Where is my Bella Italia?


On my way back from the Côte d’Azur on a lovely spring morning I went shopping for fresh vegetables, cheese, bread  and herbs at the Nice local market. The journey took us on the Motorway to Genova through the many tunnels and the glimpses of the Bordighera – San Remo coast heading towards Aosta to the tunnel of St. Bernard into Switzerland. A route, which is very convenient to us. At about half way, we stopped at CASALE MONFERRATO (A 26) as my husband intended to visit the cantina where he bought such a wonderful Barbera d Asti (30 years ago!!!!!) What a nightmare! Firstly he forgot the name of that cantina and secondly it has become such a miserable town. Martin said that it was on a hill…. And he was not about to give up. He thought, that he would surely remember something. We found eventually the restaurant LA TORRE, which had recommended to him that cantina years ago, but this place has been closed for many years. So I went into the Commissario (police station) and asked for help.Five good-looking police officers in their marvellous uniforms (imagine Marcello Mastroianni in his best days) understood my miserable situation and the boss, Marcello (J ) decided that two officers will give us an escort…up the hill.  So off we went behind the smart light blue Alfa Romeo with two nice police men….

After we reached one hill my husband mentioned that there was something coming back in his memories… but there were various hills around.  Molto grazie, mille grazie, Signori! But tell me what is actually the main line of business here in Casale Monferrato? The agent answered: “biscotti”, CHE BISCOTTI?? “CRUMIRI”. And where do I get them? Everywhere in the city. Ok, grazie again…

We knocked on the door of that estate on the hill, out came a South American, who spoke Spanish, which was very convenient for me, as I didn’t get my mixture of Italian and Spanish yet right. But no cantina, no wine! Go down to Giorgi there is Sergio Coppa, who sells wine. We found it, behind a fence with a barking dog, it was miserable place, mother and son Andrea came and said, yes we are wine producers of Barbera…., come in and taste. But we refused as we didn’t think it a good idea to taste wine ahead of our remaining journey ahead of us….  We asked if he knows this cantina of which we forgot the name… it may be Livio Pavese?… But, they had no idea. So I asked him for his business card and to sell me one bottle of Barbera di Monferrato, which he was happy to do and charge me EUR 3.- for the bottle. So off we went, in direction of another hill…..Old place with fourold men sitting on chairs in front of a miserable bar….  Yes, of course, Livio Pavese, downhill towards another village, next to a bar on the corner….but there is also a cooperative, where you can buy wine… Well we went to the cooperative, wine with ugly etiquettes, the guy said yes you will find Livio Pavese on the road towards ASTI, some 10 km from here. He has a big cantina there. So off we went 10 km, Martin said, it might have been been in this direction… but still no sign of Pavese. Back 10 km to Casale Monferrato to ask in a bar, where do I get the ”CRUMIRI”. Oh, he said, second on the right, at the end you will see a COOP supermarket…. In the supermarket: where are the “Crumiri”? , oh you get the “Crumiri Rosso” in the factory, with a large parking , about 1 km from the Coop….”. Martin, totally frustrated now over the fact, that he seemed to have lost out on his finding adventure said, I do not care if Crumiri rosso o blanco or whatever color, where are these bloody biscuits in this shop??

We passed the wine department (obviously full of Barberas) and I said to calm him down, I buy you a bottle or two of Barbera from the Coop… at EUR 4.74! Then again where are the biscuits? With the help of a helpful lady, we found the “Crumiri” from Nonna Lucia at last…..  That chapter closed, we went to the cashier, long queues, because of the 1st of May holiday. But we discovered the self- scanning cashiers. Here I put our two precious buys… but, first time out, I was not able to do it, although I was even able to change the program into “German” language… a shop assistant came for help, I put in my money…… EUR 6.90 was asked for, but I had only EUR 6.80… in coins. She however smiled and went to her cashier drawer and inserted the missing EUR 0.10….mille grazie…and off we went.

 By now it was 6 pm and my husband asked, why we would not want to stay here overnight and drive on tomorrow? I refused, as I wanted to leave this miserable town, with its old, dilapidated houses, old and poorly dressed people as soon as possible. …..where is my “Bella Italia”??!! We arrived in our beautiful home at 10 pm and unpacked the wonderful cheeses and bread from Nice, opened the bottle of Barbera Monferrato for EUR 3.- however knowing it had been shaken well during our trip…. Please do not ask for comments on the wine…..it was light and fizzy…. Thanks God it was the only one we had!

Tonight we will open the COOP – bottle, as this one we put to rest for 24 hours….

Marlis Leo


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