STAINED PAGES

W14

WINE AND LITERATURE GO HAND IN HAND

 

“Wine comes in at the mouth/ And love comes in at the eye”
W.B. Yeats

 

Wine has without a doubt always been one of the silent protagonists of the literary world. Ever since Homer wrote about “a wine-dark sea”, wine has been the inspiration for many stories and poems. Charles Baudelaire spoke of the  “soul of wine”, because of its ability to expand the doors of perception. Hemingway loved wine and drank hard, like his heroes. As an expatriate in Paris, he wrote his memoir “A Moveable Feast” where he recalled how he came to realise that in Europe drinking wine was not a sign of snobbery but a sign of sophistication, as “natural as eating”. In Mediterranean culture, people drink wine on a daily basis, and it’s considered, both a solitary ritual and one that communities experience together. To pay proper homage to the best Italian stories and storytellers, I have chosen novels that I think constitute some of the best wine-inspired literature. I hope there is something here for everyone.

 

The Moon and the Bonfires, by Cesare Pavese  (1950).  One of the best post-war Italian poets and novelists – here he describes where he comes from in Italy, an area known as Le Langhe. But he describes it through the eyes of an orphan, Anguilla (meaning Eel), who is just back after a time in the US. Le Langhe is a melancholy and captivating area in Piedmont, famous for its red wines, such as Barolo and Dolcetto d’Alba, its cheeses and truffles. Anguilla is reminded of his childhood when vineyards were places to play, to work and to party in, places where the community was born and where people died. Wine gave its people wealth, but was at the same time, a sort of prison, depriving them of the chance to expand their knowledge, and to understand the ways of the world.

Almost Blue, by Carlo Lucarelli (1997). Set in Emilia-Romagna’s main city, Bologna, jazz music and criminality intertwine here. A young blind man and a rookie detective, Grazia Negro, are the focus of a brief but intense genre noir, written by the writer and TV author, Carlo Lucarelli. A psychopathic killer obsessed with university students is on the loose in the city -, an area famous for rich wines, mostly Lambrusco and Sangiovese. Noir genres and drink have a long history together (remember Chandler’s detective Marlow in…) and Almost Blue is no exception. Watch the eponymous movie by Alex Infascielli (2000), premiered at the Cannes Film Festival. 
Everybody’s Right, by Paolo Sorrentino (2010). Tony Pagoda – a sickening yet somehow likeable singer from Naples  – is the protagonist of this debut novel by the award-winner director Paolo Sorrentino, (“The Great Beauty”). Pagoda has had his day, and great days they were indeed. He enjoyed a delirious lifestyle in Naples and Capri, enjoying copious amounts of food and, where booze and cocaine played a significant part. His episodic account is a stream of consciousness on sex, music, women and his witty and satirical reflections. He is as corrupt and charismatic as the city of Naples  (and Italy, too), a man of taste who will not accept half measures. It isn’t for the faint-hearted.

The Brotherhood of the Grape, by John Fante (1977). This is almost a bible on the hidden meanings of wine. Henry Molise, a 50-year old, successful writer, returns to his family home to help his aging parents deal with impending divorce. This is a veiled autobiography by the Italo-American Fante, in which we see wine as synonymous with family, country, history, identity. The brotherhood of the grape is about a group of men who gather at the Angelo Masso winery in San Elmo, where the Tuscany red Chianti plays a key role in their meetings. Nick, Henry’s dad, is a despotic figure, who though a weak and alcoholic man, can still strike fear into the hearts of his sons. Don’t forget, Fante is a master at rendering even our darkest fears amusing.

Chianti & Hannibal Lecter “I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice glass of Chianti.” This is one of the most quoted lines in movie history. The words are by Hannibal Lecter – the cannibal serial killer of “The Silence of the Lambs” (based on Thomas Harris’ thriller)- who is talking about dispatching one of his victims. Starling (Jodie Foster) is trying to enter into the mind of the serial killer, a role performed by the great Anthony Hopkins, when he comes out with this disquieting line. Lecter has a fine taste for wine.