Waiting for the white lady

Still

Nothing

As still as

Snow

We wait for the falling

Of snow

There is a hint in the air

A sparkle

Tiny falling shards

Suggest she is coming

We wait and watch

Maybe in our sleep

She will arrive

Silent, falling, white

Magic

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Grandi Langhe 2019, day one

Introducing the 2015 Barolo vintage is certainly an exciting event for most people. I probably have no real right to be here and was certainly put in the “hangers-on” category by the girl at the door. I chose not to say my business card is currently a work in progress and just pretended I’d forgotten it instead, breaking the golden rule of networking and probably coming across as rather silly.

But I got in anyway and I’m not here to do the rounds of all the 2015 Barolo I can my hands on. In fact an hour and a half into my visit I had sat through the Nebbiolo seminar and visited some friends and was still without a glass.

On finally picking one up, I stopped by Cascina Ballarin and tasted their 2015 Barolo Tre Ciabot and Barolo Bricco Rocca. I must say their Tre Ciabot is already truly enjoyable with soft, integrated tannins, while the Bricco Rocca, like any great Barolo cru, needs some time to express itself.

From there I stopped by Rizieri wines, picked up one of lovelier brochures I’ve seen in a while, and tasted their 2015 Nebbiolo d’Alba and their 2014 Barolo. The Rizieri 2014 Barolo is one of the nicest I’ve had – elegant and austere.

From there down to the Dolcetto seminar. I still have a soft spot for this difficult grape, and after today’s seminar (both seminars by Dott. Edoardo Monticelli), even more so. What a curious little grape it is. More to come on that.

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Ways with cugna – dessert recipe

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Cugna….. I love the way even just the word feels in the mouth. The way it rolls around the ‘u’ and then opens onto the ‘a’. It promises for something hearty and I daresay this simple kind of Piedmontese mustard is exactly that.

Cugna is a local product from the Langhe area and is made with grape must, apples, hazelnuts, and anything else. It’s exactly the kind of homemade Italian product where each family has a secret recipe that most likely varies each year based on what the harvest gives, or what’s leftover in the pantry. It’s made into a kind of jam, or grape mustard, and generally served with cheese.

The best cugna I’ve ever had was also the first cugna I ever had, given to us sometime around Christmas a few years ago by our friend Liliana. It’s a joy to receive anything from such a friendly face and Liliana’s kitchen produces happy, sunny things, much like the lady herself. She has a little secret for her cugna, which gives it a more complex, delicate flavour. The one I currently have is a Roddolo product (they make some nice stuff) and comes from our local grocery store.

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In my case I don’t eat a lot of cheese and I happen to quite like cugna. This is the kind of dessert you make when you have nothing else in the house but are craving something sweet after dinner. So I threw some things together and at the risk of being sacrilegious, I hereby share with you this very sophisticated cugna dessert recipe: roughly crushed digestive biscuits thrown into a bowl (personally I think maybe a hazelnut base would work better), Greek yoghurt topped with cugna and some hazelnut chips to finish.

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Art and Soul – Photography 2019, part one

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I have been taking pictures of wraith-like smoke in the fire, living and breathing behind the glass. Of Langhe dirt, covered in snow, that looks just like a mud cake with icing sugar dusted on top. Pictures of coppi – the beautiful terracotta roof tiles from the area, pictures of hazelnut tree shadows, trials in black and white.

I have resorted to using three cameras – a Yashica FX-3 super 35mm to play with some analogue photography, a Panasonic Lumix GF2 and my trusty iPhone 7 plus which is everything you have seen to date on Instagram and here. After the snow, I went out armed and dangerous with all three options. I now have too many photographs, but boy am I learning. I’m reading, too. Any DIY photography manual, online articles, tips on how to shoot in black and white. Beautiful, technical, fascinating stuff (that consequently reminds me of how hopeless I was at physics back in high school. But that’s another story).

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As it turns out, I know nothing of film photography so the first two batches of film for our analogue photography adventure were possibly a waste, except for those pictures my partner took, and one very nice picture of the Christmas bunch of flowers I got at the Alba market, that I took. But I really have no intention of spending my life in still life, although I’m not yet ready for any object that actually moves. The cat is a challenge – she can be shot generally while sleeping. It’s about the only time she’s obliging.

So this is one of my (many) projects for 2019 – photography. As I set up my business, and try my hand at home-designed business cards, and this website, I have no idea whether photography will ever be an integral part of that. But really….what do I care? I am enjoying myself, I am learning. I may finish one of the millions of people creating visual pollution on Instagram, or I may leave, in some small way, a legacy in photos for those who come after me.

