Azienda Agricola ArrighiAMBROSIA COMES FROM THE SEA(an investigation by Enrico Radeschi)
by Paolo Roversi ♦
Loris Sebastiani had regretted his decision from the beginning. Not so much for the location – the island of Elba offered exciting surprises for those like him who loved diving – as much as for the company. Nadine, the Frenchwoman, with the round and perfect buttocks, not only had terribly snobbish mannerisms, but she also turned out to be very bad for his karma.
It was all wrong right from the start. This woman had decided, without informing the policeman, to take advantage of the short vacation to undergo a detox cure, which actually looked more like a monastic regime for abstinence, which besides the repeated yoga sessions on the very mat that Sebastiani had to bring around to every beach as if he were a Sherpa, included also the deprivation of certain important fundamentals of entertainment. No alcohol, little food and above all no sex, to the point that the holiday was turning into an irritable rehab vacation that the man was paying for out of his own pocket.
“As for Nadine… well, a noose around my neck would be better!” he typed in a text message intended for his reporter friend Enrico Radeschi, which he deleted out of shame before sending it. He scanned over the sea, sliding his Toscanello cigar from one side of his mouth to the other, without ever lighting it. Come to think of it, he already knew what Enrico’s reply would have been. He would have laughed at him with a sharp comeback from his repertoire of the wrong choices he always made, jumping from one woman to another to escape from a truth he knew very well. The truth that he got drunk with the wrong women to forget the only one he had ever really loved, Giulia, his wife. Well, actually, his ex wife from a lifetime ago.
He looked at the phone and was again tempted to type the message but resisted the urge and got up from the deck chair shaking the sand off himself. He threw the cigar into Nadine’s bag, who looked at him as she lowered her large sunglasses to the end of her nose.
“Where are you going, Lorì?”
The way she pronounced his name, now gave him an annoying itch on his neck. And to think that, on their first date, it had actually set the mood for an Oscar winning kiss under the portico on 10 Corso Como. But then again, that night they had quite enjoyed their Kir Royals.
The policeman responded with a half grunt.
“Did the mosqui·toe that bit you take your voice away too?”
Sebastiani ignored her instigation and winked at her, knowing that Nadine, 25 years old, obsessed with emoticons (which she used as her distinctive mark in every message she sent, much as Zorro would do with his initial), would have appreciated it. With his diving mask, tank and fins he headed towards the boat of a fisherman who was waiting for him not far away.
Nadine slid her sun glasses back over her eyes and went back to reading the thaumaturgical article on natural remedies for avoiding water retention during the summer while he, after a quick dive around the boat, following the fisherman’s suggestion, headed towards a sand bar which was not far from a group of young aspiring marine biologists of the WWF Nature training course. Engaged in the morning session of naturalistic observation and photographic documentation, he heartily greeted them before wearing his weights and preparing for the dive.
The fisherman, not able to completely hide his smile, had told him shortly before, “I don’t want to spoil the surprise, but you’ll see that down there you will find something interesting.”
The Deputy Commissioner dived and swam deep down passing through a school of sea bass, which he could already picture sizzling on a grill accompanied with buttered vegetables. For a while, he saw nothing but bubbles and sand, until he reached a depth of seven meters where he saw fishing nets… Actually, they weren’t nets but something completely unusual and unexpected; a series of fish traps containing grapes that swayed to the rhythm of the tide!
He approached these old-fashioned traps and was fascinated by what he saw before his very eyes. Instead of prey being trapped, something completely different was happening here. But what?
Intrigued, he quickly emerged to enquire about it with his chaperone.
“It’s an experiment on a particular wine invented by the ancient Greeks of Chios. It involves a first phase in which the grapes are kept in the sea to remove the bloom from them, thus facilitating the drying phase and its preservation,” replied the man.
“Brilliant! But doesn’t that change the taste?”
The fisherman smiled, “On the contrary. Salt is the only natural antioxidant used to produce wine. It attacks the berry which defends itself by producing a coating that then disappears when it goes through the sun drying phase. Five days are enough to store a sufficient quantity of salt to avoid using sulphites during the entire production.”
“I see you’re an expert on the subject.”
Once again, he flashed a big smile.
“What can I say, I like wine and I like to drink good wines. This is produced here on the island of Porto Azzurro, at the Arrighi winery. Go to a wine tasting, you’ll see, you will not be disappointed.”
