The Rabbit Debacle
(or Resurrection, All in Your Take on Life)
– Essay by Andrea “Red” Barnes –
I grew up in upstate New York in a beautiful white house set down in the middle of the woods. The driveway was so steep that the Dairylea Milk Man refused to deliver in snowstorms and would stick the bottles in the snow. If you wanted milk for breakfast you had better climb and fetch it. I was the youngest of six children. My two eldest brothers were serving in Vietnam. I was five when my brother Steve got drafted and sent to Cambodia. I wanted to be a horse when I was a child–impossible–so I became an actor who worked in the finest of the fine. To be an actor you have to pay bills, so I worked in the best restaurants in New York City. I was nicknamed Red in acting class because I was fiery and expressive. At work I was trained to be soignee, fancy and proper, selling Burgundy and Bordeaux in my twenties when all I drank was beer. Our clientele was the brightest of the bright, intellectually sound and wealthy. I did as I was told, and I was happy to have the money to attend class five days a week and go hard at night during service. Alison on Dominick was my home for seven years. They had rabbit on the menu. I never ate rabbit because I never lost my in-the-woods upbringing and rolling country hills. Rabbits, sheep, lamb and horses were my world. I was a simpleton but trained to be elegant, composed and responsible for guests’ preferences. They do not teach you this in school, but the greatest restauranteurs instill it in you, and it is all you know. DNA–do not ask– and never discuss who was in last night. Ethics and a code…Amen. I ate pizza and sherbert and had my first Black Bass at Le Cirque. Alison brought us to a lunch. She asked where we wanted to go, and I was always wanting to go to the most proper places. Sirio received us, Daniel cooked and gave us a kitchen tour…six girl’s jacked on Champagne in beautiful frocks and they were all smiling. I had no idea how special that moment in time was, but I certainly did dig the fancy and the smiles and the gracious reception. I did not know then that I would go on to be Italian but the experience sealed my destiny.
I went on to work at Chanterelle for nine years. Expeditor, back waiter, runner. I refused Captain position because I did not want to talk. I wanted to be the silent partner to my Captain. There was no hierarchy at Chanterelle–bohemians on the floor being run by two bohemian owners–a world filled with art and artists. Castelli, Johns, Rauschenberg, Twombly, Close, Sherman, all under a civilized roof. I.M. Pei, Philip Johnson, Gilbert Lecoze, David Bouley, Daniel Boulud, Alain Ducasse, Anna Wintour, Graydon Carter, Maguy Lecoze and every editor and museum head in town at lunch and private dinners. I was treated like a golden child for nine years and Roger Dagorn would saber champagne on everyone’s birthday, pastry would make you a cake, and I thought this to be normal fare. In the Waltuck’s world this was normal. David’s philosophy was that “bitterness gets in the soup,” and it all starts at the top. So they respected their guests who were artists and their staff who were artists. I booked and shot Kate and Leopold in 2001. I took care of Kate Whitney and Jasper Johns who smiled so sweetly that weekend and attended my wrap party for Kate and Leopold in Battery Park City. It was a lovely weekend. At the wrap party Hugh Jackman said he felt I would be quite pleased with the footage. I wrote to my eldest brother Eric about it, and he sent me back an image of the Bronze Ballantine Ale by Jasper Johns. I thought it was cool.
