Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Vendemmia By Bike

The vendemmia is almost over and I feel like it never even began. Like a shooting star it was over in a flash this year.  I was lucky to capture these photos of the late vendemmia (grape harvest) today while guiding a bike tour for a group of twelve American and Australian clients.
Recently, I hadn't been taking many photos of the landscape while guiding tours because the uncomfortable weather since July has caused the Tuscan landscape to dry up and not look as abundantly green as it should be at this time of year.

The lack of rain and unforgiving heat forced the grapes to be harvested 2 weeks earlier than usual. And then it happened very quickly.  While the quantity suffered because of the weather, the producers are proclaiming an exceptionally high quality yield for Sangiovese grapes, specifically because the weather trend was optimal to force the maturation of a superior quality harvest. 

From the saddle of a bike, however, there appeared to be very little activity in the vineyards.  The grapes looked skimpy and starved on the vines, and many shriveled up to become raisins in the unforgiving heat.  The leaves and the grass turned brown before the grapes were harvested. Usually you see thousands of migrant workers in the vineyards.  This year it was comparatively silent.

But grapes like to suffer, and when they suffer,those that survive will produce a superior vintage.  So this is all supposed to be good in the long run.  And while the quantity has suffered, the quality is said to be the best in years.

Cycling through the Tuscan landscape several days a week allows me to interact with nature in an intimate way. I see the landscape grow and change every day, riding through the sun, through the rain, through the best and the worst weather.  Guding tours, I get to ride through mystical lush horizons of verdent green.  I have to smile through thunder, lightning, freezing cold, pouring rain, and this summer, intense heat.  I see all sides of Tuscany.  I see the stark silhouette of naked grapevines in March, the purple iris springing out of the ground in April, poppies and artichokes coming to life in May.  Sunflowers dancing in the breeze in June....and oh, the lavender!! I see the grapes appearing on the vines, and then watch them turn from green to deep violet over the summer. I see the olives growing larger every day.  I see the vineyards turning red and gold in autumn and then going back to sleep in the winter.  Every season, every day is a joy  watching life spring from the Tuscan earth.

It was strange to see Mother Nature come to a dead halt in early August, and it has not revived itself yet.  We haven't had rain in a long time.  The drought deprived many Tuscan towns of water for days, including Panzano and San Casciano.  It will affect the porcini and truffle supply this year.  But it seems to have brought good news for the grape harvest.

Today we were lucky to see the last grapes picked and to arrive at our winery destination just when the grapes were being de-stemmed! (See video below) For me, it was probably the last day of the vendemmia, because all the grapes are now gone. It happened so fast!

I am sorry to see the vendemmia come to a conclusion so early in the season, which makes me excited to see a new year of growth next spring.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Giro della Toscana 2011

There's my team, as we departed for what was my third time participating in the annual "Giro della Toscana". I completed the medio fondo loop through Chianti with great company, perfect weather and the grape harvest taking place in the background. There were 900 participants, among which there were according to the organizers,  a "discrete" number of women particpants.  I counted fewer than 20.  In Tuscany, cycling is a male dominated sport. (Meno male?)

What pleases me so much about this genre of cycling events in Italy is that you ride for your team and win with your team, not for yourself.  These non-competitive rides are very different than anything I know of in the United States. They are hosted by a bike team and are never-for-profit.  In order to participate, you must have a license and be a member of a UISP-sanctioned bike team, requiring that you pass a drug test, stress test and medical exam. The entry-fee is nominal, usually less than  €10.  What you get is worth 10 times that.

You must wear your team jersey.  Everything is done as a team. You win as a team.  Points are awarded to the teams, based on number of team members participating and the aggregate distance that you ride.  And you win for food.  The winning teams are awarded trophies, but more importantly, entire prosciuttos, both crudo and cotto, local cheeses, pasta and bottles of wine.

The itinerary is replete with refueling stations, at which you pause to eat assorted local specialties.  At our rest stop in Panzano, Dario Ceccini, the world famous butcher was out there with his crew, carving up salami, finocchiona, pecorino, shiacciata, and serving crostini with truffle oil.

There's no such thing as a "race face" here. The teams have tremendous child-like passion and they are not afraid to show it.  Everyone smiles and chats, even the men with hard bodies.  You see alot of older, very happy men, but they all have one thing in common. Passion.  You feel it all around you, it's contagious.  At the end, there is a pasta party, of course, this is where it was invented. We started out with baseball-sized mozarella balls, prosciutto and melon, salami, and then on to the pasta and dolci.

