Saturday, October 3, 2009

Slowly slowly

I like to work. I like to dig earth and pull weeds and prune. I like to chop wood and stack it. I like the challenge and step-by-step commitment of running marathons, building houses, raising children, making wine, and writing books. And I like to reward these efforts by cooking and fermenting what I grow, catch or forage into savory things to eat and drink. I like to do this wherever I am in the world. But most of all I like to do it in Italy.

On the eve of the worst economic meltdown in a century (and a scandal that rocked the wine world) I and my wife, the photographer Sally Gall, bought an abandoned farm in Tuscany, hoping to fulfill a lifelong dream. We found 5 acres with 100 overgrown olive trees, a derelict vineyard of several hundred dying vines, as well as some spectacular views. We found a tiny stone shack and a couple of collapsed chicken coops we could shape, we were told, into a slightly larger cottage. With some work, we could produce some decent wine and olive oil.

The fact is I know nothing about farming or building in Italy, and embarrassingly little Italian for as much time as I've spent there. But I do know how to grow vines and turn grapes into passable wine. Last August, after returning the vineyard to partial health, I was preparing to harvest and ferment my first batch of wine when I broke my leg. Now I must wait another year to see what my vines and my labor may yield.

This was a wake-up-call, a call to slow down, to move piano piano as they say. It is also a chance to catch-up on what I don't know, a whole year to learn Italian, to finish building our home, and to intern myself to a vital but dying art, that of the Italian farmer, the contadino, who in Tuscany (birthplace of the "rebirth" and of slow food) first embodied the concept of "man in harmony with nature" as we know it today.

One year from now I'll make that wine. But tomorrow, I take my newly mended leg back to Italy and begin the journal of that year. Tomorrow, I'll find myself in Tuscany.