I was watching the opening episode of Six Feet Under on Sunday evening when the phone rang. My brother had been in a car accident in Pasadena; they said he would be home in a week. My brother Neil flew my Mother and I out to Pasadena and we entered the ICU. He asked my Mother why she was there, she said “to take care of you,” he said “oh what a sweetheart.” Seventeen hours later he was dead from too many internal injuries. He always said to me “when your times up ya gotta go.” He believed what he said. He left a four and a six year old, and I was never the same. I moved to Los Angeles to be around the children and opened The Viceroy Hotel. I was a stranger in a strange land and Cali, which I had formerly loved, had become a constant sorrow for me. My solace was driving and gardening. Karen and David Waltuck paid for my insurance for three months to look after me. I will never forget their kindness. Hip Hop, Big Boy in the Morning and Chez Jay saved my life out there. Music is the antidote and all healing for me. My Brother gave me a bottle of Coppola Pinot Noir as a gift at Easter before he passed to document my film success with James Mangold. He taught me to drink wine with dinner, and I slowly learned that there was more to life than Corona and Tequila. His elegance was a marker for me in my life, and I remember every gesture and every introduction to fine food and wine from him, and I stored it all away in hopes of attaining that sort of life. Peaceful, home, calm, in the moment. John Frederic Barnes aka Eric. I can not convey to you the calm and the sweetness that my Father possessed in a shy manner–but all those qualities–combined with a fierce intellect and a soft patient delivery of words. That was Eric–my father and mother’s golden child. I made it a year a month and five days in Los Angeles before I needed to go home. I drove home in five days with my dog from the Pasadena Shelter named Strummer, and I healed when I drove through Utah and Arizona blasting Bruce Springsteen’s “Come on up for the Rising, come on up put your hand in mine.” Red Rocks and burnt orange sun guiding me home.
I took a job at Babbo with the help from Karen and David Waltuck. I met David Lynch, writer of Vino Italiano, and my whole life turned upside down. I no longer spoke or was shiny and bright. I was stoic, cautious, superstitious and had buried my personality and artist under a mountain of Corona, ice cream and potato chips. I watched, witnessed and said very little. If I did respond it was littered with hip hop vernacular and Big Boy in the morning speak. Hip Hop had saved my life out there and I took care of Dr. Dre and his wife–treated them to a bottle of champers in a cabana and my life was made. He said “It’s like that?” I stood perfectly still at attention and said “It’s like that,” and did the wine service. I said nothing else. One of the last things I asked my Brother Eric was “What does LBC mean?” He replied in a slow long sentence Long Beach Compton. When he moved to Los Angeles it was where he settled–Long Beach, school and a new life. I started retaining all information regarding Italian wine and culture and started raising my hand to give an answer. I went from drowning in sorrow to rising and a will to live again and perhaps act and sing again. Lynch asked me why I spoke like I was from Compton when I was from Troy, New York, and he started calling me Dr. Dre. I never responded but I would not have survived Cali without Cube and Nate Dogg. I booked Law and Order and I shot with Ice T. You can’t make that shit up. I was quiet on set and kept my eyeline to myself. I got it in one take and the crew beamed at me. I don’t play: method, real, no bullshit and no talking on set. Babbo was three seatings, wine pairings, running, crushing, praying you did not get called to the kitchen, and lucrative. Your first day off you could not do anything but sit on the couch and drink Cannonau with pizza and watch The Sopranos. I lived above Giorgio Deluca’s restaurant Giorgione and I imbibed Italian culture morning noon and night. I would go down and take Roasted Peaches to go with Mascarpone and eat them in peace and silence. Georgio and Joel Dean were regulars at Chanterelle and he treated me like his child. It was needed, and I cherished his words and instruction. Jody Williams was the chef, and she originally thought I was kitchen staff. She told me to take the job at Babbo. She advised that it would change my life. I went on to do as I was told by my superiors at Babbo and then they moved me over to Del Posto. They wanted soignee and well, there you have it.
