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Dessert

Wednesday, March 31, 2010
Our guest blogger is Matthew Gavin Frank, the author of Barolo, a memoir about his illegal work in the Piemontese Italian food and wine industry. Recent work appears in The New Republic, Gastronomica, Creative Nonfiction, Best Food Writing 2006, and Best Travel Writing 20082009.
You can find out more about him at his website -- or just order a copy of Barolo here.


---

In Alba, Italy, rain and a market. In my hands, the white greased paper that once held an entire rotisserie rabbit. Its bones clack together as hooves, a horse in the distance. I clutch this paper coffin to my chest, as if for warmth, and scan the piazza for a garbage can. My hunt for refuse carries me into the covered pulse of the marketplace, and I have to blink to focus. Now unburdened by my desire to eat a whole animal, I am able to assimilate this lovely and special chaos. There are hundreds of vendors -- fruit stands, fish stands, meats and cheeses; rounds, bricks, entire civilizations of cheese, octopus, persimmon. I toss my trash in a can beneath a string of blood sausage.

"Hey! Hey!" I hear someone shout.

The voice opens like the lid of an ancient hope chest, rides its dusty remnants and long dead dreams on the rain. If I were to look inside this voice I'd expect to find centuries-old taxidermy, owls with shellacked eyes and sawdust in the feathers. I hear it again, this time in triplicate.

"Hey! Hey! Hey!"

I have no reason to think it's directed at me, but I turn to face a tiny knuckle of a man, dressed all in white, head so perfectly circular it could have been designed with a compass.

"Hey! Viene qua!" the frump calls from behind his fruit stand.

I turn and point behind me, my forehead certainly a mess of wrinkles. People cascade in circles, not one of them standing still. I turn back and touch my chest.

"Io?" I ask.

"Si, si," he creaks, "Tu."

I move forward and, as if stepping on a hidden button in the cobblestone, I activate this man to produce a baseball-sized fig from his fruit pile, bust it in half with his thumbs, and shove both bowled sides into his mouth at once. As if a magician waiting for applause, he, less than a second later, waves the cleaned purple fig skins at me as theatre curtains.

"Wow," is all I can muster.

He holds a fat palm open to me. I freeze into position. He turns and retrieves another intact fig, this one even larger. Again, with his cigar-stub fingers, he breaks the fruit in two, its swampy sweet cilia waving yellow at my nose like a sea anemone. Soon, his hands are in mine, wet with warm rain, rolling the fig halves into my drenched palms.

"Prego," he offers, but it could easily have been, "Abracadabra."

I want to match his magic, so I shove both halves into my mouth. The music of the fruit shrieks soprano with cherry and yeast, the texture of limp comb teeth. This is a fig to resurrect the dreams of a great-great-grandmother. This is a fig to make her a little girl again, stretch her hair from stiff gray to blonde braided pigtails. I think of the tango and pull the stripped skins from my mouth. The frump actually applauds, laughing.

"Bravo! Bravo!" he bellows.

I laugh knowingly with him, having shared in his secret bag of wizard's tricks.
I reach into my pocket, expecting a string of scarves, but produce only my wallet. When I flash a few coins, he shakes his head, a bowling ball on shoulders, and turns to help another customer, a middle-aged woman with a faux-snakeskin umbrella.

I feel large, and somehow filled-out, rounded, fat-handed, aged and neckless. This is a market without illusion. The magic here is real. Over the reptilian umbrella, I watch the man hoist a watermelon into the air.

---

This piece, excerpted from the memoir, Barolo, originally appeared in Brevity and was reprinted in Creative Nonfiction (The "Best of Brevity 2005" issue).

5 Comments:

Blogger karen said...

Bravo. When are you coming to Berkeley? Lots of foodies and lots of bookstores.

March 31, 2010 at 9:28 PM  
Blogger Gary Allen said...

I assume you're asking Matthew... he is going on a kind of book tour, but don't know if there are any west coast stops.

March 31, 2010 at 11:36 PM  
OpenID whisk-kid said...

This is so beautifully written. Amazing!

April 1, 2010 at 10:25 PM  
Blogger Gary Allen said...

No doubt about it, whisk-kid -- Matt can really write. You should check the other chapters at his publisher's site:

http://www.nebraskapress.unl.edu/product/Barolo,674189.aspx

April 2, 2010 at 8:06 AM  
Anonymous MGF said...

Thanks, everybody! I'm touring the Midwest and East Coast this summer, but would love to come out West in future.

April 2, 2010 at 11:04 AM  

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