Our Italy experience has given us the opportunity to make the most emotionally-satisfying friendships we could imagine. Despite our inability to communicate at a level beyond rudimentary with many of the people we met, our neighbors, the shopkeepers in Cisternino, the staff at the bank, all accepted us and tried their best to have us understand them. Some of them even, on occasion and in desperation, would attempt a word or two of English. To all who have tried to make us feel a part of you and of the community, Jessica and I want you to know that you have succeeded.
And, of course, there are those special relationships that good fortune has provided us. We were reminded of that when the Angelini family brought the Enoteca Properzio road show back to the States. We hadn’t seen them since the incredible Thanksgiving Day feast in Spello and, even then, we only saw Roberto on that visit. The hugs and kisses were genuine and plentiful when we walked into the restaurant in Pittsburgh that hosted the wine dinner that featured “i grandi vini” (the great wines) of Italy. The entire Angelini family was on this visit: Roberto, Daniela, his wife, and his children, Irene and Luca. At the end of the evening, we promised that we would stop at Spello on our next trip to Italy and would stay at the apartments that they rented to vacationers to the area.
In the meantime, before leaving Puglia on the previous trip that ended with our being able to move into Villa Tutto, we (or maybe it was Michele) decided to have more work done on the property. This phase (“Oh, geez,” I said, “now we’re talking phases!“) consisted of mostly exterior work, including having the entire outside of the house painted. Our plan was to go back to Puglia for two weeks at the end of May, enjoy the warm weather, go to the beach and, unlike any prior visit to Puglia, simply relax. But first, a stop in Spello.
The drive from the airport in Rome to Spello in Umbria was made only a little cumbersome by the four enormous suitcases and two huge backpacks that would all come back to the States empty on our return. In them were all the worldly goods necessary to set up a household: pots & pans, silverware & dishes, glassware, bathroom items, clothing for every occasion, etc. The cargo rendered the rear window of the car completely useless.
Nevertheless, we arrived in Spello none the worse for wear, but bone-weary from the twenty straight hours of travel. We walked into the enoteca to big smiles, strong hugs and many kisses from the Angelinis. Of course, they had a meal ready for us. And, of course, it started with wine. We sat in a courtyard behind the wine store at a table that would seat ten people comfortably. Roberto sat with us for a few minutes as we sipped on the slightly-sweet, bubbly prosecco he had poured for us but, once the pasta course arrived, he left us to relax and enjoy the food. Daniela brought us the next course, a perfectly poached bronzino, and told us once again how happy they were to see us. Perfectly on cue, Roberto returned with a crisp rose from the Friuli region in the far northeast part of Italy. It was the perfect companion for the bronzino. By the time we had finished the fourth course and tasted the fourth wine, it must have been obvious to anyone looking at us that we were hardly bering up. Irene suggested that she take us to the apartment so that we could get some rest before dinner. Dinner?!!
We left the sunshine of the courtyard and walked back into the darker wine shop. As we approached the exit back out of the shop, I could see that two people were entering just as we were trying to leave but, because the sun was shining in through the door, I could only see silhouettes until we were within touching distance from them.
“Scott?” the newcomer said.
“Mark,” I responded. “What are you doing here?”
Jessica was processing this. “Do you know each other?” she asked.
“Yeah, in fact, Mark’s law firm is working on a project for us and we were supposed to get together next week for lunch with some other people but Mark and I both said that we’d be out of town,” I explained.
It turned out that Mark and his wife, Lynne, were staying at a villa in Tuscany with a group of friends. Lynne’s brother, a big fan and customer of Enoteca Properzio and a regular attendee of Roberto’s wine dinners, told her they would be remiss if they didn’t visit Spello so they did. Roberto and Irene, witnesses of this strange encounter, were also trying to figure out what was happening. I introduced them and explained to Irene. Lynne told Irene about her brother, and that connection was made. Minutes later, Mark and Lynne were sitting in the courtyard with a bottle of wine and food on the way. It’s just the way it’s done at Enoteca Properzio.
Irene took us to one of their beautifully-restored apartments, modern convenience in a medieval envelope, and we took full advantage of the opportunity to collapse. A few hours later, rested, showered and crisply attired, we took the three-minute walk back to the enoteca for the evening meal. We were greeted warmly by Roberto and escorted back out into the courtyard. The table was set for twelve. Among the guests were Mark and Lynne who, according to Mark, were issued an invitation they couldn’t refuse, and four Americans who were staying at others of Roberto’s apartments.
The meal was what we had come to expect at Enoteca Properzio: satisfying in every way possible. The food, the wines, the company, the conversation all served to feed the body and the soul. We left the dinner table but we could not leave the evening just yet. Mark, Lynne, Jessica and I were not ready for the night to end. We took a table in the little piazza in front of the enoteca and asked Roberto if we could buy a bottle of wine and enjoy it there. His look said, “You know better than that,” and he went to the shelf, picked out a ten-year old bottle of brunello di montalcino and told us to go back to our table. He brought the bottle and four sparkling stems out, pulled the cork, poured four glasses and went back inside. Still we could not let go of the night and I went back inside, this time insisting that I buy the bottle, but Roberto insisted harder that I accept his hospitality. This time, his selection was Sassicaia, one of the most revered names in Italian wine lore.
“You know,” Mark said, “if the wine keeps getting better the longer we sit here, we may never be able to leave.”
But leave, we did. And the next morning, we stopped by the enoteca to put the four cases of wine we bought into the car, say our farewells to the Angelinis and start the six-hour drive down the coast to Puglia and to our new home.
Next: The Chiave to Happiness – Part 1