I was a captain who always wanted to do wine service and my wine directors let me. Other captains would complain if they had to do wine service, but I loved the conversation with the guest and the food pairing. It made me happy and Henry Davar, my wine director, graciously allowed me to always get involved. He treated me with great respect which cemented me wanting to move to wine full time. I lit a DOCG tag on fire one night as I was decanting it and he smashed it out with his serviette. I was laughing so hard I could barely breathe and his sense of propriety fed me. Years later he told me if anyone else had done that he would have killed them but it was me. I beamed. I dreamed of Italy, I swore in Italian and I only ate Italian food and drank Italian wine. I was like that kooky kid in Breaking Away yelling “Ciao Mama and Papa” and dreaming of Piemonte and Lombardia. I hung out at Fortunato and drank Amaro and downed gelato and prayed one day I would see these places. In October of 2010 Sam Sifton awarded Del Posto Four Stars. An Italian had not received Four Stars in 36 years from The New York Times. They gathered everyone in the entryway to read the review. Mario walked by me and asked, “What do you think Red?” I nodded, tears coming down my face. There was so much blood on the tracks; all my pals I started out there with were gone. The fruition had arrived but I no longer had my colleagues who helped get it to that place. Chef Ladner and Sam Sifton gave me the belief that I was in the right place at the right time and my talents were appreciated by their return guests. It is an art form to look after people in a proper manner. I was old world, OG and furthermore never shut off my feelings because I needed them to act. I did not book any acting work during that last year. I was too strict, too stand-in-line and execute orders. After I left Del Posto I lost all the rigidity in my body and the stick straight posture I held. I was looking for wilder more bohemian pastures and I set out to find them. I started booking work upon leaving. It was as if my soul was shining through again, and I did not need to be so neat and tidy. I wanted to be a Cinghiale in the Umbrian hills and live and run!
A wine restaurant person is something I am, something I became. Something I work hard at, requires stamina, hurt feelings sometimes from an upset guest and flexibility to go to my castings. An Actor is something I am and requires no hard work; it is the essence of me since I came out of the womb. I told my Mother I wanted to be a social worker, she replied, “over my dead body,” as she worked in Social Services for the state of New York. She informed me I was too sensitive and would have to go back to school for a second degree. She told me I would not be able to separate from the client. I then informed her I wanted to be an actor. She and my Father drove me to private acting lessons and paid for me to go to Emerson in Boston. I learned how to skateboard and drink beer there, not much else. My future was waiting for me in New York…Lee Strasberg and method acting. My parents were working class and hard working, always doling out the dream machine for me. I became an actor because of Sidney Lumet and Serpico. I started early bowing down to the masters. I got lost in the rabbit hole of restaurants. I take and took refuge in the structure and knowing who I was with and that I have to maintain the discipline at work because I am not disciplined in my life. Restaurants offer you safety, Brothers and Sisters who have your back at work and bosses who go on to become mentors and chefs who feed you when you are too thin when your brother Paul gets diagnosed with cancer and is given three months. Wine Directors who ply you with Franciacorta before you get on a bus to go home to walk into Hospice when you are afraid and don’t want your brother to die. I am a bohemian who procrastinates and is sometimes filled with fear about taking the next step, the next move or set full time. The Bosses push you to be your best self. To rise above. “Come on up for the rising.”–B Springsteen.
I landed at Sessanta to be a Somm and I ended up being a wine sherpa and wine director co-writing the list and choosing the wines with the managing partner Steven Eckler, who knew way more than me but respected my palate. He was ex-Lever House and 11 Mad G.M. and was supremely calm and intellectually superior. In between telling me I had no palate because I rejected his natural wine fixation he would beam to a guest and say “her palate is so elegant.” All of that can be traced back to Roger Dagorn who shared everything with us, and going to Raoul’s after work where the staff always educated me. One night Martin the lovely Maitre D who is now in heaven offered me a taste of Corton Charlemagne. He waited for my reaction. I said it tastes like Evian with alcohol. He stared a compassionate stare and went about spoiling me and the rest of the regulars. I was right that I would later go on to fall in love with pristine white burgundy and buy it on saturdays from Le Du wines just to mop the floor and listen to music. Burgundy can get you into trouble financially but what it tastes like can only be spoken about to close friends as it is racy and explicit. Just think bliss, and you get it.
