From My Tuscan Window

Chapter 39
Sour Grapes and Other Delicacies
“Finally after seven days of brutto brutto tempo (very bad weather), the sun once again cast its glow over Gioviano. The harvest of the grapes on the terraced land above and below the village (for the making of the coming year’s supply of wine) had been delayed by the terrible rains. Finally, on October 20th, 1980 the skies cleared.”

“Today was our first really pretty day. About midmorning, we went out to walk around Gioviano. At last the weather was suitable for grape harvest, and the three-wheeled tractor was hauling grapes up through the streets to a cellar where they were unloaded and would be pressed with a big hand press. There had been way too much rain, and the grapes were sour.”

Little did my mother know at the time, that nine years later she would be living in the grand Palazzo in which these grapes were being crushed in the lower cantina that had once been a part of the fortress of Gioviano.

Cold and rainy weather seems to stimulate the appetite, and while the rains were souring the grapes so that the year’s wine would be pretty hard to stomach, my parents concentrated on enjoying the flavor of the village that wasn’t dampened by the rain. References to food and eating dominated much of my mother’s writing during those brutto brutto days.

My mother continued writing, “On Tuesday we had a good breakfast in front of the fire, then drove to the Hotel Milano for lunch. Maria, her husband, and her son stopped everything to give us a truly warm Italian welcome. Our food – zuppa di verdure (vegetable soup), roast pork, spinach, and French fries –was beyond compare.”

“We had bought food in the little store earlier, so upon our return, we built up a fire and lit a lamp and a candle, and I cooked some pasta with a spinach stuffing. We also had some of our leftover pork from Maria’s and fresh fruit. Wednesday noon found us at home.”

“I cooked spaghetti over our one tiny gas burner, and Kenneth rigged a way to warm the sauce at the fireplace. We had fresh Parmesan cheese for it too. It was as tasty as Maria’s and that’s the ultimate compliment. The bread from the local store is exceptionally delicious, and the vino rosso locale (local red wine) is nice too. So we enjoyed our repast by the fire.”

On Friday they went to a big supermarket which my mother described as “quite an experience.” I really started laughing when I read her next line which read, “It was full of Italians.” In fact, I am laughing so hard right now that I can hardly type. Who in the world did she expect to find in an Italian supermarket in the very heart of Italy – Greeks? She went on to say that “the food is better and more fun to shop for in the tiny specialty shops.”

“Our fagioli (large white beans) cooked with bacon and herbs, and our large mixed salad with wine vinegar and olive oil were delicious at noon. We had tortellini (pasta) for supper. It boiled over and put out the fire in our little burner, and Kenneth didn’t care for it anyway–so back to beans and spaghetti. Our delicious black chocolate is almost gone.”

“Marta really has supplies for the weekend – all sorts of fresh fruits and vegetables, cakes and candy. It takes longer to buy a few groceries there than it does many groceries at Safeway on Saturday!”

She continued on, “Without the help of Adenaco and Adriana Lotti, Casa Giorgio, would probably have eventually collapsed into a heap of rubble. It was Adenaco who supervised the restoration during our absences and those of my parents and sister and her family so we were always thinking of ways to show them our appreciation, one of which was to take them out to dinner at least once a year. Saturday was the big night to eat out. The Lottis arrived early, even before the lights had been turned on at the Hotel Milano restaurant.”

“The Baldaccinis greeted us once again like long, lost relatives. Maria kissed me on both cheeks and walked around with her arm around me. Sig. B. patted me, and their handsome mustachioed son, Renzo, kept shaking our hands. Their other son is in the army now. Kenneth gave Maria a big hug, and I wasn’t sure Sig. B. liked that too well.”

“We had a super repast. Adenaco had tagliatelle pasta for primo (first course), but the rest of us had zuppa di verdura. For secondo (second course), I had Maria’s supreme pork; the rest had grilled lamb. We all had insalata mista (mixed salad) and patate fritte (French fries) with gorgonzola cheese for dessert. Kenneth and I had gelato (ice cream) while the Lottis drank their caffè!”

“Kenneth and Sig. L. joked and kidded each other all evening. They agreed Kenneth mustn’t drink much wine as he had to drive us home safely, but Sig. Lotti kept saying he himself didn’t have to drive -- and the wine kept going down in the bottle!”

Over the years my father developed a super tolerance for wine drunk while eating out, whether at restaurants, weddings or other feste (feasts). In fact, he got so good at it that even at age 91, with double cataracts and having consumed more than one glass of wine he knew the 28 twisting turns on the dark, narrow road up to Gioviano so well, that he made it home safely every time. After his 92nd birthday and before his cataract surgery, I decided to not allow fate to have another chance at him and did most of the driving myself.

“Kenneth paid 39,800 lira or $46.50 in our money for the delicious dinner, and Sig. Lotti was dying to know what the meal cost, but Kenneth never let him know. After dinner, our guest ordered brandy. We visited till nearly 10 p.m. and promised the Baldaccinis we would bring Mary Lee and Sidney by next week.”

On Monday, the Nolans arrived, and they stayed together with my parents in tiny Casa Giorgio. (Realtors would have used the word, “cozy”.) The next morning my mother “prepared a good breakfast of bacon, eggs, toast and sweet pastries we had bought in Lucca, and made espresso in my little three-cup coffee pot. Sidney and Mary Lee liked my coffee, and we made several pots of it to enjoy by the fire.”

“The view from the window was breathtaking. The sky was the clearest of blues and the mountaintops in the distance snowcapped. Some of the higher mountain villages shown out, but just beneath them, heavy mists pervaded. The effect kept us running to the window to savor the panorama.”

Revised March 3, 2008
Copyright 2005-2006 George H. Russell
Previous Chapter
Back to the Table of Contents
Next Chapter