The policeman avoided confessing to the fisherman that he too was an expert and a great connoisseur of wines.
When he returned to shore, he found Nadine there, in front of him, strangely agitated about something. She was hopping up and down and waving her arms.
“Lorì, you’ll never believe what happened! We absolutely have to leave this island!”
Sebastiani dropped his fins, mask and tank on the sand.
“What happened?” he asked as he sat down on the beach chair.
“They sent an alert on the loudspeaker to be careful because an inmate has escaped from prison!”
“What do you mean which prison?” she despaired. “The one you can see even from here. Look, see? That building. C’est une prison!”
“Don’t worry. If he escaped, he would certainly not come here, to the beach, among the bathers.”
“No! You do not understand pas! He’s a killer! The news is already on the Internet. He killed a man and is serving a life sentence! Alors, come on, let’s leave!”
The policeman did not move. He kept his eyes closed and let the hot sun dry his skin.
“Don’t worry, nothing will happen. And then, hey, I’m here to defend you. I’m a policeman, remember?”
“No! I’m leaving on the next ferry. Adieu!”
Before she took off, Sebastiani quickly took back his Toscanello that was in the woman’s bag, for he couldn’t think without it, but spat it out immediately. It was sodden in coconut sunscreen and tasted just like it.
As Nadine stomped off yelling unrepeatable offensive words at him in her mother tongue, he grabbed his smartphone, which he kept in one of the pockets of his shorts, which were hanging from the beach umbrella, to get more information on what had happened.
He found a blurb on ANSA (the National Press Agency) that reported the news of the escaped prisoner; a fifty-year-old man originally from Turin. A photo was also enclosed in the article; a large man with a shaved head and a scar on his right eyebrow which could have made anyone feel squeamish. The article specified that, at the moment of the escape, which took place during the prisoners’ free hour in the prison yard, the man was wearing a white short-sleeved shirt and a pair of jeans. He was wearing leather shoes with tank soles. The write up ended with an invitation to anyone who may have seen someone who corresponded to this description, to immediately contact the police.
He lay back down again to sunbathe, almost happy. The fugitive had done him a huge favor by taking that snob, Nadine, out of his hair!
He was immediately struck by another idea. The hunt for the fugitive would be a succulent scoop for his friend Radeschi who, he seemed to remember, was at a Vespa meet up close by, in Tuscany.
He dialed the reporter’s number without wasting any time, also because, since the room was already paid for, he was happy to have company for the rest of the holiday. He let the cell phone ring an indefinite number of times and then hung up. Just as he started cursing Radeschi, his cell phone began to vibrate. It was the reporter video calling him on WhatsApp.
The cop sighed but surrendered to this new technological monstrosity.
“I wanted to see you in your bathing suite!” Radeschi greeted him.
Loris, instead, refrained from commenting on his friend’s shirt that had the creepingly catchy phrase “Hop Over Here, Hop in Your Beer” written on it, for sure in honor of Lambrate Brewery, his adopted home.
“You must be bored to death if you’re calling me. How’s your honeymoon going? Or are you already at each others’ throats?”
Radeschi knew him so well! Even better than his ex-wife!
“Would you like to come for a holiday on the island of Elba?”
“Are you offering me a menage à trois with the Frenchwoman?”
“No, Nadine’s gone, she ran away,” he announced, rummaging in his pockets for a new cigar.
“Boy, nobody knows how to make women run away, the way you do!”
“Stop it! So, are you going to come?”
“Alright, but, don’t go getting any strange ideas. I am not coming as your substitute booty call, is that clear?”
“That’s not why I invited you. There’s a fugitive on the island. An escaped convict from prison. Are you interested?”
The policeman found a half Toscanello and began to slide it from one side of his mouth to the other, while he imagined the vampire smile on the reporter’s face, who was surely already dreaming of the scoop.
“Are you kidding me? Of course! I’m already on my way!”
“How long will it take for you to get here?”
“I’m in Pontedera, at the Vespa museum factory for the meet up of…”
“How long Enrico?”
“A couple of hours to get to Piombino plus the time to cross over on the ferry.”
“Ok, then I’ll wait for you on the dock at three this afternoon,” Sebastiani grunted before hanging up.
When Radeschi got off the ferry in Portoferraio on top of his Yellowjacket, his spray-painted 1974 Vespa 50cc, Sebastiani was already there, waiting for him.
“What happened to the Frenchwoman?”
