Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Tales from Bologna

Truck Stuck, Italian Style.

You never know when life will imitate a children's book.

There I was, on vacation in the beautiful Tuscan countryside, resting up after the vigors of the Bologna Children's Book Fair. My traveling companion and I had just picked up our rental car, a Fiat 500, in Florence and were heading south through Chianti country. My Frommer's guidebook mentioned that there was a lovely castle and winery outside of Greve in Chianti, so when we saw the sign for Castello di Verrazzano, we hooked a right and zipped straight up the side of a mountain into wine paradise. We drove into the estate past a large tractor-trailer that was preparing to leave, the only thought in our minds being how many wines we could sample before safely navigating the precipitous road back down to the valley.

Inside the tasting/dining room, a brick-oven fire glowed seductively, and we sampled three lovely wines, accompanied by the most delicious bruschetta ever (just olive oil and salt, but wow). We chatted a bit with the wine guy, bought a bottle of Chianti Classico Reserva, and headed back to the car.

We were greeted by the sight of the tractor-trailer, now jack-knifed and blocking the exit of the parking lot. Its cargo bed, containing about 700 cases of wine headed for the US, was twisted precariously and crushing the cab. All the guests were stuck at the winery until the Italian firefighters arrived to address the situation.

Resigned to our horrible fate, we returned to the tasting room and drowned our sorrows in free wine and cheese. Eventually (the Italians have a very different sense of time than we Americans), the firefighters arrived and attempted to crane the truck's cargo back to equilibrium. Alas, it was to no avail. Next came the forklift attempts to unload some of the heavy pallets, which only resulted in the truck tipping even further in the wrong direction.

Now you would think that with wine in abundance and vehicular entertainment on display (never mind the cute Italian firefighters), that the time would have passed pleasantly. And that was indeed the case . . . for the first five hours. When it became clear that the entire truck would need to be unloaded, by hand no less, before any of us could leave our vinous prison, a certain restlessness set in along with the alcoholic sedation. Though the truck's release seemed imminent, the winery staff sensed our unease and quickly offered us a choice: two free bottles of wine each, or a free dinner. The other American guests took the wine and left, shackled to their schedules and itineraries, but I was raised never to turn down a free meal, especially in a country known for its gastronomic prowess. What followed was a seven-course meal, replete with wine parings. Not to bore you, my dear reader, but take a gander at this:

Mixed plate of salami and other cured meats, paired with the 2006 Vino Rosso

Pasta pappardelle with wild boar sauce, paired with the 2006 Chianti Classico

Roasted pheasant and potatoes, paired with the 2005 Chianti Classico Riserva

Steak Fiorentina and mixed-green salad, paired with the 2005 Sassello (a supertuscan)

Pecorino and parmesano reggiano with balsamic vinegar and hot pepper jelly

Apple torte, paired with vin santo, a desert wine

Espresso and cantucci (like biscotti), paired with grappa

After a meal like that, driving was out of the question, so we threw ourselves on the mercy of our hosts and rented a room in a farmhouse down the mountain. As we wobbled and rolled out the door, I thought to myself, maybe I should have told them to let the air out of the tires on the left side of the truck and we could have avoided all this unpleasantness.

Yolanda is the editor of Truck Stuck (written by Sallie Wolf; illustrated by Andy Robert Davies), in which two children help a truck get unstuck by letting the air out of the tires.


J.A. Ginsburg said...

Smart,smart choice on so very many levels!

Sallie Wolf said...

Wow--what a meal! What a great adventure! The kids in the book did not give their lemonade away for free. I guess they were more American than Italian.