Sometimes presence is the best of presents.
Through the Glass
I’m sipping a glass of chilled Grillo, fresh & spritely, equal parts floral and citrus. If I close my eyes, the outside world is not frozen tundra. Instead, I can feel a soft breeze, fragrant with periwinkle vine. Mid-day sun warms my shoulders. And a soft, sing-song voice: ‘Ah. I am here now. Americani, yes? Very good, very nice. Yes, yes, I will make a nice trip for you.’
This is how we met Giuseppe, who took us from the port of Pozzallo to Ragusa, the nearest spot to rent a car. A drive that we estimated at an hour turns into two (plus), as the road meanders back and forth and back again, up and down and up again. And all the way, Giuseppe: ‘We will take the left way here, very good, very nice-the view is better for you.’ And , ‘Now I will show you the oldest village…see, just there? My great grandmother was born there and still we have a house. Very good, very nice! Yes.’ And, ‘Before I take you to the car, we will stop for the cafe, yes? It is the best, very good very nice.’ He was right. The view was better, the ancient village was splendid, and the coffee was superb. But best of all was Giuseppe himself; long after our vacation was over, one of us would say, ‘Yes, very good, very nice…’ and then dissolve into giggles. The Grillo brings it all back.
Or I pour a simple Prosecco, and hear the captain of the small boat that took us from Gozo to Comino. ‘I liked Las Vegas, not to gamble but to watch other people. Miami I did not like. Too loud, and when we asked the hotel person to quiet them, she said, ‘This is Miami’. Now, what does that mean? ‘ We glide across impossibly blue water, under an equally blue sky. The sand and the clouds are blinding white; no other colors exist. ‘There used to be families farming on Comino, you know? 19 families. Now there are only 3 old people. There were four but one died last year.’
I drain the last bit of Nero d’Avola from my glass, and there is Darren, our taxi driver from Gozo. He found us at the port, listened to our plans for the day, and for a (ridiculously cheap) fixed price, took us to churches, museums, lunch, coffee, castle, beach, and beyond, reappearing as if by magic as we emerged from each. Along the way, he treated us to tidbits of history and lore. ‘The wine is best from Sicily because the wine from here has too much salt. The salt is from the water that we must put on the vines and…well, anyway, just to drink the Sicilian wines’. And, ‘the balconies are for the womens, who when we were Arabs, they did not go out, but just looked down from the balcony. To protect, the balcony. And only the rich could afford the wooden balconies, because trees of course we never had.’
Wine is more than just a beverage. It’s a culmination of history and culture, a partner for a particular cuisine, a representation of a people. For me, it’s where I’ve been, what I’ve seen, and who I’ve met along the way. In this time when actual travel is not possible, wine evokes memories, allowing me to revisit places and moments I’ve loved.
The people and the places make the wines that then evoke the people and the places. Do we travel to find wines or find wines in order to travel? I am not sure, but I recommend the journey.