As if this were not enough, each cyclist receives an amazing pacco gara, (a goodie bag brilliantly designed to wear on your back so you can carry it while biking back home) filled with Italian energy food and a book of art and culture in Tuscany. 

In addition, the women participants received something very special!  A glittery silver, sequin-trimmed make-up bag with sunscreen, anti-aging cream, makeup, deoderant and soaps.  It was truly a lovely way to acknowledge and encourage us women to keep on coming.  How very cool.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Electronic Rosary

Having trouble saying the rosary? Hands too busy fondling cigarettes, food, phones, or breast-feeding the baby?  Keep on forgetting which Hail Mary you’re on? Getting bored? Beads keep getting tangled in your purse?  Afraid your infant might strangle himself or mistake the beads for candy one day?

No more excuses. An Italian electronics technician, ‘Onorio Frati’, has invented the ultimate high-tech spiritual solution: The Electronic Rosary. 

While flicking through the channels of late-night TV, I came upon this "infomercial" that put me in stitches. It was dead serious, emotional yet solemn, with the Ave Maria playing in the background. It featured everyday people from all walks of Italian life, discovering the joys of abandoning their rosary beads. Just to think that such an invention actually appeals to a generation and culture that really exists, fills me with joy.
Imagine. This hands-free, tangle-free device, shaped like an egg and faced with images of the Virgin Mary, allows you to pray, smoke, cook, and clean at the same time.  The perfect size, it is too big to be swallowed by your infant.  Just leave it in the crib to put baby to sleep to the sound of prayer.

Simple to use, the device keeps track of which Hail Mary you’re on.  Just hit the button and it will go to the appropriate “Mystery”, depending on what day of the week it is.  And the highlight: You can listen to the first part of the Hail Mary in your choice of Latin or Italian, either in the actual voice of Pope John Paul II, or Mother Teresa.  Priceless!  The voice recites the first part of the Hail Mary, and you respond with the second.  It can hear you too. As soon as you respond, it proceeds to the next one. If you fall asleep or if it doesn’t detect your response, it times-out until you return and knows exactly where you left off, and who you are. In addition, it can be used by your whole family!  It can detect and recognize the voice of up to 20 different family members.

Listen to it in bed, or in the car.  Indestructible, sand-proof and water resistant, you can even take it to the beach.  Just hang it around your neck while taking a passeggiata. It makes a perfect gift for Christmas, for a child preparing for First Holy Communion, or an elder who has lost their memory.

And that’s not all.  The electronic rosary comes in an assortment of colors.  It includes 20 holy cards of the Virgin Mary, your own personal prayer book and a miniature statue of....yes, you guessed it....The Virgin Mary herself.  Satisfaction guaranteed or your money back.  And if you call this toll-free number now, "we will include a free pair of traditional rosary beads with your order"!

Quantities are running out.  Get yours today, all for the unbelievable markdown price of only €30, only for the next 100 callers.

Ave Maria! 

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Italian Citizenship for My Family!!

After spending a great week with my nephew Michael in Florence, he just boarded his plane back to New York with his Italian citizenship. We received the exciting news an hour before he left. I cried for joy as we said goodbye.  A miracle of timing. 

Especially because we didn't expect the Italian Consulate to review our case for at least another year.

After an extraordinary series of destined events, I was awarded my dual citizenship in 2009.  I still haven't written the book, but it's coming.  My story is moving, and as I have learned, unique.  A year later, in conjunction with Michael, I started working to extend my Italian citizenship to the rest of my family. Sisters, brother and their children.  First born nephew Michael thirsted for it the most and spearheaded the collection of all documents and apostille for the family.  He wanted it badly and he so strongly appreciated his Italian roots.  The fact that he was was here when we received the news, was yet another sign, another act of fate. 

Which once again confirmed the pre-ordained road that led me back to my blood roots a whole century after my great-grandpa Ciro Mazzella immigrated from Lacco Ameno, Italy to New York.  Nothing could be more gratifying than to know that now this gift will be handed down to future generations and that it doesn't just stop with me. 

Thank you, great granpa!  Something stopped you from giving up your Italian citizenship a century ago, like everyone else did in exchange for their American citizenship.  But why didn't you?  And why was this unknown or irrelevant for the next 100 years until I dug up my roots and put the pieces together? Nobody will ever know the story.  I've got to believe you did it for me. Your dream has been fulfilled.