Pretty good stuff, at La Barrique on via del Boschetto
When I write that inevitable, _I Moved to Italy and Now I Have to Write a Book About It_ book, an entire chapter is going to be devoted to Raffaele and Sandro, our butchers. Their shop is on the storefront street level of our block, and it is a "veritable cornucopia" not only of really exceptional meats (vegetarians, don't fear, I won't talk about that right now), but it also has an entire wall of great wines, many of which are absolutely affordable, and even the top ones are always in the "best value" category; and they carry cheeses from Sardegna and Puglia; and Carnaroli, the best rice in the world for making risotto; and amazing sausages from Calabria and Tuscany (the latter made from Chianina beef); and I could go on and on here, but instead I will do that in the inevitable book.
Now, however, I write about Raffaele and Sandro because the other night, they hosted a "degustazione" in a gallery/performance space right downstairs, and it was one of the best social gatherings that I've attended since I've lived here. When I was in the States last month, I noticed that Americans (in spite of everything going on right now!) smile frequently. You look at them, they smile. Romans, not so much. You look at them and they ignore you, or they scowl, or they check you out to see that you don't match up to their Prada expectations. But at this festive "degustazione," everyone was smiling. And, according to our host Raffaele, the evening wasn't over until we had some poetry!
There was the Barco Reale di Carmignano ("dear to the house of Medici") of which we have drunk more than our fair share, so Damiano and I tried instead a wonderful Chianti Classico (Principe Corsini Le Corti). It was indeed princely. Usually at a tasting, as you know, there's a little bit of wine, a little bit of cheese, but oh my god, this was a huge wicked buffet of various cheeses (from the wonderfully mild to the almost stinky) and sausages (cinghiale and that aforementioned Chianina beef), and chunky crusty bread and Sardegnan flat bread, and an olive oil tasting too, and then someone brought a huge dish of warm, creamy polenta with a crusty top and sausage studded throughout, and later Raffaele's mother brought two big pans of tripe. I am not the greatest tripe fan in the world, but this one--tasted--almost/good. There's hope yet for me as a Roman.
Everyone was happy and festive. (I wonder if the Italians are sensing that the bottom is about to fall out here too.) I was making small talk! in Italian! weee! not an easy thing for me to do. We met nice neighbors, and chatted with people we already know, and met some Americans and other Anglophones. And then Raffaele brought out an Amarone -- I don't know what it was exactly, I can find out if you want to know, but I do know that it was like tasting liquid luscious smoke with some tobacco and leather thrown in for good measure. (He even said something to Damiano the next day -- I must have had a ridiculously happy face: "Moira really liked the Amarone, eh?")
The evening began to wind down and someone brought in dessert, rummy-chocolate-creamy profiteroles. We all helped to clean up, and put the chairs away, but Raffaele said to us, "Don't even think about leaving until we've heard a poem." (Damiano had printed up a very small batch of "Notes on a Potion" in both languages, because the little book is coming soon, and he thought we could give some to friends and neighbors, including of course our hosts.) And so they brought some chairs back out. And I did something I've never done before, folks, forget about reading those naughty "69" poems in public at an English tea in TriBeCa, this was much scarier. I stood there and introduced the poem in Italian. I spoke in public in Italian! Yikes, I'm pretty sure it was about 7th grade Italian, but everyone seemed to understand me, and then (to Maria Grazia's lovely piano accompaniment) I read the poem in English (phew) and then Damiano read it in Italian.
It felt like I had crossed some huge border. And Raffaele summed up the evening by saying, "Of course I did this for the shop, but it felt like something bigger happened, like we can create a community this way." I certainly hope so.