Two months into the job Natalie Tapken, the Wine D of Lure, called me and said, “Dre do you remember I said I would get you to Italy.” Well, sooner than later. She worked her magic and came to work that afternoon and walked up to me and said “you are going.” I began to cry and the boss Eckler asked, “is she crying? Oh God she will cry through the whole trip.” I then backpedaled and said I don’t need to go. I can stay here. My Boss said, “you are afraid? Well you can be killed here walking across the street.” I told myself the same. Do not entertain panic attacks or anxiety or the fear of the unknown. You must move past this fear otherwise you will be stuck forever in your superstition and fear of death. Go Dre, go to the promised land. You are Italian in your mind anyway, see what all the places on Instagram really look like. Start living in every direction. LIVE…Dolce Vita…Troppo Bello! The trip was with a wine company and included Lazio, Sicily, Salina, Mount Etna, Napoli, Campania and Ischia. I had always thought it would be Piemonte and Lombardia first. I had no idea the south was about to crack my heart wide open and return me to my spiritual center. When I arrived I did not feel like a stranger, I felt I was home, at ease, and fell in love with the kindness of the farmers and the winemakers. It had nothing to do with the pretension that you can sometimes encounter in New York with wine people. It was nature, humility and unbridled love for family and generation after generation of tradition handed down. I was home and Grad School was in session with all the gelato I ever dreamed of. Dr. Dre is in the house that God built…Italy! Buongiorno Amore come stai.
We arrived in Palermo and I stared at the huge rocks jutting out of the land. I was stunned and silent. We began the ascent upward to drive to Marsala on the other side of the island. I kept staring at the rock mountains and thinking Michael Corleone my God this is where you were hiding out. This is where you are walking with your cap and your black eye and your beautiful quiet soul with the white handkerchief pressed in your hand. I was in awe staring in silence and grateful for Coppola and Strasberg who gave me the most soulful actor, and I was now going to walk the same places. Barreling past Trapani I saw the salt flats and said man the salt you got on Graham Avenue in Brooklyn is right here under a pristine windmill standing in the hazy sun. Everything I read or studied for a verbal quiz in line up before service was real and not just some regurgitated fact. It was beautiful: the microclimate of limes, lemons, olives, grapes and caper berries made you realize why the Greeks and the Italians are so perfect. They all support each other and the simplistic beauty makes your heart sing as you gaze at the Tyrrhenian Sea going seventy five miles an hour with London Calling blaring. Ah yes, the Greek ruins on top of the hills lit at night, and my brain is wracked by who the hell got the stones up there. Viewing the sign for Enna and wishing you could stop as I ate Piacentinu di Enna every night after service at Sessanta: sheep’s milk, saffron, black pepper and salt. The perfect cheese, when you are starving, and a glass of champers. We climbed Mount Etna and I shot a video of the moon like lava and sang “Walking on the Moon” by The Police. I ate Eggplant Rollatini that blew my mind in Salina. Nino Caravaglio, a winemaker from Salina, packed me a whole tin to take on the ferry to Naples. He is the unofficial Mayor of Salina and makes a sick passito from his golden Malvasia and a savory coastal Bianco as well. Quaffable and easy just like Nino. Take a lesson from him: give love and be happy in this moment in time. I took a picture of the perfect grape in his Vineyard between my thumb and index finger…perfect chin mudra with grape and wrote “Golden Years” D. Bowie under the picture, not knowing the future or that he would pass.
It was the first days of harvest and the crew was working overtime. I have always wanted to do harvest…turns out it is back breaking work and having to lift baskets that weigh more than I can lift. Boats, ferries, the life aquatic was for me after all. If I stayed in New York with the fear I would never have discovered this. Break on through. It was all stellar and all groovy but nothing could prepare my mind or heart or psyche for Ischia and rabbit culture. I had stared at a postcard of Ischia on the wall at Fortunato on Devoe Street for years when I scored my gelato and espresso. I would ask where is this place. We boarded another ferry from Napoli after scoring pastry and a perfect espresso and set sail for the “sickest chick in the game” Ischia. Look Out! Italy systematically ancient, perfect and filled with compassionate hilarious souls who look at you the American like a friend and a member of the family even though you only stepped foot into their vineyard. Grace and Gratitude. I kept thinking I would feel like a stranger in a strange land. It was the opposite, my heart and soul knew I was home. Content, at ease and documenting the beauty with my iPhone and my mind which records everything in an emotional manner for the rest of my days.
