Thursday, July 26, 2012

Garantito IGP: The Val di Cembra and The Legionnaire Uncle

This time Stefano Tesi takes the Stand:

Lying on the bed of my room, looking though the shadows to the bit of mountain I could see from my window, A single thought ran through my head. And had since morning, when, as I waited for breakfast, I had examined the old pictures on the walls. And seen him: Uncle Luigi.

Photo by Giorgio Def

It was a shot from after the war, in black and white, a family picture with simple people, farmers. But Luigi (they had told me that was his name) stood out: Dark lively eyes, hair combed back, and a naïve smile that hid a worried expression. Quite worried, almost anguished. "He was a bit 'strange,'" remembers his niece. Once, to rebel against his grandmother's religious fervor, which dominated the house, he took brush and paint and wrote, on the back wall of the house, where there are now the four rooms of the agriturismo, "This is the Devil's House."

And then he left the valley with the (quite believable) excuse that there was no work to be had. The best he came up with was enrolment in the French Foreign Legion, which took him to the hells of Indochina and Algeria, where he looked death in the face. Experiences that, after his discharge, provided him with an inexhaustible well of tales with which to entertain nephews and nieces the few times he returned to visit his relatives. But not even retirement led him to return to the valley; he lived and died, alone as he always had been, in a town in southern France where the Government had homes for discharged soldiers. Who knows what secret, if any, Luigi kept in his breast?

You are doubtless wondering where this is going, and what question I had as I lay on my bed.

Photo by Ronnie Kiau
Two questions, actually. First, what the Val di Cembra was like seventy years ago. Second, if there is now a good reason to want to settle there.

And despite my wonderings, I couldn't come up with an answer. The Val di Cembra is a valley of Trentino, deep and rural. It's too low to be mountainous, too high to be hilly, with thick forests and steep slopes. A series of towns on the slopes, and a pair of porphyry quarries that are an insult to the eyes but saved the local economy. Vineyards everywhere, perched on the cliffsides, climbing the gullies, set into terraces unaccessible to tractors. Now they're almost all planted to Muller Thurgau (for the past 25 years Cembra has hosted a fair dedicated to the wine), which replaced the glorious Schiava 30 years ago. Vineyards dricen into the mountains, at altitudes up to 900 meters, rurality in the breezes.

Further up there's the Lago di Cembra. It freezes in winter, and when we were kids we'd go skating. Then, in the 70s, a Dutchman (who could perhaps answer my second question) appeared and told the startled villagers they could play bocce on the ice: Curling had come to Cembra.

What does this have to do with anything? Quite a bit. Another ten years go by, and a local girl marries a Swiss man. Not just any Swiss man, but a curling champion. To cut to the quick, a school opens, and then a team, and then another. And now there are six, including the national champions: Cembra, and its valley, are the capital of Italian Curling. 

But this may not be a good reason to come to the Val di Cembra. Nor even Muller Thurgau (though I have had some that were quite interesting and even unexpected, including Pilzer's grappas and distillates). Perhaps there isn't a good reason to come up here, and this could be the answer to my question.

However, I came to a different conclusion. I got up and opened the window. I enjoyed the vineyards draped over the slopes of the narrow valley. I went out under the pergola, and chatted with the owners of the house, Tiziana and Rosa, and enjoyed the homey pie, the cheeses and the cold cuts, while listening to the brook and sensing the Dolomites in the distance.  And told myself that I'd be back soon, precisely because, despite the apparent lack of a good reason to stay there were many.

Uncle Luigi did differently, but he was born there.

Who knows, he might have been good at curling.

Agriturismo Maso val Fraja
Via Val Fraja, Cembra (TN)
Tel. 0461 680096 o 683785

Non-attributed photos courtesy Cembra Mostra Vini Muller Thurgau.

Published Simultaneously by IGP, I Giovani Promettenti.

We Are:
Carlo Macchi
Kyle Phillips
Luciano Pignataro
Roberto Giuliani
Stefano Tesi

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