Last night we dined with friends at their house. It was, by local standards, a simple meal. There were just 10 of us. There were only 3 different wines served. The salami and bread, along with the pasta and everything else, were homemade. We ate and laughed until it was very late and our stomachs were stretched like pork belly skin, which BTW was one of the delicious courses.
Today we swore to eat only raw vegetables and drink only water to compensate. We vowed to exercise mightily. We failed on all accounts.
Breakfast in Italy is rarely more than coffee and a brioche. So we felt sanctimonious about our melon and fresh-squeezed OJ. Lunch was a healthy chicken soup we pulled down from the freezer and a salad. After the customary Italian lunch nap, we self-righteously donned our hiking boots and headed for the high-road overlooking our house, intent upon at least 2 hours of exercise up hill and down, con fantastic vineyard and mountain views. With espresso surging through my veins, I eagerly anticipated my muscles warming and then burning with the uphill exertion. I imagined the feast of the night before melting off my hips.
We parked the car just barely off the narrow road and headed up toward the charming burgo of Montebone. We walked maybe 30 meters before we encountered Angelo and never got a step further.
Angelo, hoe in hand, was clearing weeds between the cherry trees in his orchard. As he worked he talked to his dog that was lying in the shade, or to the chattering birds overhead, or the dirt, and occasionally I think to God, judging by the pleading/exasperated expression on his upturned face and his oh-so-expressive Italian hand gestures. As near as I could make out he was complaining to whomever or whatever about his bountiful crop of weeds (l’erbacce). When he spotted us he didn’t pause in his dissertation. He just continued talking but now aimed it in our direction, as if Chris and I were just another couple of birds that had landed in his cherry trees.
He told us he was 80 years old and that his wife was gone. I’m not sure if she was dead or just at the market. My Italian is improving but there are still big giant holes in my comprehension. It didn’t really matter to Angelo if we comprehended what he said or not. In Italy with someone his age, it is understood that our role was more to listen than talk. We did – like the faithful dog at his feet and the curious birds in the trees.
He proudly showed us each and every little thing he had accomplished that day which, BTW was very impressive. We nodded along appreciatively. From his hilltop view he pointed out his land and named the various townships that seemed to ride the crests of a rolling sea of vineyards. When he discovered we had mutual friends living in the next valley, that was that. We would not be permitted to leave until we came inside and sampled his wine.
The house was typical Piemontese. Parts of it dated back nearly 200 years and contained the traditional arched bricked ceilings that I adore - rustic, beautiful, and now impossibly expensive to build. Other parts of the house were added on as the family expanded first with children and then spouses and grandchildren. It had at least 2 kitchens and probably more to accommodate the individual nuclear family cells within the large compound.
He begged us to sit at his table while he disappeared into the cantina, emerging minutes later with not one but two bottles of wine. He opened the bottles one after the other with the ease and grace that over 60 years of daily practice will bring.
And what wine! One a light and fruity Dolcetto – the other a smooth and rich Barbara. Both superb wines from our region of northern Italy, The Piemonte. We listened and drank, our glasses never allowed to get totally empty, for about an hour. Finally, pleading an appointment with friends we left. Wobbly-legged and without a word needed between us we headed straight back to the car. All thoughts in our heads of exercise having been replaced by a pleasant tingly buzz. Within minutes we were seated at our favorite trattoria, gorging on deliciously decadent pizza.
Tomorrow I swear I’ll be good.