Here is part 2 of my abridged Top 25 Italy moments from the past 19 years. As I drew these together I knew it would be about people and circumstances much more than just the place itself. Italy, it seems, provides the canvas for which to paint amazing images. I read many of my fellow bloggers’ posts and it is amazing just how close we all are in our assessments of things and yet how much diversity exists in our varied experiences. Now, on to the countdown:
#20 – Gorilla Photography - In 2002 I took a good friend of mine with me to Rome for his first time. We arrived knowing we had less than 4 full days to explore the ins and outs of the eternal city and we were not there to waste any time. To this day I cannot think of a more efficient 4 days I have ever spent in Italy. We got off the train at Termini station after a very long overnight from Paris. We were supposed to have made a trek through several wineries in Italy on our way down to Rome, but we had been tempted to stay in France longer than planned by languid days sipping beers and playing Pétanque. Now, having missed the better part of our 9 days planned in Italy I was not going to let us miss it all together as I had not been to Rome since 1995 and needed Spaghetti alla Carbonara like Clinton needs cigars.
We hustled off the train, grabbed the first caffe’ we could find just outside of the Colosseum and as usual, it did not disappoint. We tossed our bags down in the sparse room in the Monti district and then I remember gazing at the mirror and fancying the few days of growth on my face that I had allowed for the first time since I was married (and at the time on my way to divorce). Once our bags were down we were at a recommended pizza joint within minutes and slamming down suppli’ while mapping out our route. The proprietor of the Pizzeria had lived in Jersey for years and came back to his native Rome to do things his way. We affectionately named him Fonzi as he was just that cool, in control, and we of course saw him for Pizza refuel each subsequent day we were in Rome.
On our final night in the city we dined (for my 1st time) at the now famous Grappolo d’Oro Zampano in the Campo dei Fiori where I will never forget the crudo of fresh anchovies served over a bed of thinly shaved local fennel. From there we made our way to a wine bar on a corner and powered through a bottle of something local and precise before returning to our hotel and grabbing the camera gear. This was my last great adventure with celluloid (Nikon 6006) and we hit every major monument, powered through beers and late-night panini while capturing antiquity under the lights and not knowing at the time that we were sharing our final travels together as friends before I up and quit my gig at Central Market.
#19 – White Truffles and Piemonte - In 2009 Juliet and I finally got the opportunity to visit Piemonte. I had been dreaming of a time to visit this part of Italy for years and now, my wonderful friend Mollie Lewis was working for the Malvira‘ winery in Canale d’Alba and she and I were hatching a plan to bring these wines to Texas. We were coming for our 2nd trip to Puglia of 2009 and celebrating a few days prior to Puglia in Piemonte would be an auspicious start and a bit a of a delayed honeymoon. Malvira’ winery is housed on the grounds of the gorgeous Villa Tiboldi and we had no idea what kind of decadence to expect on this journey through the hard-working north of Italy.
Juliet and I arrived in Milan and immediately grabbed our rental Alfa Romeo and made our way out of the city and into Langhe hills. As it happened, I was stopped by a cop for a routine traffic check and when I explained to him that I was from Texas he got very excited and yelled back to his partner that I was from Texas and did his best yee-haw impression before letting me go. Upon arriving at the villa, the staff called down to Mollie and she met us for a great bottle from the cellar and she introduced us to the charming and mischievous winemaker of Malvira, Roberto Damonte. Roberto is effusive in his storytelling and easily one of the most affable people I have met in my years of travel to Italy. Roberto invited Juliet and I to join him in the vineyards the following morning and to subsequently enjoy a typical Piemontese lunch. As we parted ways that evening Mollie warned Juliet and I to go easy on breakfast as lunch would be quite elaborate.
Of course, when we awoke the next morning my wife and I discovered a breakfast spread fit for a Sultan with at least 5 types of local cheeses, numerous pastries, and exceptional late-season fruit all laid before us in the breakfast salon. I tried every type of cheese and at least 3 of the breads all while stuffing fresh toasted hazelnuts into my mouth like kettle corn on Halloween. I washed it all down with a couple of nice coffees and set out for the vineyards. Our meeting with Roberto was unorthodox in that we just blew past the winery and went straight to the vineyards which were producing a little second crop from which Villa Tiboldi produced the amazing grape marmalade I had gorged down at breakfast. I really have no interest in seeing another fermentation tank or another bladder press so I was thrilled to get into the shoddy little 4×4 and up into the steep vineyards of the Roero. The ancient vineyards at the top of the hill are some of the oldest in the region and with a hammock plopped down on top of the hill and the cool November breeze blowing fall leaves we all seemed to be at peace as we chatted, chomped on Nebbiolo grapes and worked up an appetite. I felt like I was at home here and back to the Italy of discovery I had longed for in my planning and my nightly dreams of lottery winnings.
As we approached 12:30 Roberto announced he was hungry and we should pay a quick visit to his cellar before having lunch at the villa. In the cellar there were numerous lovely bottlings of Malvira’ and on top of that some of the top Barolo and Barbaresco from the past 10 years; many in large formats. I tried my best to stall in the cellar as my stomach was not yet shod of the weighty raw cheeses and the copious amounts of salumi I had ingested at breakfast. However, my pleas were in vain as we rolled into the dining room and were met immediately by the Sommelier with a fist-sized white truffle. Our first course was carne crudo, or raw beef from the amazing local fassone cow that is covered with olive oil and shaved white truffles. We were each served a pile of beef the size and diameter of a medium hamburger patty which was then summarily covered in white truffle to the point where the meat was not even visible. I am guessing she shaved to a 10 count and basically went through the entire truffle for just 4 of us. My good God, this was simply decadent and nearly obscene. I remember seeing Roberto’s face as we ate and he looked just as happy as I was even though he could enjoy the truffles every day while in season. I guess if oral sex was seasonal, I would smile at every opportunity I had to enjoy it during the “oral” season. Mollie told us that Malvira’ had their own truffle hunter and they exchanged wine each year for the lovely fungus.
Later that day in Alba we saw a truffle about the same size as we had eaten for lunch and the price in the window was 580 euro. We long to return to Villa Tiboldi and the amazing hospitality of Malvira’