Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Market Gardens

During the period of Muslim and Norman rule, the market gardens of Palermo, Catania, and Messina abounded with the fruits and fish of the Mediterranean. They still do. The central market of Catania is located just beyond the Piazza Duomo at the southern end of Via Etnea – where the basalt elephant carrying an Egyptian obelisk on its back salutes the Baroque cathedral dedicated to Saint Agatha, the city’s patron saint. The fish market wraps around the outer gate of the city and is bordered by streets that are lined with open-air stalls of fruits, vegetables, nuts, spices, and other earthly delights. The air is filled with the sing-song cries of the vendors hawking their produce and insulting their neighbors.

You will need to brush-up on your Sicilian if you hope to understand this opera. The colors and aromas require no translation, though. Strolling the market gardens of Sicily, you are vividly reminded why Sicily has been celebrated for its fertility since the days of the ancient Greeks. 

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Piccolo Poem

Cease your flight Aurora opulent
with fruit, with flower,
sprung from nearby banks,
   In the enchantment you drew with you
the migrant seasons,
each hour flaunts its boast,
and there are festoons of apricots,
peaches, cherries, twining tendrils,
the orchards’ fragrant pride.     

Lucio Piccolo, “Oratorio for Valverde,” in Collected Poems of Lucio Piccolo, translated by Brian Swann and Ruth Feldman (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1972), 83.

Before he ever put pen to paper to write his now classic novel, The Leopard, Giuseppe di Lampedusa idled in the literary shadow of his cousin, Lucio Piccolo.  The poetry of Piccolo is unknown in our own era.  It is now The Leopard that casts a long shadow over Sicily and its poets and storytellers.  During our travels in Sicily, we met many Sicilians who quoted familiar passages from The Leopard.  Lampedusa’s words and images fill the big screen in Luchino Visconti’s sweeping film of the novel.  Packed away like precious crystal in the Prince of Salina’s shuttered country villa, Lucio Piccolo’s poetry is exquisitely delicate and ethereal.  His body of work is small.  Many editions of his poems in Italian are now out of print.  A beautiful collection of these poems translated into English (with the Italian alongside) was published by Princeton University Press in 1972.  Each of Piccolo’s “baroque songs” is a polished gem.  Piccolo’s words evoke both the rich history and timeless quality of Sicily.  In the long line of Sicilian storytellers and poets who have brought acclaim to their island home, including Luigi Pirandello and Salvatore Quasimodo, Lucio Piccolo deserves to be remembered.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Sicilia at Vinitaly

We were in Verona last week from April 7-10 for Vinitaly, Italy’s largest annual wine fair.  We visited the Sicilia pavilion to speak with winegrowers and to sample a few of Sicily’s latest offerings.  In addition to presenting our book at the start of week to an enthusiastic audience of Sicilian wine producers and journalists, we attended a horizontal tasting of sixteen Etna red wines from the 2010 vintage.  The wines showed the elegance and purity of Nerello Mascalese on Mount Etna.  We were delighted to be at this tasting because it included the debut of the Profumo di Vulcano (“Perfume of the Volcano”) wine of Federico Graziani.  In early October 2010 we had the pleasure of sharing the day of harvest (vendemmia) with Federico in his small vineyard on Etna between the comunes of Passopisciaro and Castiglione di Sicilia.  The vineyard workers of Salvo Foti’s I Vigneri, who had tended these vines since 2008, hand-harvested the ripe Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio, along with some Alicante and a mix of other local red varieties called Francisi and the historic white varieties Minnella and Caricante.  As a sommelier and wine writer, Federico was moved by the experience of birthing his very own wine.  At the end of the afternoon, Federico placed a precious bunch of Nerello Mascalese in his day bag for the flight back to Milan to share with his family and friends that very night.  Last week Federico presented his wine at the Vinitaly tasting with eloquence and humility.  It is a pure and ripe expression of high elevation Nerello Mascalese from the northeast slopes of Etna.   Auguri, Federico!