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Which is what using the 35mm film is really all about. While technically it’s a huge challenge, it’s also an exercise in nostalgia. I can’t remember being that excited about photographs in a long time, as when we dropped off the film. The patience required as it gets developed, the expectation about the pictures we took, trying to remember what we did, hoping that the one picture we took ten minutes to compose turned out…. Was just glorious and exciting. We even got one of those little plastic-sleeved booklets to put the photographs in. I haven’t had one in years. It was like a second Christmas present.

So my cliché 2019 post on New Year’s resolutions is just one instead about exploring this brave new world, finding my creative feet. It’s true that in moments of depression or trauma, we create one kind of art, and in moments of happiness, we create another. I hope that photography will accompany me in many states of art and soul, and be a way to get closer to the creative world. A 2019 resolution to let the journey continue, in 35mm film, digital, black and white and colour, and lead where it takes me.

 

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I live in a cloud

Living in a cloud can take you to the highest of heights, above the clouds on sunny crisp days after the fog when it’s just you and Monviso and a happy world above that billowing white further down the hill.

I imagine this is what heaven is supposed to be like, this feeling of giddiness, highness, closer-to-the-sun purity. A kind of moral high ground conferred by the altitude, the great piemontese sky, and the cloudy shroud at our feet.

The Serralunga castle peeks above, as though in a moment of difficulty in life, striving for light and forgiveness. Swimming bastions, just the top of the tower gains redemption as purgatory swirls below. I feel the need, at this distance, to pluck it with my fingertips, back to the sun, salvation and safety.

Living in a cloud can take you to the dampest of lows – darker, wetter days when I’d swear it had rained but it was just the cloud that had condescended and remained glistening on the terrace.

Days when driving, strain as I might, I cannot make out anything on the road, no lines marked, no corner sharp enough to define in this fog. I frown, as though that might make a difference, as though it might help in this metaphor of driving through cloud as making my way through life. One a destination, the other a destiny.

I lose my way in the fog, alone there is nothing to guide me. Striving for a sign to find the path home, it comes in the form of my neighbour’s leylandii hedge, a guard along the road’s edge to indicate a corner, a bend in the road to bring me home to hearth and heat.

We live everything in between from pastel mornings, to rosy bright evenings, to overcast days… to being able to touch the cloud when it descends into the garden. It always surprises me just how close our domestic environment is to this sky. Every day is a new greeting, a new beginning, a new way of getting to know our daily celestial elements, who pattern and trace our days.

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Meeting Bruno Murialdo – art in Langhe

I will confess I took a photo of Bruno Murialdo’s studio in Alba before seeing the sign requesting no photos. The shop was closed at the time and there was no-one around so I felt less silly laughing out loud at the sign of the opening hours.

Only after stopping by again one day, out of courage and the need to explore the photographs (and find a Christmas present), did I meet the photographer himself. One of those situations when you meet a person and only later discover how important they are.

Which is nice because you can have a less affected, self conscious approach. Bruno Murialdo, despite years of journalism, photographs and what I guess to be a public profile, is a very affable man. Downright nice I should say.

And his photographs are nothing short of timeless. It would be easy to see the landscape shots and underestimate his work, but the black and whites…well, they’re something special.

We chat just a little and he doesn’t seem upset that I don’t buy anything. I am looking for a specific photograph that he doesn’t have and were it not that I’m embarrassed and in a slight hurry, I could have spent hours browsing. Immersed in silver tone eternity.

We are interrupted by the peddler, though Mr. Murialdo welcomes him as well as anyone. The photographer says he will visit me in the Alta Langa and it honestly wouldn’t surprise me to open my door one day to find him there, just as he did with me. I recommend a visit either to the studio in Alba or to Paesi Tuoi in La Morra to view his work.

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Snow lambs

The soothing, comforting chinking of the bells belies the danger. It’s late for lambs. Their bleating fills this little hillside with ideas of motherhood and domesticity.

To be broken only by the occasional shout of the shepherds, a whistle or the whimpering of dogs who seem needier than the charge they are to protect.

There are many lambs this year, and today the first smattering of snow has arrived. It doesn’t seem to affect them, they are playful and stubborn. Some abruptly change direction from the mob, some wander off through the hazelnuts in different directions, only to be collected again by the dogs.

The shepherds seem to move in slow motion, smoking and staring at the sky before going back to their jobs of tending the sheep. One shepherd must gather in his arms a distracted lamb who has meandered onto the road, tucking it under his shoulder.

The mother sheep are always on the alert, low-growl bleating warns me off. We don’t know how long they will stay but they are welcome visitors before Christmas, reminding us of far-away lands and lost childhoods.

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The black cat from Valle Talloria

I got to him before he could be dismembered all over the road, the poor thing. In my distress I couldn’t bring myself to touch him, but I guessed he was still warm.