We arrived in Ischia (Porto) in the afternoon. The buildings were pale yellow, soft pink and pale, pale mint green. I started smiling and chose the house I could see from the ferry and said I want to live there. We were met by Giuseppe Mattera who managed the D’Ambra Vineyard, and he drove us upward to our hotel. We arrived in a small square with cobblestone streets and a lemon souffle hotel called Terme Manzi on the left. I looked at it and prayed, please God let me stay in a hotel like that one day. Then Giuseppe guided us into that hotel. I was smiling and grinning like a maniac. I dressed for dinner in a long evening dress, slicked my hair back and painted my lips red. I walked to the bar to meet my colleagues to go to dinner. The front desk smiled at me and I took a seat at the bar. The bartenders were dressed in impeccable suits and were beyond dashing. The joint was Relais & Chateaux and they were not playing. I ordered a glass of Franciacorta and they served me five different assaggi or “little tastes” on beautiful tiny china; I smiled. Negronis were ordered and they brought the cart to the guest and made it in front of them. I stared incredulously. I was like Bladerunner documenting everything visually and spiritually. Everything I had seen in service we have stolen from these people. The flare and the lack of pretense was staggering. They were crushing everyone I know in their style and acumen, and had no ego. Just warmth and finesse. Take mental notes Dre! We walked through the downtown to a restaurant out on the concrete pier to meet the D’Ambra family whose vineyard we would visit the next morning. Sara d’Ambra the daughter was funny, charming and a bit like a silent film comedienne–all feelings communicated through her face and her humor spilling out of her physically. She had gone to Oenology school in Rome and returned back home after harvest in Australia to help with her family’s harvest. I was in awe that even though she grew up like this she is still a student and went halfway around the world to learn a different harvest. HUMILITY! The Restaurant presented the fish to her father Andrea for approval and we drank Casa d’ Ambra Biancolella as the waves crashed into the bridge which led to Aragonese Castle with the lights twinkling at me and for me. Positively Shakespearean and worth the price of admission just to stare at from afar. The kids drank Ischia Sapori Rucolino Amaro made from Arugula and perfectly iced. I was the oldest one on the tour. My colleagues who I call kids knew more than me about wine and travel. They go hard these wine kids. As I sat there and took it all in I felt so grateful, it was so cinematic and so old world that the bohemian artist in me was breathing easy. It was romantic, civilized, peaceful and the ocean crashing into the pier soothed me. Physically I was at the table…mentally I was imbibing every view for my muscle memory as an actor. I left the Ruccola alone; with age you learn to leave the Amaro alone after wine. I reserve it for stand alone drinking–stomach ache cure only scenario. Heaven is a place and I found it. We strolled home and Giuseppe sang a beautiful opera song, his voice was extraordinary and it echoed through the streets and we cheered, retired to our Lemon Souffle Hotel and I slept like a lamb.
The next morning we arrived to the Frassitelli Vineyard which is all Tufo, gray green soil and perched atop a mountain. The stone comes from Volcano and is supremely pleasing to the eye, especially for one who buys crystals and rocks every two seconds. Steep is an understatement at Frassitelli. It is dizzying and makes you want to stand back from the ledge, stomach sinking oh shit, death type thoughts. Vines terraced and clinging above the sea in perfect formation. My Colleague Patrick from Colicchio and Sons held back just staring and imbibing the perfection. He went to wait for me and I said no go I want to do something. I shot the vineyard and sang Drake’s “Just hold on I’m coming home, It’s hard to do these things alone” and ended with the sea and my pronouncement of my spiritual center Ischia. I sing when I am happy, sad, in need of solace or when I am moved by a scenario. This Seascape is a scenario.
