Pantelleria Sunday, May 6 2007 

Elemental. That’s what I call Pantelleria. All 32 sq. miles of it all on it’s own in the Sicily channel between Trapani and Tunisia. Swept in wildness from constant strong winds, it breathes the scent of all things Medditeranean; fennel, rosemary, mertle, caper, fig, olive, cactus, lavender and grapes. Everything here grows low to the ground as if taking cover..hiding to survive. ‘The island is ‘strong’; what the Italians mean by ‘forte’. A person can be ‘forte’, but it’s said more in context of personality. The island dictates what you do. We are subordinate.’ says Giovanni Matta. ‘It decides what you do and what you don’t do. The wind will chew you up and spit you out. If you can handle it, then you can stay’.

Once out of range of the wind, plants are nurtured in the rich volcanic soil. The roots drink
up the night’s humidity and survive without even being watered. An ancient tradition covers small vulnerable plants with cactus leaves, creating protection and a succulent environment for the plant to thrive. It’s a tough love approach, but the concentrated flavors speak for themselves. Vines are dwarfed and olive tree branches are trained to hang low weighted by rocks tied on strings. Stone walls terrace the land and within these borders, ancient agrarian customs still live. There is no fishing.

I don’t profess to understand anything, but what I picked up on my sense radar by spending 5 hours roaming around with a friend of a friend. He took very good care to show me the best views of the island such as the lake ‘specchio di venere’ (mirror of venus) with the sea beyond. It wasn’t hard to appreciate her beauty. She’s like a woman who doesn’t shave her legs. She’s a bit wild but her essence is pure. I have been a fan of her wine for years. Grapes are dried to raisins, then pressed into what’s called a ‘passito’. ‘Passito di Pantelleria’. It’s a bit like a kiss on the lips. Sweet, but soft and smooth like honey.

I saw caper bushes that looked like bonzai trees.I had only seen them growing out of rocks and sides of mountains; never cultivated. The caper is a plant with round sturdy leaves and
plump buds before flowering. It presents itself usally cascading from a rock wall. Once the buds are harvested in can be brined or left in salt. The sea air and particular climate of the island makes for coveted capers. No Mediterranean dish would be the same without it.

I had taken an early flight from Pisa to arrive in Trapani at 7:30 am. I took the 8:45 to Pantelleria and stayed for half a day and caught the last flight back. It was rather dream like but I travel willingly in an out of strong territories without much a do.

I fall in love easily. But it’s not hard when the essence of a place is so tangible it practically welcomes you with open arms as if it was waiting for you. I ingested it through my eyes and through my feeling body..but I left without even tasting a thing. The sea air and smells of fresh herbs stimulated my appetite but there was no way to stop and eat anything even though we had an invitation from a wine producer. The timing was off. Instead we roamed
the small island dotted with stone houses and breathtaking views. I left hungry to return and hungry to eat something!

Wine maker Francesco Spadafora, picked me up and took me to Virzi; his estate with 600 acres of vines an hour west of Palermo. He brought me a grilled prosciutto sandwich with a sprinkle of aged pecorino and a dash of lemon. It was presented in a pot with a lid so it would stay warm. A proper glass was brought to drink water from. Hail to the virgo Prince!

I crawled into bed for a late afternoon rest to sleep off the lack of sleep the night before. I hardly remember closing my eyes. I awoke to spendor and a glass of Francesco’s first ever single variety Grillo. It grabbed my attention like that of a Monarch. Rich..elegant… I bow to Francesco for his great effort of leaving things be and listening to what his wines want to be instead of forcing them.. and to introducing me to Giovanni for an afternoon roaming the wilds of low-lying Pantelleria.


Jnane Tamsna, my dear Sunday, May 6 2007 

JNANE TAMSNA- my home away from home in Marrakech. The road winds through the Palemeraie to the village of Duar Abiad. Beyond the communal well
surrounded by colorfully clothed women, a flock of sheep and the odd local
soccer game, bouganvillia fall over the earthen wall where the tall palms
inside look noticeably healthier than the ones randomly growing about.

Past the gate and the gate keeper, looking anything like St. Peter, until he smiles.
He’s recognized me. If heaven believed in reincarnation, I imagine it
could feel somewhat like that. ‘Oh. It’s you. Back again eh?’ I entered the garden
paradise of Ethnobotonist Gary Martin and his renowned Designer wife
Meryanne loum Martin.

Samira has a skip in her step as she comes to greet me from the cab..
‘My darling Peggy, how nice to see you, we missed you!’ As I walk
up to the front door I run my hands through the rosemary hedge to
release that familiar smell that says..’you are not forgotten’. Rosemary
is for remembrance. I remember too, my visits here over the years
as if I have never left. I watched it grow from dirt and mud to a thriving
oasis in only 6 years. A seed goes in the ground, it gets watered and viola
it grows and green covers the earth.

Other faces come to greet me, Brahim the Maitre’D, Ne Ne from Chad,
an exquisite waiter, Neima the personal house keeper of Meryanne
and Habiba the oldest cook. We are happy to see each other.

I never count things. I have no idea how many trips I have taken in
the last 15 years of my business between Italy, Morocco and Sicily.
I know that over 1000 people have attended my programs, but I
don’t count. Every trip is new and it seems as if it’s the first. I can
hardly believe though, that maybe it’s been perhaps, in the neighborhood of
300 in all. I settle into a place and it’s like I belong. Do you count
how many times you’ve gone home to visit your family in the last
years? Who’s counting? Does it make a difference? All I think is,
here I am again. Have a changed? It’s a barometer for my growth.
Where I am still stuck? Do I still have the same reactions to things
or has my tolerance increased? Has my heart opened any more?
Not to mention, it’s good to be with people who love you.

Whisked away into my room, I know them all by heart. I’m in Taupe.
Not Tuareg..not Blue..not Edward. I am the one with the mosaic tiles
that Thaiz likes best. Thaiz and Edward are the children of Gary
and Meryanne now away at Kings Boarding School in Canterbury.
I still bring them Baci chocolates from Italy.

Everything works with ease at Tamsna. There is grace. They work
in harmony and whatever needs to happen, seems to happen with love
and no exaggeration. It suits my nature. I don’t like a choppy response.
There is a talent to transition from one thing to the next, which requires
attention. It can be a dance. I am not a big fan of being precisely on time.
I love it if I’ve been lucky enough to move at the right pace for that to happen, but rushing and stressing is of no interest to me.

The patio is pristine with vases of olive branches falling over themselves.
The tables are set with calla lilies and herbs from the garden. It’s a beautiful
day and the lavender is giving off a violet perfume worthy of delighting
the Gods, but in this case it’s only me. The palms shade the tables and the
other plants at her feet. She’s the mother tree and every palm in this palm
dessert tries to nurture what’s around it. Dates are produced and harvested
in the fall. She produces with very little nourishment, something dense
and substantially sweet.

There are delicate greens growing in the garden, along with fennel and her fronds, an allspice tree and rows of thyme and marjoram. Birds are happy here.
Water flows through an intricate path of ditches that reaches patches of produce
and momentarily floods them, like a good long drink of water. Dampness
in the garden is a sharp contrast to the warm breeze in the trees above.

I brought yet another group to experience the divine movements of the hands
when infusing steamed couscous with olive or argan oil. Baijah also shows and
explains the basic techniques of Tagine and how many different ways to prepare
them. We show how to cook the egg mixture for chicken pastilla in a spice
broth. The correct way to make a pot of Moroccan mint tea.

We are served our meals in the garden under the palms. What we have made
comes looking delectable and even though someone else serves it for us..
we are eating our own cooking!

to be continued….