Tenuta PietramoraFEEL THE EARTH
by Vins Gallico ♦
She really didn’t want to go to the hills, in the middle of nowhere. She told her mother too, even when they were about to leave, her last hopeless attempt, but it was like talking to a brick wall.
She didn’t even try mentioning it to her father for she knew he would never allow her to stay home alone.
“My little girl, my Elena, she may look big, but she’s always just a little girl.”
Little girl, yah right! I’m nobody’s property, Elena thought, while she stared at the painting in the room where she was going to sleep.
She couldn’t quite get her head around what that picture was supposed to represent. There was a lot of red and very deep amaranth. Perhaps they were flowers and, the dark lines, stems.
A food-and-wine tasting weekend in Tuscany, which, translated into Elenish meant downright, vein cutting boredom, total crumbling of nerves. As if this trip wasn’t enough, her parents organised the whole thing with the Fiammelli’s and the Galletta’s, two couples, over forty, with a total of three little kids, in the kindergarten and elementary age groups. They probably even had it all figured out already; happy at the idea of having a twelve-year-old babysitter.
No problem! You can leave them with me, and you can call me Herod while you’re at it, Elena mumbled to herself.
She couldn’t stand either family but she figured they might be the solution to balancing out her parents’ excessive enthusiasm by bringing it down a tone.
During the trip, once they got off the highway, her mother and father never once stopped commenting, with great admiration, on all the green that surrounded them, as if they had never in their lives seen an olive tree, or a vineyard, or even a simple hill or valley. They were two possessed people, “How wonderful!”, “Look over there!”, “What a view!”
Elena put all her focus on her mobile phone as she tried not to throw up. Not because she was car sick but because of all the poetic
gushiness that really drove her crazy. It was old talk, nonsense; something the Fiammelli’s and Galletta’s may like, but not her.
They gave her just enough time to put down her backpack in her room, go to the bathroom and fix her hair a bit, before calling on her to go to the tasting.
Tasting, the word was as absurd as it was antique; wasting was a much better word!
“Just a sec, I’ll be right there,” she replied while continuing to stare at the painting. They thought they were giving her such a reward by getting her a room to herself.
“I have my own room at home too,” she told her father when he handed her the keys, all happy. “Your room is the Kodama.”
Her room had earthy colours. The floor was stone, the walls were crude, and there was an egg-shaped hammock hanging from the wooden beams on the ceiling. Instead of going to that stupid tasting, Elena would have much rather preferred wrapping herself up in the hammock and swing for hours, in the pleasure of her own company and in sync with her legs, body, arms and eyes. Instead, she had to hurry up and join them, but she just couldn’t take her eyes off the painting that kept her hypnotized.
“Elenaaaa!” this time it was her mother’s high-pitched voice calling her, “Come on!”
First, they told her to hurry up and then they just stood there wasting time. First, the Fiammelli’s invited the Galletta’s to go see their room and then the Galletta’s showed off their room, so her mother and father too had to absolutely propose a panoramic tour of their room as well. The Fiammelli’s were on the floor above theirs, in a room called Carnival and, in fact, it did have a circus-like air to it, playful and dreamy; a little bit like in a movie that Elena’s father had strongly recommended she watched. She couldn’t remember the name of the movie but the director’s name was Fellini. Elena never really understood what her father was hinting at through that story. The Galletta’s room, called Dada, was different yet. The bed was very odd, like a trampoline, suspended in the air. Her mother and father quickly showed their room, the Rayuela.
It looked like a fishing boat, Elena thought, and she concluded that, in the end, her room was actually the best, all considered.
Finally, they decided to start making their way towards the Fagiano hill. But it still took them some time to hit the road. Even when the three families got into their cars there was indecision on who would make the way, which car would go first, who would turn on the navigator…
In the end, Mr. Fiammelli, unwillingly, was chosen to lead.
Elena’s parents once again started with the litany of the greenness and of the views. This time, though, Elena was in her own world, her mind taken over by the image of the painting and her ears capable of blocking out her parents’ voices. After fifteen minutes, they turned onto a dirt road, welcomed by German shepherds that almost launched themselves under the Fiammelli’s Passat.
When she got out of the car, Elena realised that she wasn’t feeling well. Maybe it was the heat, the curvy roads, or the fact that she just didn’t want to be there. The rest of the group, on the other hand, seemed ecstatic, all three couples had energy coming out of every inch of their bodies and the kids already became friends.
“There should be other kids here too,” said Mrs. Galletta. Elena thought to herself, this is not just a conspiracy, it’s an actual nightmare.
In fact, right at the top of the hill, exactly where the only building around stood, were unmistakable traces of young children. In front of the large metal silos, that stood mostly in the shade, there were two bicycles, a ball and two dolls. Elena, wabbly legged and wondering if that place would be her condemnation or haven, couldn’t figure out what the building was, a wine cellar or a villa, a house, an office? Anyway, from behind it, transported by the wind, came loud voices of kids.
In fact, the wind came from the sea, at the end of the valley, and the vine leaves climbed up the support rods facing the Tyrrhenian Sea.