The Cave was built by Sara’s Grandfather and it was ancient and cool. Four Generations of winemakers share this land and this tradition and this home. In Ischia rabbit is a delicacy and a dish steeped in history. Rabbit was for lunch and I was about to find my core self in a cave with sophisticated folks who did not know me from a hole in the head or that I did not eat rabbit. Country child from the woods who calls people Little Rabbit as a term of affection is about to transcend her tiny myopic world and live to see another day.
At the morning tasting with Giuseppe they showed me a book of photographs with movie stars drinking D’Ambra wine. I thought it was mad cool because it was Sofia Loren, David Niven, Jack Lemmon and Marcello Mastrianni. The photos were so beautiful so untouched. They were taken while the folks were in Ischia on holiday or making a film. My people, my Tribe. The leader of the trip told me they showed them to me because he told them I was an actor. They showed us a letter from Visconti that gave his notes about how their label should look aesthetically. They received permission to use the shape of the Dom Perignon label as long as they agreed to never make sparkling wine. They had a secret in the D’Ambra household, a man named Mario D’Ambra. He was chic, well loved, well dressed and met Monsieur Chandon in a cafe in Naples and received permission for the label. His friendship with Visconti sealed the deal. Super soignee movie star elegance and old world finesse. Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor shot Cleopatra there and drank Biancolella as did Matt Damon while filming The Talented Mr. Ripley. I watched Becket 25 times growing up, and here I am standing on sacred soil where Burton stood. Joe Campbell, my guide to transcendence, being on the beam, following your bliss, and me soaking culture. Yes, I was in a winery but I was receiving UCLA Film School Master Class! We finished our tasting and headed into the cave for lunch. I would never be the same. Life comes for you whether you are ready or not!
Congilio or Rabbit was for lunch and Andrea D’Ambra had just returned to Ischia after a hunting trip. The two cooks looked like Jackie Onassis and Lee Radziwill. Glamourous and hip. White jeans and they looked like a photo shoot from the 70’s. Elegance. I was taking mental notes and pictures and admiring the kitchen inside the cave. A professional set up to dole out beauty to visitors. I would like to live here I thought, in this beauty of cave. We sat down for lunch and the courses started rolling out! I do not eat a lot except for gelato, sorbetti, cake, pizza, mashed potatoes, frite, formaggi, Grand Marnier souffle and ravioli, so I was doing my best to pass plates to my new pal Patrick from Colicchio and Sons. He was a tall lovely fellow who could eat. This way it looks like I did not waste food. Lapsed Catholic in a cave passing food just like in high school–all girls Catholic school. Dynamics: they come and they come until you address them and face them. Buon Appetito.
I cannot remember the first or second course that was served because all I can remember is the Rabbit or Coniglio. I was focused on drinking the Ischia Bianco when the rabbit was served on large platters. Traditionally it should be eaten with your hands and so everyone followed suit. They all picked it up and started eating it. I started staring at the ceiling of the cave and started breathing in the best way I knew how. I could hear the happiness in the silence and the smacking of lips. Silence always means happiness at a dinner table unless it’s your Irish Catholic Family after an intense discussion. Then silence is not so bueno. I told myself, Dre think of clouds and lakes and happy thoughts. Ridiculous because right outside the door was the Mare and the Soleil of all Seas and Suns. I told myself please don’t think of the furry brown little fuzzy rabbit or the Easter bunnies or the Peter Cottontail’s or the Beatrix Potter Bunny China your Mother used to give as christening presents, please don’t. This course will be quick. Happiness takes time though,and the silence and the sound of coniglio was getting louder and louder inside my head. I stared further into the