Frank Macri

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"Quite Frankly... 'La Bella Figura'."
Quite Frankly...

I have the greatest respect for writers. In fact, I sometimes pretend to be one. Every time I see the possibility of an amusing story, my heart beats a little faster and my brain sorts through a list of superlative adjectives. If ever there was a time to be a writer, it's now! Particularly since I am supposed to have this article finished by the end of the day.

So, today's article is all about a time-honored aspect of life here in Italy – 'La Bella Figura'.

Roughly translated, it means 'being cool', putting your best foot forward and making a good impression.

When my charming wife, the ever-lovely Ora and I first moved to Italy, I thought making a good impression was highly overrated. I reasoned that if I appeared to be a slob, it would be a pleasant surprise for others if I were to dress up, use polite manners, and refrain from wiping my mouth on their tablecloths. I would get compliments, right? Apparently, I was (surprise, surprise), wrong.

You see, when God first started making humans, we were all pretty normal - you know, slobs.

There was Homo Habilis, called the "handy man" who had a small brain but could make and use tools. He often left the toilet seat up.

Then came Homo Erectus, with no chin and a protruding brow who was efficient at crushing beer cans and walking upright - although not while chewing gum.

Eventually, there were Homo Sapiens who had large enough brains, but were short and stocky with receding hairlines... my kind of people. All these early humans left their dirty socks on the floor, burped in public, and used long-handled spaghetti forks as a back scratchers. Sometimes, H. Sapiens even borrowed tools from "handy man" and would forget to return them. Luckily, these primitive versions were just for practice.

When God really got down to business, he started making Italians and 'La Bella Figura' became the essential philosophy it is today. But that's enough science. Let's just say that for normal slobs, 'La Bella Figura' can be a difficult concept to comprehend.

What else could we expect from a country that's been creating beauty for centuries? Beauty is revered in Italy, whether expressed grandly through art and architecture, or more simply by the perfect accessory, gorgeous handbag or the exact right wine for every situation. I have learned a lot about 'La Bella Figura'. For example, when Neptune is shown naked, blowing on a seashell and poking people with a sharp stick, it is considered 'art' and he is a 'god'. When you and I do it, we are considered 'drunk' and we are no longer welcome at the Trevi Fountain. Here's another example: Always open the car door for your wife... UNLESS you are on the autostrada doing 80 kilometers an hour. See what I mean?

So, how do YOU figure out 'La Bella Figura' - that fabled sense of Italian cool? Do not fear, for I shall be your guide, your mentor, your Dante, unveiling a way of life that has too much guile to be heaven and too much elegance to be hell. As so many things do in Italy, it all starts with wine. Here then, is my style guide to Italian wines. I have made 15 selections of the best wine and the amount you need to consume for every dilemma you will likely encounter while traveling in Italy.

1) How the hell did you learn to say THAT in Italian?
Lambrusco; 4 glasses
Italian is not an easy language to master, let alone a phrase that can intimidate a Neopolitan cabbie. To celebrate such an achievement you should uncork a spicy bottle of Lambrusco, a somewhat sweet, fizzy wine with delicious, grapey flavors. Dry and sparkling styles also exist in case you need to wash out your mouth.

2) Your teenage daughter tells you about her new Italian boyfriend, "BUT I LOVE HIM"
Amarone; minimum 2 bottles
Ah, young love. Your daughter may have met 'the one' in Bologna last week, but their plan to run away and raise sheep will not go very far. Do yourself a favor and sip a glass of liquid romance. It's a lusty, full bodied wine and its concentrated fruitiness suggests sweetness. Remember that you were once young and enjoy your wine with a rich cheese, the stinkier the better.

3) Map? I thought you had the map!
Barolo; 3 glasses
Produced from Nebbiolo grapes, it is full-bodied with hints of wild strawberry, chocolate, and vanilla. This is an excellent wine to have with pasta. So pull over and have some pasta while you get directions. You still won't know where the hell Roccamandolfi is, but what matters is the wine.

4) Reading this article on 'La Bella Figura'
Vino Nobile di Montepulciano; 2 glasses
Medium-bodied, dry, and lean, with red cherry flavor, similar to Chianti but slightly fuller. You deserve an extra glass if you pass this article along to a friend. Salute!

5) The World Series won't be broadcasted live in Italy
Chianti; 2 glasses
Chianti is produced in the heart of Tuscany in the center of Italy... nowhere near Chicago. But, Chianti Classico is considered by some to be the best of the Italian wines. It blends different grapes for a subtle, fruity taste of wild cherries and plums. Chianti is as soft and dry as a 2nd baseman's glove. It goes well with steaks, grilled meats and that barbeque sauce you would be having if you were at home watching the Cubs on TV. But hey, they'll do it again in another 75 years or so.

6) 12 towns; 10 days; 6 suitcases; 4 people; 1 Fiat 500?
Valpolicella; minimum 1 bottle
Medium-bodied wine. Dry, lean, and moderately tannic, with good cherry aromas and flavors. Single-vineyard wines are particularly good. Next time, maybe you too should think about fewer places, less people and reduced baggage.

