Questo racconto è il risultato della collaborazione tra SapereFood e Umbra Institute. Dopo aver visitato alcune importanti aziende della regione, gli studenti hanno scritto delle storie di fantasia sperimentando il “product placement”, ovvero l’inserimento di un marchio all’interno della narrazione.
by Rachel Epstein
Inspired by a visit to Milziade Antano Fattoria Colleallodole Winery
Francesco cupped his hand around a solid bunch and pulled quickly. With a flick of tension from his wrist the ligaments of the vine snapped, one pricking the dermis of a grape and shooting juice into Francesco’s palm. He sighed, licked the fruity blood from his skin, and continued down the path, plucking the grapes from the bunch with his teeth as he walked. The first day of harvest always brought back the strangest memories. It was meant to be about rebirth, awakening the vines from their peaceful growing slumber, but he was always more nervous than anything else. He often thought of his father, his own boots making imprints in the dirt down the vine paths the way his had when he’d been alive. He recalled his jolly smile, the way he’d tuck his hair behind his ears and clap his soiled hands together three times before picking the first fresh bunch. His fingers were meaty and the claps would deafen Francesco’s little ears like crashing symbols.
Looking down at his own hands, now stained a deep sanguine, he realized how different he was from his father. His hands were big, yes, but they had an air of elegance. The sinews of his fingers were delicate and despite the impressive span of his palm, he lacked that sort of sausage-like heft he noticed in his father’s. He shook his head and wiped his sticky skin on the leg of his pants leaving a trail of saccharine purple that he knew took four washes to get out. At least he sold more wine.
An hour later, the sun reached its full height in the sky and three diligent workers, two men and one woman, summoned Dionysus and began the harvest. Francesco stayed inside as they worked. He felt too nervous to join them and he trusted their skill to complete the day alone. He sat in the cellar, quietly drinking espresso and diagramming new tilling patterns for the next year. The planning kept him calm. The focus kept him sober. Every so often he would pace around the cellar, starting from the far door and looping around the high tech label-maker before stopping at the barrels of the past years Montofalco Rosso and Sargrantino blends. These were the wines that gave him his livelihood and they were, in a word, wonderful. Here, he’d bend down, press his nose to the wood, and inhale deeply as if he were actually able to get a true impression of the fermenting liquid inside. He wasn’t, though, and if anyone had seen him they would have thought he was a madman. It was just something he’d watched his father do and found some comfort in the unspoken tradition he had subconsciously decided to continue. The smell of the wood always brought back more to his memory than he could handle.
“This is why I drink,” he muttered, as he pulled back from the barrel, almost losing his balance on the smooth gray floor. Every year around this time, Francesco found himself lost in memory. The skin on each grape was her cheek. With each sunrise, the warmth of the sky sliced into his heart the way she had.
He remembered with utter clarity the exact moment she told him she loved him. He felt the words in his own mouth, thick and heavy with a tasteless resin that sang of balsamic and honeydew. But they never transferred. He watched her trying to reach for what she’d just said, her eyes darting with confusion and panic, and he felt just as trapped. She rushed out of the cellar, her bare feet accumulating dirt in the cracks of her soles and mixing with her sweat like yellow tartar. A young Francesco slumped in a nearby chair. Her embarrassment still hung heavy in the dry air of the cellar.
He was sixteen then and it happened in the early autumn of the 38th harvest. Her name was Silvia Bartoli. They met daily at the gardens at three in the afternoon. The two had decided early on that three was ideal. It was enough time for Francesco to finish his morning duties on the vineyard and the bread no longer sat in Silvia’s ovens but was on its way to the baskets of happy families. It was an ideal time, too, for covert meetings. Siesta pushed curious onlookers indoors and the summer heat proved too much for athletic types. The only downside was their appearance. If rats had been in love, they would take a similar form. The afternoon sun slicked Francesco’s skin with a coating of moisture that was two parts dewy, one part repulsive and Silvia’s hair was regularly matted with a similar sweat. Every crevice of skin held a cakey residue of flour and oil. To be frank, if it hadn’t been for her brilliant bone structure and steely confident gaze, she would’ve been deemed incurably ugly. Perhaps that was part of the magic of it all, her ugly was his beautiful, and he struggled every single afternoon to take his eyes away from her.
Their meetings originally began when Francesco snuck out of the apartment to see his friends, and simply by chance, or fate, or whatever type of destiny you want to blame it on, he met her. They talked interminably; she even taught him how to sing in the Piazza. She instructed a maxillofacial blend of chocolate, lilies, and fountain mist that dusted his skin with a rich anomaly. He had never felt anything like it before. The night breathed life into the flurries of her song that danced around their bodies, chuckling at their amorous play like elves. Silvia smelled of roasted almonds infused with rich, slippery lemon sweat. She sang to him all night, pausing for interjections of broken dialect when she saw his desperation to understand. Sometimes the crowd grew too loud and the volume forced her to lean down to speak to his neck. He felt soft cheeks of talcum powdered rosehips, candied plums, and the touch of several tongues.
Silvia became Francesco’s world. She punctuated the monotony of his life with vibrant purples, ecstatic passion-fruit pinks. But that’s the problem with becoming someone’s world. You create a vacuum around them. You lose yourself.
In the autumn of the 38th harvest, the grapes were riper and the ground more fertile than ever before. The wine from the 33rd harvest was the best the vineyard had ever produced and Francesco’s father bellowed with pride whenever an additional order came into the cellar. In that year, the little vineyard on the top of insignificant Montofalcan hill became one of the best vineyards in Italy.
Francesco’s father saw the changes in his son and watched with concern as puberty completed its rapture on him. His commitment to Silvia became a constant threat to the continued success of the vineyard. He saw no choice but assert the parental totalitarian control he knew he had but never used over his son. Of course, he felt guilt, and even questioned the fairness of his actions. He knew the boy had grown up without a mother and that it was only natural that he began to seek out women at his age. Although Francesco’s father would never comprehend how much this actually affected his son.
The boy had never met his mother, but he imagined enough of her to know her intimately. She had thick black hair that ran beautifully down under her waist, just grazing the bow on her apron. He knew she kept it braided tightly from her scalp so that it tumbled down her spine, each perfectly woven knot poised over the corresponding vertebrae so that the only way it moved was if she shook her hips, something he imagined happened when she laughed furiously. He saw her smile, larger than life, with two imperfect dimples on either side of cheeks and somehow he promised himself that if or when she was old she would have two distinct wrinkles on the outside of her mouth. She also had big breasts—because Francesco liked big breasts and couldn’t imagine a woman without them….
This hardly mattered though. In mid-October, Francesco’s father destroyed his son’s heart with the fist of Mussolini.
40 years later, the conversation replays in Francesco’s head regularly. He remembers his father’s stern gaze, his refusal to look him directly in the eye. The way their boots crunched against the dark earth, now dry and barren from the harvest, still makes him cringe. The sun was setting in a crest over the hilltop and as father and son walked, the air seemed to force both their spirits down.
“All of this, our tiny empire, will be yours some day. You know that right?”
“Yeah, some day.”
“There’s no reason for these grapes to stop growing. Agreed?”
“So you agree, there’s no place for distractions?”
“Father, what are you trying to say?”
It was the first of many subtle disagreements between the two. The mile marker of a relationship in slow implosion, like a failed science fair volcano. Francesco clung to Silvia for five more months, until she told him she loved him. And he knew that as he kept his mouth sealed, he made a conscious choice to honor his father over her.