ceiling and said inside my head to said self “UH oh…I believe I am going to go down” or something similar to that. I became light headed and stopped breathing all the while staring at the pristine ceiling. I heard a voice, “Are you alright?” I came back to reality and shook my head no slowly and methodically like a 6 year old. I heard, “well go outside then.” I made a break for the door and ran to the restroom in another beautiful cave and splashed my face with cold water. I talked myself down and said you are o.k. You are not going to be ill just calm down all is well. I made my way back past the cave to sit down under the trellis which looked over the sea aka heaven. The leader of the trip was standing before me. He asked if I was o.k. I said I could feel it. He said, “you didn’t eat it how could you feel it?” He was not pleased with me and sure embarrassed about my behavior. I stood still and said “I felt it sensorily, I did not have to eat it.” I was indicating to my left arm where I felt it and where all muscle memory resides for me. He returned inside. The beautiful cooks my Jackie and Lee Sister cooks called out to me “we are making you pasta it is ok.” I shook my head rigorously NO, No pasta, no food no pasta. Then Guiseppe appeared. He asked tenderly are you o.k.? I said, “yes, you know Method Acting?” He stared. I said “Lee Strasberg? Method Acting?” I said, “Well you feel everything. You don’t just pretend. You feel.” He nodded his head yes and he understood me. I went and sat down on a wooden table under the trellis and stared at the Sea and regained my composure. It was the best view I have ever seen and lulled me back to reality and back to nature. My composure returned and I kept breathing and soaking the sea, the healer of all healers.
Dessert was served, a lemon cheesecake made in a large black skillet and straight out of the oven. I ate two pieces and wanted a third but held off. I like lemon more than any other dessert in the world and this was first class heaven ass kicking rustic cheesecake. The beautiful cooks slammed all comers with that dessert. The one cook who I refer to as Lee Radziwill came out of the cave. She spoke Italian and then English… “con Al Pacino?” I nodded; yes, I did a film with Al Pacino called The Humbling. Giuseppe had explained everything to them and they understood I was an actor. I pulled out a bottle of oil that one of my Yoga Teachers makes called “turn it up”—all essential oils including Bitter Orange. I put it on when I feel nervous or scared or afraid of a car accident and it calms me and makes me happy. I put some on Sara D’Ambra’s wrist and Giuseppe. I said it is from from Brooklyn, wishing I could speak Italian. The tour leader smiled and said “Va Bene.” They smiled. Andrea D’Ambra had a lot on his mind. The first day of harvest. So much at stake. I took a picture of his chair outside the de-stemming room because it had all the vintages going back in time written in black sharpie on the wooden arms. The best vintages had asterisks next to them. After, they told me he was laughing because I took a photo. The thing is you have to write that stuff down. I am forever asking when was the heat wave in Italy when the crop’s decimated? When was the hail storm in Italy which destroyed another whole harvest? Weather makes a vintage and a vintage makes a vineyard, pays the bills and perhaps wins Gambero Rosso Tres Bicchieri awards and drives more business their way. I pressed play on my iPhone and played my video of the vineyard with me singing Drake and showed it to Sara. Her face did a comedic joyful Charlie Chaplin, and she implored me to put it to her Father’s ear so he could hear. His face reacted as well, me, my heart and soul singing in their vineyard. It is a funny thing to go halfway around the world and to be understood to be an artist and an actor by a Winemaker and his Daughter. If that is what it took, then Amen and Thank You Wine Gods for giving me back to myself with so much redemption. I am not just a wine Sherpa I am an Actor. Ischia gave me my stamp of approval on my head to go forward to return to my true self. D’Ambra Vineyard gave me a silent redirect…Be You. You are an Actor and we like actors here in Ischia.