“I sent her back with a one-way ticket to the Eiffel Tower. Now, park your junk, we have a commitment.”
“Are you joking? What if they steal it?”
“Stealing that piece of rubble would be a daring act, to say the least, especially on an island. Come on, let’s go!”
They got into the cop’s SUV with which they drove up the island’s hairpin bends.
“Where are we going?”
“To a winery.”
“But, aren’t we here to find the fugitive?” Radeschi asked.
“It’s easier to think when you’re well hydrated.”
“There is no doubt about that!”
Half an hour later they reached their destination, where they were greeted by the owner himself, Antonio Arrighi.
“You know, my wines are made and stored in amphoras,” explained the vigneron, lightly tapping his hand on a large terracotta jar that was in the cellar.
“I thought that wooden or steel barrels were required to refine wines,” Radeschi commented.
“Those are the most common methods used now, but in the past the soil from the town of Impruneta was used and this soil didn’t contain any heavy metals in it that could transfer into the wine. Terracotta has a thermal insulation capacity and allows the wine not to undergo changes in temperatures during storage. Furthermore, thanks to the porous characteristics of the material, the wine does not undergo excessive changes and the right passage of oxygen determines an optimal maturation of red wines. Taste this Tresse.”
He poured the red wine into two wine glasses which he then handed to the reporter and the Deputy Commissioner.
“You know, I will soon have a huge terracotta amphora buried in the vineyard above the cellar, just like what the oldest farmers in the world used to do, in Georgia, 8000 years ago with their kvevri. This way, the wine will age in the same land that generated it.”
“Really interesting… So, tell me… Why did you choose to use the fish traps I saw this morning?” Sebastiani asked.
“Because a wine’s myth is in its DNA. This is the reason why we wanted to retrace the legendary history of the island of Chios. The producers of this Aegean island kept a secret that made their wine particularly aromatic and long-lasting. Here, taste…”
Arrighi passed Sebastiani a clean wine glass. The aftertaste that remained in his mouth brought him back to the aromas of Greek vines.
“Can you taste it? No saltiness.”
The producer scrounged his hand around in a pot from which he extracted a grape stalk.
“And now taste the grape.”
The two men willingly accepted the invitation.
“Savory aftertaste with hints of…”
Sebastiani tugged at Radeschi to stop him from making the usual fool of himself. “They’re grapes, not wine!”
“Your friend is right,” smiled the vigneron. “The grape used to recreate this particular method of vinification is called Ansonica. It is a cross between two grapes from the Eastern Aegean where the vines produce specifically aromatic fruits, thanks to their particular exposure to the sun. While the grapes remain immersed, the sea salt penetrates inside without damaging them. The last step consists in the fermentation of the grapes in terracotta amphoras. After a year of bottle aging, the wine is ready to be tasted, yielding an ancient flavor.”
After the tasting, Arrighi turned to his two friends, “Now come, I would like to take you around to show you my vineyards that are all within the Archipelago Toscano National Park, along the wine trekking route that I created… You know what wine trekking is, right?”
Both Radeschi and Sebastiani were groping in the dark but, although the Deputy Commissioner had the decency to keep quiet, the same was not true for the reporter who ventured a strange hypothesis, “Something similar to those itinerant tours that people do, in the mountains, going from one pasture hut to another testing the cheeses, but with wine?”
“More or less,” replied Arrighi. “If you have some time, I’ll show you what it’s about.”
They walked for twenty minutes sweating out all the wine they had drunk but it was worth it. They reached the top of a hill and in front of them appeared what looked like an amphitheater of which seating tiers were terraced rows of vines.
“Magnificent!” Radeschi said, observing the vines spread apart in an orderly manner. Almost immediately, his attention got reverted to a palm tree that stood right in the center of the vineyard.
“And what about that?” he asked. “It looks dry…”
“It got sick a few months ago, unfortunately, but I don’t have the heart to cut it down. It’s a century-old palm tree, visible proof of what this estate used to be like before it became a vineyard.”
“Can we see it up close?”
“Of course, let’s go!”
To reach the palm tree, they had to walk between the rows, paying great attention not to damage the leaves of the vines which, they were told that, due to the fact that they didn’t receive any artificial irrigation and in order to maintain the organoleptic properties of the territory, these plants had twenty-meter-long roots.
Arrighi knocked against the trunk which returned a dull sound.
“Do you hear that? No more sap.”
“It seems more like the noise of an empty space to me.”
