In 1969, my grandfather gave the keynote address to the Master Brewers Association of America. He was not a brewer himself, but he had worked thirty years as a consultant to the industry, and by this time he had provided advice to breweries in every state of America and seventy countries.
The title of his speech was “How to Make Beer That Sells—with What You’ve Got!” He focused first on the importance of quality and outlined the industry standards: 1) Beer must be “clean and pleasing in flavor” as well as 2) “pleasing in appearance”; and 3) “it should not vary in flavor or appearance from day to day.” While beer drinkers today, myself included, wouldn’t agree with his definition of “pleasing” as “a complete absence of distinctive flavor components,” I suppose he can be forgiven for being at the mercy of the era’s bland American palate. As an industrial engineer, his main focus was on cleanliness, efficiency, and reproducibility; he did not seek to be a tastemaker, nor did he encourage this in his clients.
My mother has found the book in her files, among the stacks of papers and paid bills rescued from the cabin. Though it doesn’t look like much now, in its drab brown cover with faded red lettering, it was the most treasured volume of my childhood. My grandmother, who loved a good fairytale, whose favorite book was Alice in Wonderland, read Prince Uno to me, and then I read it myself, entranced, curled uncomfortably in one of the green wicker chairs with the scratchy orange cushions—only a slight improvement over the impossibly hard couch.
At night I open all the shades so the dark comes in. This summer, I like the wide expanse of night. The full moon is high, and I see individual strands of onion grass in the shallow spot between the shores. Tomorrow we will learn that tonight’s moon is “blue,” a rare extra full in the cycle of moons. Truly, it is orange, and hovers low over the trees.
To get anywhere from the borgo—the walled-in cluster of medieval houses and skinny lanes connecting the castle, the church, and a tiny grassy square—one must go steeply downhill and then steeply up. Each morning, I choose a different high point from which to take in the magnetic hills of this corner of Lunigiana in northwest Tuscany, where friends have made a part-time home. Once I saw a handful of seniors out for a stroll, and I often say hello to a man in his eighties whose dog takes him out for jaunts, very slowly due to his heart trouble, but otherwise I encounter no one.
This summer, for the first time in my life of weather, I walked through a rainstorm: entered, endured, exited. All within one hundred yards of a smooth country road.
Other firsts: bearing out tornado warnings in the basement of Frost Library (twice); a moment of queasy lilting I assumed was in my head but turned out to be a Virginia-originated earthquake; battening hatches (drawing water, securing heavy items in the backyard) against a hurricane. To be truthful, I have experienced earthquakes and hurricanes before, but the former was in Guatemala, where such things are expected; the latter was in the foreign country of childhood in which parents are responsible for taping the windows, and I was allowed to dance in the driveway in my bathing suit in the warm wet eye of the storm.