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Thursday, March 15, 2007

031: Contessa

Today is the twenty-fifth anniversary of the opening of an Ann Arbor legend: Zingerman's Deli. In my opinion, best damn deli on the planet. A haven for artisanal foods, where your mind reels at the thought of paying fifteen dollars for a stinkin' sandwich, no matter how huge, and then you take a bite and it's suddenly fifteen dollars well spent because you have never in your life tasted a sandwich like that. They care about the food they sell more than any restaurant or grocer I've ever seen, and their guiding light and co-founder Ari Weinzweig is a gifted writer who makes you feel the love his subjects have for the food they create.

About twelve years ago, the Zingerman's newsletter printed an article by Ari about the Italian producer of olive oils and vinegars, Marina Colonna, and her uphill struggle to bring traditionally-made oil back to Molise. In this article, I heard echoes of another story -- one that, as much as the upcoming song by that name, embodies several meanings of the phrase "true love waits". The characters in this song are not meant to be Ari (who I believe is happily married) or Donna Marina (who very well may be). But they are without question inspired by those people, and I dedicate this song to them.
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Words and Music © 2007 by Tom Smith
Released under a Creative Commons Noncommercial ShareAlike License

I had nearly completed my first book,
On Italian small-farm olive oil,
One more interview and the project was through,
I was ready to see my home soil,

The farmhouse was sprawling and rustic,
But a princess opened the door,
Some years after the ball, no Prince Charming would call,
Yet I saw all she'd been and then more.

And she laughs when I call her "Contessa",
And I watch her work all afternoon,
What she's chosen demands that her pale, slender hands
Become weathered and careworn too soon.

And the lines of her face speak of privilege and grace,
But she talks to me like an old friend,
And as we blather on, soon the daylight is gone,
And I don't want the evening to end.

Every day brings the scorn of her fellows,
Those who should join her in the old ways,
They've abandoned their arts for machines with steel parts
That make oil in hours, not days.

As time passes we speak less of oil
Sometimes not even speaking at all
And she eyes me, bemused, but she does not refuse
When I offer to help through the fall.

And she laughs when I call her "Contessa",
And each night I hear her family's tale,
Of their triumphs and tears over hundreds of years
And how frightened she is she might fail.

And I shake my head, saying something foolish,
And she smiles at my schoolboy charms,
And we're both so surprised by the light in our eyes
As we fall into each others' arms.

One day, my first draft reached the office,
With a letter in which I resigned
Whatever I'd looked for while writing a book
Turned out not to be what I would find

Now I study the grape and the olive,
I study the climate and lands,
And what I don't know, she will patiently show
With her weathered and beautiful hands.

And she laughs when I call her "Contessa",
But she's grateful I do all the same,
She has much to do yet, and she will not forget
All the strength of her family name.

And machines do the work on the big farms,
They sell much more oil than she,
But she sells enough, and their hands aren't as rough
As a artisan's hands ought to be.

My aging princess and her careworn caress,
My lovely Contessa and me.


At 9:06 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Damn, Tom. You made me tear up.

I don't think the Slow Food movement was looking for a theme song. They've got one, anyway.

Mark Wise


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