Radeschi ran his fingers along the trunk and felt a kind of hollow point which, with his hand’s pressure, opened up a hole into the bark.
“Here is the reason for its unexpected death! Has it been emptied and transformed into a… storage space?”
In saying so, he pulled out a pair of jeans and a white shirt which lit a spark in Sebastiani’s head.
“This is not a storage space, it’s a hiding place!” he ascertained. “Move over Enrico, let me see.”
The Deputy Commissioner bent down to take a better look.
“See? Here are some prints of shoes with tank soles. I bet the escaped convict passed by here. Maybe someone in prison told him that this palm tree could be an excellent hiding place…”
Arrighi turned white.
“Are you saying the fugitive is hiding around here?”
“Yes, but don’t worry, hunted animals never get too close. They’re afraid of being sent back to the cage.”
As he was used to handling situations like this, the Deputy Commissioner took out his phone to call the Portoferraio Police Station and inform them of their suspicions.
“They will send a team to check,” he explained after hanging up.
Arrighi seemed to calm down as they walked towards the cellar taking a different path.
At one point, their attention was drawn towards a strange steel structure, placed in a dugout in the bush that was right next to the path they were walking along.
“What is that?” the same old Radeschi asked.
“It’s a cage for capturing wild boars. They are attracted by the food we leave in it and get trapped inside.”
“And then you eat them?” Sebastiani asked.
“Of course not! It’s something we do in agreement with the Archipelago Toscano National Park. The animals we capture are taken to another spot and then sterilized before being released again. Hey, what’s wrong? Why did you stop?”
Radeschi remained still in front of the cage and a pleased smile appeared on his lips. He turned towards Sebastiani who had had the same enlightenment as him.
“If it works for hungry animals…” he said.
“… it might work for a person too!” concluded the policeman as he swirled the Toscanello between his lips.
Finally, Sebastiani gave in and agreed to take a tour of the island on the back of Yellowjacket. Only now, as he clung to Radeschi, was he able to hear the old mechanical engine trudging uphill towards Capoliveri. Despite all the policeman’s wicked predictions, the Vespa actually carried out its duty very well. After about ten minutes, he and Radeschi were already comfortably seated in one of the restaurants in the historic center, ready to enjoy a seafood dinner which they washed down with an ice cold Vermentino from the Arrighi winery. When the digestifs arrived, they got quieter and quieter.
The wait was nerve-racking, although they both feigned indifference.
“Will it work?” Radeschi asked, sipping his Montenegro digestif on the rocks.
The only reply he got from Sebastiani was the gesture of a lazy sliding of the cigar between his lips.
When they were about to get up from the table, full but discouraged, Sebastiani’s cell phone started ringing.
They both recognized the number on the display; the Portoferraio Police Station.
“Deputy Commissioner Sebastiani, I’m Commissioner Bucci. I just wanted to tell you; you were right. Your idea worked perfectly. Nobody resists hunger!”
“What happened?” Radeschi asked.
“They got him,” Sebastiani announced, hanging up.
“No, we got him!” the reporter specified with a smile. And in all honesty, he was right. After all, it had been his idea to put the bait in the cage, something that was edible for humans but that looked like it was purposely placed there to satisfy a hungry animal. They had opted for dry bread, overripe fruit and even a bowl of water because, in that heat, thirst could not be underestimated. And it was all abundantly seasoned with sleeping pills. Moreover, thanks to his computer skills, Radeschi had also placed a camera, hidden between the leaves of a vine, that could be controlled by a mobile phone app that was activated when it detected any kind of movement and that recorded whatever happened around, and in, the cage.
Enrico took his mobile phone and opened the video surveillance app.
“Look, Loris. They’re taking away our sleeping beauty!”
The images that appeared on the screen showed two policemen entering the cage and picking up a man who was fast asleep.
“When I post this video on MilanoNera, it will get tons of views!”
The Deputy Commissioner’s mouth widened into such a big smile that his Toscanello almost fell out.
“Now what do we do?” the reporter asked, putting the phone back in his pocket.
“Well, we celebrate with our last toast!”
They hopped back on Yellowjacket and returned to the estate to finish the day with Antonio Arrighi. He was so pleased with his success story and for being surrounded by all the microphones of the journalists who had come to report the arrest, that he uncorked the most prestigious bottle from his cellar; Nesos, the wine that starts in fish traps under the sea, a tradition that dates back thousands of years.