on the road

I got a crash course in Sangiovese yesterday at 9 a.m. Not exactly cocktail hour, sure, but the only way to really get to know a flavor is to strip down and dive in, head first. Let's just say there were about 25 bottles per person. If I had receding gums before, they're certainly mostly skipped out in search of less abrasive pastures.

I probably should call this the damage control tour -- we are (me, my employer, one other employed, and a third party who speaks Italian (and German and French and probably three other languages just for kicks) as our very generous guide) are traveling around Italy mending fences, torn down by a cyclone of a former importer who is saying Bad Things about those generally considered Nice People. (Not that I'm biased, but I'm barely an observer on the side of the good. But still.) Turns out that egos are easily bruised by phone calls returned seven minutes too late, by towns not visited, by appointments cut too short to accommodate a three-hour lunch. Really. It's always about the drama, our multilingual guide says, and it makes you laugh -- I haven't heard this much he-said, she-said since grade school. It's given me serious pause in thinking, yah -- I could get deeper into this vinous business, I could manage estates, but who really wants to be breaking up schoolyard fights? Please.

So the count in the last 48 hours goes as follows: A millionaire-winemaker turned biodynamic messiah (who also raises pigs and grows wheat and buys small villages) and who also sticks heart-monitor equipment on barrels to watch them "breathe"; a Milanese retired couple making passable Brunello because, hell, everyone from Milan in Tuscany thinks they can; a banker winemaker who sails every afternoon and somewhat embarrassingly got down on his knees to make sure I "wrote something good" about his wines; and a brother-sister team with Montepulciano to simply pass out and die for who think their wines are just "OK," which makes you gurgle briefly but then giggle as you realize the sister is a splitting image of Cher, circa 1969.

In sum: good times. My liver will thank me later.


tongue tied

I hate speaking a foreign language on the phone. In my considerably half-assed attempts at any sort of fluency in any language, let alone English, I've relied as much on the sounds I can make with my vocal cords as the wrinkles I can make with my nose and the question marks I can carve with my eyebrows (translated as, "I have no idea what I just said. Do you?"). Language is as much sound as it is gesture, anyway. Watch any Neapolitan man have a conversation and you'll hardly see his lips move, but his neighbor might get a black eye from his rapid-fire hands.

I could pretend to be Italian, but really, I'm just lazy. I could study, bone up on vocabulary, actually listen to the words spoken on the radio instead of treat it as so much white noise, just like I do the mumblings of the checkout lady at Extra (Zammlnzeepunken?) and patient lectures of my tax advisor. I could pay attention to grammar and phrasing, but on good days, I just cross my fingers and dial, hoping I'll connect with some kind Frau who won't mind repeating the same question 20 times. I realize that my sponge method of language learning is a strategy of limited returns; I'm totally saturated, yet I've only soaked up a few sentences.

So I had to make a reservation for a car in Tours. I tried the person-free method over the Internet, but like any good French company in the business of customer service, they ignored my emails for a week. So I had to call. While I can ramble about the taste of Pinot Noir midway through malolactic fermentation in French (money = motivation), talking about the weather, let alone about the pros and cons of station wagons vs. SUVs en francais, is not something I'm suited to tackle. So the conversation went something like this:

Me: "I want car at train stop 21 May for five big Americans."

Operator: "Are you 25 years old?"

Me: "I am five people. We are on train at 9 in the mornings."

Operator: "What is your telephone number?"

Me: "I want the big car, not the small car, we are many baggages and large men."

And so on for another 20 minutes until the woman gave up (I couldn't spell my name, using German sounds for the alphabet, a sure way to piss off any French person) and said that her office would get back to me. Or ignore me completely. I may have missed a crucial verb, but who knows. One thing's for sure, I'll be walking to Tours.