7) I think that carabiniere is waving at you
Vernaccia di San Gimignano; 2 glasses (after the police interview)
The phrase, "we need to talk" is always a red flag, but imagine those words coming out of an Italian policeman's mouth. A full-bodied wine with a golden color, crisp taste and rich floral bouquet, this is one of Italy's oldest wines, once suited only for the tables of fine gentlemen, popes, and princes. Being a gentlemen, pope or prince may get you out of a ticket. Either way, you'll need a graceful and elegant wine after the conversation.

8) But I can't wait until 8 o'clock for dinner. I'm hungry now!
Montepulciano d'Abruzzo; 1 glass
Generally medium-bodied and flavorful with red fruits and a slightly vegetal notes, the lighter types are smooth and easy to drink before dinner. Take all the time you need to bask in this classic Italian wine. But don't spoil your appetite because the restaurant won't start serving until 8 o'clock.

9) I can't eat this. It's looking right at me
Verdicchio; 3 glasses
Dry, medium-bodied, crisp white with a slight mineral flavor and a sea-air freshness. It pairs beautifully with all 'frutti di mare' dishes and after just a few glasses, you can stare down any sea creature on your plate.

10) Our flight has been delayed
Frascati; 2 glasses
Dry, light-bodied, and un-oaked with crisp acidity and subdued flavor. Maybe start dreaming about staying here forever on the Mediterranean coast. Anything can happen. Make lemonade out of lemons... better yet, forget about lemons and just drink the wine.

11) Transportation strike? What transportation strike?
Barbaresco; 1 bottle
Similar to Barolo, but generally lighter in body and slightly more approachable. Goodbye travel, sightseeing, and dinner plans. Take the money you save and spend it on a bottle of Barbaresco and a pizza in the neighborhood.

12) Some guy on a scooter just pinched my butt
Barolo; 1 bottle
Speaking of butts, celebrate yours with this firm, dry, full-bodied wine. Its complex aromas and flavors of strawberries, herbs, and earth is best at around 20 years of age depending on the butt, I mean the producer. Like the guy on the scooter, it may blow you a kiss before it disappears.

13) No streets in Venice? Really? But I just rented a car!
Pinot Grigio; 3 glasses
Light-bodied, dry, and crisp, with subdued aromas and flavors and no oakiness. Made from Pinot Gris grapes in Northeastern Italy. However, no streets doesn't mean you get to sit around and do nothing. Take a walk, take a boat, but take a tangy Pinot Grigio and get sassy.

14) But my minivan will never fit through there
Salice Salentino; 1 glass
Dry, full-bodied with intense aromas and flavors of ripe, plummy, baked fruit, and rich, dense texture. Suitable with big, robust foods and the narrow, little streets of southern Italy. Leave the minivan parked.

15) The kids stayed with Grandma
Prosecco; 2 bottles
Italy's sparkling wine is weightless, lemony fresh, and bubbling with life... kinda like you were before the kids. It has a fresh taste and flavor and is an excellent wine for summer vacations with hints of citrus, melon, and almonds. Plus, when you call grandma and the kids, all those tiny bubbles help you get teary-eyes going. Tell them you miss them and will be counting down the moments until you get back to them. Ask grandma to give them a big hug. Once you hang up... pop some bottles. Don't even grab a glass. It's your party now. There you go. This article is complete. Hmmph... and you thought I wouldn't make the deadline.

I think I'll have a nice glass of wine.

How's that for Italian cool, huh?

Frank Macri
Articles: Bella Figura :  Bocce :  Change :  Coffee :  Drive Yourself Crazy :  Give me a break! :  Grazie Giving :  Homicide by Hospitality! :  My Very Best Italian :  Superstitions :  Surprise!

"Quite Frankly..." is written by Frank Macri
Frank is an award-winning advertising professional, now retired, from Denver, Colorado who is living the sweet life in southern Italy.

In addition to a successful career in advertising, he had stints as the owner of an old west saloon, a film and stage character actor, a certified Santa Claus and a university professor... all of which, he says, are 'remarkably similar'.

He now focuses on traveling, honing his skills as an Italian chef, and writing about Italy as he and his charming wife, the ever lovely Ora, renovate their home in beautiful Basilicata.

Their journey back to Italy started 100 years ago when their ancestors first arrived in the United States. Frank and his wife had dreamed of completing the circle of immigration by returning to their ancestral roots in southern Italy.

Their collective memories of the traditions, values and Italian lifestyle drew Frank and his wife back many, many times until they finally bought their house in Italy and moved there permanently.

In honor of the past, and in anticipation of the future, their lovely home is named, 'La Casa Cent'anni', (The Hundred Years House). 'Cent'anni' is also a celebratory toast of goodwill.

So, "Cent'anni" to you, and to us, and to the next 100 years!

Contact him directly at fmacri@abadvert.com or visit his FB page Frank Macri

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Telephone: +44 (0)203 178 4975
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