On the other side, the hill was protected and caressed.
Fagiano hill was situated in a strategic point, it was a land of sea and countryside, welcoming and cozy, open armed and warmly embracing. The two Fiammelli kids and Galletta’s son wandered towards the sounds of the other voices.
“Elena, we’re going to go to the tasting, would you mind keeping an eye on the kids?”
She minded terribly.
But didn’t have the time to say anything.
Behind the building, the vineyard descended towards the valley and a path led to a sort of tunnel in the woods. Elena made her way towards it, mostly to get away from all the voices. And suddenly she was wrapped in an intense, forest fragrance.
“Don’t go there!” yelled one of the kids who was already on the Fagiano hill. “It’s the Devil’s lair.”
In that precise moment, Elena felt something in the pit of her stomach, a sensation of freedom but also pain. She looked down at her shorts and then her head spun like crazy.
Right after that, a woman coming from the Devil’s lair ran to her rescue. She had long black hair and light eyes. She looked like a Fairy, Elena thought, although her white dress and her very fair complexion contrasted with the rubber gloves and boots that she was wearing. Elena was being carried in the arms of the woman, who had pulled her up and grabbed her arm. Her firm voice said, “If I give you a pair of shears and I come with you, will you lead the way for us?”
“The way to where?”
“To the lair.”
“Put me down. I’m not a little girl.”
The woman put her down and answered, “No, you no longer are a little girl. Which is why you have to follow me.”
So, Elena checked to see if her legs would hold her up. Her muscles were weak but still resilient. She had no doubts whether to follow the woman in the white dress and rubber boots or not. The woman made great use of the shears as she cut down branches and shrubs, opening up passages through the vegetation turning back, every once in a while, to check up on the young lady.
“We have to be careful of the boars.”
“In order to know if they’re coming, you have to feel the earth, not only listen to it, but feel it.”
Elena watched the woman almost slither away and bend down under a few pointy branches.
They suddenly reached the water and next to the stream, the woman pointed towards the girl’s shorts.
“But how will I get back?”
“I’ll take care of that.”
“Ok, she’s opening her eyes …” her father said. “Elena dear, you gave us a fright.”
Elena was lying on her bed in her room back at the B&B.
Her mother told her that they had found her, fainted, in one of the vineyards and that their tasting got interrupted by the other kids who started screaming. Obviously, it was the heat, the fatigue…
“And, you’re a woman now,” said her mother with a wink.
Now, when she felt better, she could join them in the cellar of the B&B. The infrastructure was connected to a tower and at the base of the tower there was a little dining room where the owner had moved the tasting, after Elena’s incident.
“I’ll join you later,” said Elena. “Just tell me how to get there.”
“We make Brumaio with Sangiovese grapes, that grow in the soil that faces the sea…”
That voice seemed vaguely familiar to Elena, as she slowly walked down the stairs that led to the dining room.
“We let it ferment naturally and then macerate for almost three weeks, then we leave it in the silos, that you saw before, for six to nine months, and then three months in bottles. You’ll notice a hint of red fruits, a floral touch of violets and sycamore and lots of minerals… Can you pick out that taste of earth?”
That is when Elena saw the owner of the B&B’s face, who was also the owner of the Pietramora estate.
The woman said hi and smiled at her. Elena was speechless.
“Are you feeling better?”
Elena’s father introduced them to each other. “This is our Elena, and she is Gaia. Gaia is explaining to us the characteristics of this wine, Brumaio.”
Elena sat down, looked at the table laden with wild boar cold cuts, cheeses and liver delicatessens. She was not hungry.
Gaia approached her.
“How is it going?”
Elena couldn’t believe it; this couldn’t be possible. It was the same woman dressed in white with the boots and the shears. She was the woman in that ever-so-real dream that she had had when she fainted.
“Everything alright, I think …”
“The Kodama is the best room you could have right now …”
“There’s a painting in there.”
“I painted it,” said Gaia.
“I don’t understand what it’s supposed to be. I was actually wondering what it was.”
Gaia grinned, “It represents a step we reach when we grow up,” she replied. “I think wine, earth but also blood are all true elements, that never lie. What you see is what you get. No need to fake anything.”
Elena smiled in turn. She looked at the Fiammelli and Galletta kids, in a daze in front of an iPad. She observed her parents, together with the other two traditional, and boring, and ritual, and bourgeois families and contemplated that she was now right in the middle, as if on a tight rope. She was no longer a little girl. This day, when she got her first period, projected her into the world of adults.
“Would you like a sip?” Gaia asked her. “Just so you can understand what I mean.”
She barely wet her lips with it. She didn’t like the taste but she understood what Gaia meant.
She had recognised that taste of earth, she had felt it, and in that flavour, she could sense an echo.
An echo that came from the Devil’s lair and made its way up the Fagiano hill, and then into the vats, and finally into the bottle. It was the echo of true flavour; one that hinted to her, “Elena, try to grow up to be true, sincere, not how others want you to be. Grow up like me…”
Gaia looked at her as if she too heard that echo.
She took the glass into her hands again and whispered to the girl, “We’ll meet again, in your next dream.”