I’ve got a new art project, and I need a bunch of old wine bottles. I’m looking for the kind that has a rounded bottom. These were most commonly used in the old days to make raffia wrapped flasks for Chianti and other Tuscan wines, but everywhere in Italy these bottles were common in the 19th and 20th centuries.
I have a collection of lots of different wrapped flasks, or fiasci, as they are called here. So now I’m hunting around, looking for old bottles. I printed up some flyers with a photo of the kind of bottle I want, and I spent a few hours passing out the flyers yesterday. On my last call I hit a potential jackpot.
Photo by Rick Gush
Ten years ago, when I first arrived in Italy, I saw an old guy who had a big Dahlia imperialis near his garden shack, and I used my unintelligible Italian to ask him for a cutting. (Dahlia imperialis is a spectacularly tall dahlia that grows from 15 to 30 feet and blooms in the fall.) He was Mario, and we sort of became friends. I went over to his shack a number of times, and we would drink his horrible homemade wine and sometimes I’d bring salami to eat. He always spoke Genovese, and I barely spoke Italian, but we had a nice friendship and he rattled on with a hundred stories of which I understood perhaps three.
He had a bunch of grapevines growing around his yard and lots of bottles of different wines that he had made, and he loved explaining the whole deal to me. I’m always a sucker for anyone who wants to talk about their garden … no matter the language.
I spent the night in the hospital a few weeks ago, and one of the other guys in the room with me was Mario. Unfortunately, I heard he died a few days later.
As the last stop on my bottle leaflet passing tour yesterday, I stopped by Mario’s shack, thinking perhaps to give my condolences to his brother who lives in the big house up front. There was a new guy in the garden area, and I convinced him to open the gate. After a few minutes chat about Mario, I asked if perhaps I could get another cutting of the tree dahlia, and I also asked about the old bottles. Turns out Mario’s whole back shed is packed with old bottles stacked in the dark.
The new guy let me take three old wrapped wine bottles from near the doorway where there was a bit of daylight, and they were almost but not quite the style I was hoping for, but still cool. I made a date to come back this afternoon with a flashlight, and I’ll get to explore the whole shed. How cool is that? I’ll probably have trouble sleeping tonight, I’m so excited.
So, ciao, Mario. I was happy to see you one last time, and I very much appreciate being able to scrounge around in your wine bottle shed.