We returned to Terme Manzi my lemon heaven, and I went for a swim in the heated salt pool with a huge statue of Neptune built in the pool. The sea is a healer and salt one of the best healers of all. I was very hungry after wine and pie and they were going to a Pizzeria up the mountain. I hesitated thinking I cannot face another dinner table. The thought of pizza lured me to say yes and not stay held up in my room. I drove with Sara as she was a good driver and so serious in one way and so fun in another. I could not imagine the pressure on her shoulders and hosting a bunch of strangers with so much grace. We arrived to Verace Pizza a Napoletana style pizza shop and a man named Pasquale Parziale was the Pizzaiolo. Our table was right by his station. The lighting was excruciating, all bright and electric white. I need a dimmer and a candle, kid. Oh MY! The beer was served and white wine in a glass carafe. Everyone was eating and I started eating my pizza…I smiled, looked over at Pasquale who was staring and waiting for my reaction. I nodded gave my approval, a hand signal for delicious and a smile to assure him he had the skills. All the pizza was gone and I asked Guiseppe can I have another pie? He ordered another one for me, and I was so happy. I went to thank Pasquale and something in him knew something in me was a pizza nut. He took a picture with me and then took off his Caputo flour apron and Caputo flour cap and presented it to me. I put it on and tied my apron in the proper manner low and tight. I was goofing around with him making muscle moves and kooky faces and everyone was laughing. I was finally free and in my element in a pizza shop. I had recovered from the Rabbit and I lived to see another day. I packed the apron and the cap and admired the talisman of a life well spent bestowed upon me to take home to America.
My last day in Italy I spent on the beach somewhere in Lazio at the Mediterranean. I put a silk cream and chocolate brown cravat on my head just like Sofia with a mocha ruffled one piece swimsuit and dunked my crystals I had brought with me in the water to bring home the energy of this place. I sat reading a book called Frequency by Penney Peirce and imbibing her stories about finding one’s own home frequency. I found my home frequency in Ischia. I did not have to pretend to be a proper wine person. I merely had to be me Red/Dre/Andrea Barnes. A person who loves wine and likes to hear good stories about culture and tradition. The relationships between the winemakers and their children are moving to me because I miss my family and my Father. To be able to have a conversation or take in a sunset or have to go through harvest with your family would be a dream. When you are missing people in your family in a physical manner it makes you admire the dynamics in other families and it makes you smile. It also makes you humble to see how you are welcomed and treated.
The flight home was spent in darkness. Most of my colleagues were asleep as they went hard the night before the flight. Rule of age: never board a plane hungover or anxiety will come for you. I was fresh as the Ionian Sea all clear and content. My crystals were in my pocket and my Italian Coins were stowed away. I knew I would carry them during service for good luck when I returned home. The Godfather was the movie on Alitalia, and I began watching it again. I ordered a glass of white wine and settled in. The scene came on where Brando passed away in the orange grove while he is playing with his grandson. The tears started pouring down my face. I was sobbing but there was no sound. Silent sobbing. How many times had I watched that scene and now all I could think of was what Vito Corleone had left behind in Italy as a young boy with no family to protect him. The reality of his world: the nature, the citrus, the microclimate, the trellis in his yard were all direct moves to recreate what he had lost coming to America. I in return had gained everything by transcending my fear of moving outside my rain man box and meeting Italy after so many years of books. I carry that place inside of me as an expression of perfection and simplicity. Grazie Mille Ischia. To Italy and your people I bow to you interiorly and exteriorly. I carry you in my soul everyday, I thank you for the healing, the sea, the salt, the wine, the beauty, and for understanding me. “Come on up for the rising.” -B Springsteen…I rose.
Andrea Barnes known as “Red” in the Art and Restaurant world is a writer, actor and singer. She wrote The Rabbit Debacle after trying to hide the fact that she was an actor and a creative on a wine trip through Southern Italy. Andrea can be seen in The Humbling with Al Pacino and The Drowning with Josh Charles. A character Actor who has finally reached the proper age to play Doctors and Nurses. Red dreams of being on set full time while doling out the love through wine and food. Writing is a form of healing and the kitchen table is her Zen Garden. Sandra Seacat her acting teacher gave her the command to write her own work and ultimately it led to performances at Joe’s Pub and The Westbeth Theatre Center. She remembers the day she stood in The Whitney museum staring at Jack Kerouac’s manuscript for On the Road. Inside the glass case sat the key to her freedom to freestyle and ultimately find her own voice. God Bless the Beatniks.