being able to drive around like you did and then write about it as if there wasn?t anything else going on in the world.? ?Like what?? I asked. ?Like how are we young parents going to get back to work and how are we going to be able to educate our young children safely?? Young friend had a good point. I promised I would try and check my privilege (and enthusiasm) safely from the keyboard.
New Mexico finally appeared. It was noon, the day was heating up. My little car was cool as a cucumber. I pressed on, thinking maybe get to Albuquerque, or Santa Fe before calling it a day. But Albuquerque just sailed on by the windshield. And somewhere along the way north, the junction to Santa Fe went unnoticed. I was moving well, within the law, was it ever gonna get dark? Why not press on to Farmington, see if I could make some tracks?
Highway 550 from Bernalillo to Farmington goes through the heart of Navaho country. The road was nearly deserted on the Sunday after July 4th. It was eerie.
Even more so with the outdoor signs dotting the road and entrances to the pueblos, urgently advising Native Americans to stay home, don?t venture out, this is a real emergency. Virus outbreaks in the pueblos, and in Sandoval county, where I was driving through, had been ravaging the Navaho Nation.
I?m not a Native American. But I am an American who is native to this country. I?m not claiming to be anything I?m not, but I feel this. It was as if the constant sun of noon had gone behind a larger-than-life moon. It was a dark ride. I could hear souls crying, lamenting one more incursion, this one as deadly as the ones before, ever since the Spanish conquistadors arrived here 400 years ago. ?Nothing but death and destruction, they bring,? one soul whispered in my ear, as I slowed down for a curve ahead. I wanted to turn around, go home and put my head under the covers.
But I couldn?t. My young friend might say ?That?s because your white privilege, just like those Spanish bastards, gives you license to push on, while the Navaho Nation must shelter and wait for the virus to move on.?
I was looking for another mountain, one apart from the mountain I climbed as a father, a husband, an employee, a son, a brother. It was out there, in the guise of a deferred vision quest. ?See,? I?d tell my young friend, ?I?ve gone from Kerouac to He?Mene Mox.? I imagine my young friend responding with a phrase not printable here.
But there was no turning back.
wine blog + Italian wine blog + Italy W
|[07/19/2020, 17:39] ||Finding a new Italy while "gone to look for America"|
|It must have been on the last leg of my road trip around America, when I realized the Italy I was missing was passing by me at 75 miles an hour. How could it be? I wasn?t in Piedmont or Tuscany, Sicily or Abruzzo. I was somewhere between Utah and Colorado. It was the American West, not the Old World. There were no ancient buildings. But there were scores of ancient rocks, mounds, mesas, mountains. It was a bit disconcerting. There were no plethora of wineries, although there were the occasional ones. |
No, it was something else I had tapped into. It was the road. The trail. The journey.
All those times in Italy, we were going from one place to another, visiting wineries. Long hauls of 5-6 hours, going from Tuscany to Calabria, Alto-Adige to the Marche. Drive, drive, drive. Italy as a series of roads and autostradas, all the way down to narrow little lanes. Going from fast (140kph+) to a gravity defying crawl up a goat trail. All for the sake of wine.
Now it was different. It wasn?t about wine. Or Italy. I?d decided after the 4th of July to take a road trip to check in on an elder sister. She was about 2,200 miles from me. So, I was looking at a round trip of 4,400 miles, door to door to door. 69 hours of driving time. And when it would be completed, those 69 hours of drive time, I?d arrive at the very same age, for the plan was to be back in Texas for my birthday. It seemed so predesigned, so symmetrical, well-proportioned. So intentional. It wasn?t. But it was an odyssey of sorts.
I?d driven around America in the past. You know, the Kerouac-ian adventure with several buddies. Stopping in towns one would never had deigned to go. But we hit the road, all ?gone to look for America,? as the song went.
Now, 40+ years later, solo, with my little car packed with dried fruits and nuts and jerky and water (still and sparkling), and my towels and hand sanitizer and masks and podcasts and playlists, and the new Bob Dylan CD just for old time analog?s sake. I was getting up close and personal with my windshield.
It wasn?t so much where I was going, or even what I was going to do, as much as just the sheer act of getting out in the world in a time when there is so much upheaval, so much apprehension, so many people wanting answers and so many answers which aren?t addressing the real issues in our world. But the world wasn?t crashing in on me. In fact, I didn?t mind the four months of self-quarantine. I mean by that, while the world was experiencing unimaginable upheaval (and still is) I managed to get out of the way and tether my boat to an eddy on the river. I?d wait it out, be a good citizen, and let the storm rage above.
And it was so, just like that.
And then it wasn?t, for two weeks. I was venturing out from the cave, even though I saw blood on the ground in front of it. It was dried blood, I told myself, as I put my vehicle in drive and headed west.
The rhythm of the road soon replaced the ones we?d adopted early on in 2020. I had plenty of food and water, so no need to stop for them. Only for gasoline, the occasional pit stop and a resting spot. I could do this. With cameras charged up and SD cards empty, I had endless opportunities to take photos along the way, if I so desired. But I placed no demands upon myself, save for getting from point A to point B and so on. Without any rush, but also not to dawdle.
That rhythm I mentioned above? It kicked in, and with it, a mindscape that was alert but calm. It was all passing before my eyes. I searched for the apt metaphors, and probably should have written them down (or recorded them), but I didn?t. I just wanted to be unencumbered, wanted to see the America that was right in front of me, without making a fuss about it, bypassing any interface with my ego. I played one of my favorite roles in life, that of the invisible man. At 75 miles per hour.
And that?s where I?ll leave it for now. This was a long trip, and not one that can be approached in one blog post. There?ll be more. Soon.
wine blog + Italian wine blog + Italy W