Colle delle 100 Bottiglie

di Silvia Seracini  ♦

Life brushed us
Yet the King of the World
Keeps our hearts enchained
(“The king of the world”, a song by Franco Battiato)

His father celebrated buying the vineyard on the very day of his eighth birthday. They had dinner under the pergola in a star-sprinkled evening, warmed by drinking and laughter.
He always thought that vineyard was his, both for fun and because of a few coincidences. Like some sort of birthday present.
Truth is his present was actually a box with a hundred colour markers. He had wanted those since he first saw them in the window of the best stationery shop in Lucca.
And right after opening the box something magical happened: a merlo, Italian for blackbird, appeared in the rows, with a grape in its beak.
His father had told him that the name Merlot came from that very animal’s predilection for that grape. That is how he learned the importance of names.
That summer, on the very last night, he lied awake trying to impress in his album the gorgeous image of the bird catching the fruit in mid-flight. Before the memory faded.

Was that going to be the best autumn of his life? The smell of alcohol when uncapping his markers and of chestnuts roasting had been the pinnacle of his childhood happiness.
In the field, the farmer laid down his spade and began cleaning ditches and drains.
Maria appeared where the blackbird had taken off.
What’s your name?” he asked her.
Maria”. That name brushed against him.
They would draw at night as the wine rested in the cellar.
They had created an illustrated dictionary of words related to their work in the field:

A for Agriculture, Amphora, Acorn
B for Bells, Bonfire, Barn
C for Cuttings, Crop, Clay

Can’t you see there are blank spaces here? You made a mess!”. The girl was mocking him because he could not colour as well as her. Maria’s drawings looked like actual prints: you would get lost in them, in the meticulous workings of her small hands.
That had been the rainiest autumn of the century.
He adored those bicycle rides home, pressing his boots on the pedals to escape the storm.
All of this to go drawing with Maria.

D for Demijohn, Drupe

This is not worth it for a mere twenty-four demijohns of wine. It’s a waste of money”.
His father’s trial verdict without appeal made his blood run cold. It was starting to snow outside, but that first day of winter hadn’t been the greatest.
The first thing he wanted to forget once awake were those burning tears, it was that very sensation that had kept him from bursting out crying in front of him. He was no longer a child.
He would remember that season for staring outside frosted windows, at vine lines uselessly pruned. Half-smiles that were as tense as the wires connecting posts. The painful sprouts of becoming an adult, silently imploding after each deferential step on the San Concordio di Moriano cemetery stairs.
Bad years followed.
Who knows where the colours had gone after that last moving, trying to find some peace that would not find him.
Maria stopped appearing in his dreams without warning, or he simply had not grasped it.
If he had known that was the last time, he would have held her like a willow branch hugs the vines.
Without her, the dictionary work was stuck.

E for Ecosystem
F for Fence
G for Grape
I for…

When he had asked him to help him sketch an insect, he realized his father could not draw.

It happened again.
He woke up drenched in sweat. He ran to the bathroom to check the colour of his face.
No, it was not gray.
That nightmare had haunted him for months.
Do you remember how nice it was when we played here?”.
Maria turned facing what was left of their vineyard. The spring breeze moved something between her shoulders, as she bent down to uproot a clump of dockweed.
Something burrowed inside his soul: the wish that no one would notice how beautiful she was.
He felt like a man, wanting to protect her, even from himself. He hated his father, unable to understand that nature may be for sale, but can never be sold.
A roar in the sky drew a trail through yielding clouds.
The engine of an airplane is complex”, he said while helping her with weeds.
The engine of an airplane has many parts, so it’s complicated. But, it’s not complex, because it doesn’t change over time”, Maria arrogantly replied.
He felt ashamed.
Complexity is for living things”, she added as she ran the back of her hand on her forehead.
Then love is complex”, he deduced, triumphantly.
Wrong. Love is the simplest thing there is”.
He found his markers abandoned in an old drawer. But not the gray one: Maria made it disappear.

L for Loam, Land, Lymph
M for Machinery, Medows
N for Night, Nut, Nest
O for Oidium, Olive

That night he sang before falling asleep.
When he shut his eyes, the smell of the sea came to him.

The last bottles left refining in the cellar reminded him of what had been. But now he could see the space for new ones to come.
Sweat nourished his smiles in the sun while he tirelessly devoted himself to peeling and lacing branches ends.
The following time he dreamed of Maria, she had become a young woman. Her skin as shiny as the Buriano1 peel, her eyes as clear as vine leaves at dawn.
She was playing with heart-shaped grape leaves, weaving sumptuous cloaks to cover her unripe body.
In those days he felt abashed by all those pulsating colours in the arcing light, hanging between hills like fresh laundry.

P for Pollen, Pollone, Parasite
R for Root, Rake, Rust
S for Seed, Sun, Scarecrow
T for Taproot, Tractor, Time

The smell of her hair, of oak and chestnut was still lingering in his breath when he awoke from the dream. His face flushed and his heart glued to that drawing, he feared to lose himself in the volatile fate of raw first love.
Incredibly inexperienced, he forgot that love forever remains innocent.
What can I give you that another won’t miss?”
Give me your drawing”. Maria showed no hesitation.

U for Utensil
V for Vintage
Z for Zinc

He coloured and coloured, moving the sheet closer and farther, and finally figured it out.
He had held that vineyard inside the folds of his soul for his entire life.


1. The Buriano is an historical white berried grape, with an almost transparent skin. Currently, it does not appear to be ampelographically classified.