I had been driving down the road on my way home when I passed something on the other side. Something dark, it could have been a jacket, lying. A jacket in the middle of the road in Valle Talloria on a Tuesday evening? Unlikely. Suspicion, doubt, dread and anger made me turn the car around. Go back and see.

Distress and responsibility. The need to communicate, or share sorrow with the owner. Where did he come from? Possibly this house with the lights on, television going, behind the lace curtains, neat dining room with an old kettle on the stove. It looked like the kind of window that belonged to a cat.

There was no bell. I thudded on the door with a gloved hand. Nothing. So I rapped on the window. My car was in the middle of the road, hazard lights on, shielding the beautiful black body from damage.

I had no idea what I would do if this house belonged to the cat. Or if it was someone else. Who was his keeper? In my mind’s eye I stole away from what I would have to do were I not to find his home.

I would have to touch him, I knew. And it frightened me that maybe he was damaged, that he would be terribly maimed in this death. And yet he lay there perfectly, beautiful black-padded paws visible, head lying as though he were catching the sun in a cat dream. Peaceful.

I hoped he was in heaven. In fact I hoped, despite the evidence in front of me, that this was not happening. I felt a great weight, leaden dread crawling into my head. And I felt great tragedy, as though this cat’s life was somehow representative of something bigger.

Me and my story. My own cat’s life (was she safe at home waiting for me?), felines big and small around the world. Representative of what us humans are capable of in this world – whether it be mowing down a person’s pet and driving on through the night with no care or sense of sadness, or sawing off a rhinoceros horn in an evil trade giving hope where there is none to give (I had just been to the World Wildlife Photographer exhibition so these things were on my mind).

I was thinking that maybe he would wake up, stretch his majestic body – he did look quite magnificent – and trot off to sit in whichever safe window spot he normally did, yellow eyes blinking, when an elderly lady opened the door. I thought this was quite brave as it was now 8:30 in the evening, dark and cold outside.

I did my best Italian pronunciation, why it was important to me that I not come across as a foreigner I know not, thought of nothing tactful to say and launched into ‘madam do you have a black cat because someone has just run over it’.

She looked to the street, immediately brought her hands to her mouth….”oh my cat….oh how sorry I am”. I try to explain how I came across him, as the lady goes into the road, into the night and picks him up. Despite his limpness, dead weight, she gathers him and I see how beautiful and perfect he is.

I start to cry. “Madam I’m so sorry. I have a cat too,” and I start to cry even harder. “Can I call someone for you?” And in her old-age, practical wisdom the lady replied “why? He is dead. How sorry I am”.

She tells me it’s not the first time he has been run over. I stop crying long enough for her to say that people drive through here at 70km when it’s supposed to be 50. One van, impatient with this scene of my car with the hazard lights and two women bringing a dead cat off the road… this gesture of grief is interrupted by the van who overtakes and roars into the night.

I start to cry again, and say to the woman it’s a crime to run over a pet and not provide assistance. But it means nothing. She half cradles and half drags the soft, black body, into her home, warm and restful, shutting the door to the night, the stars and moon now the only witnesses to what has happened. Rest in peace, feline friend, you will be remembered.

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The Berkel

Only the Italians could reserve such reverence for a slicing machine. The Berkel sits quietly in its corner in our tasting room, beautiful and Ferrari red, all shiny chrome. A restored Berkel of grandeur, to be admired but not having forgotten its purpose in this life.

I had never really noticed it properly, until one evening one of our guests entered. He stood at a respectful distance and described to me the beauty of a Berkel. One perfect slice after another, he imitated the turn and rhythm that must be in a Berkel.

Just recently a girl admired it, young I thought to appreciate it, but she mentioned that her grandfather since he retired, restores Berkel’s for his passion. What a piece of machinery, like a vintage car, they don’t make them like this anymore.

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It’s Wednesday it must be hunting season

The first fine day in what felt like weeks. Fresh, pure snow on the horizon to soothe past wounds, and new anger for the lost lives and the disasters of recent days. It was fresh, crisp and finally I can see something beyond the fog at the front fence.

And then I heard the shots. I have never personally participated in a hunt. I hate the idea but I guess it’s just the idea of an animal dying that distresses me so much. I find hunting distressing (and ridiculous with the high-viz vests over camouflage gear but that could just be my ignorance).

So I imagined some beautiful roe deer arching through this blue Langhe sky before cruelly hurtling to earth. Four shots though so I pray this hunter was a particularly bad shot.

My friend who monitors the wildlife on his property tells me that his creature population doesn’t seem to have diminished so at this stage I’m hoping it’s a bad hunting season for the fluorescent herds in their jeeps. Although the fine weather was welcome.

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