We live in a world where yesterday’s inconceivable becomes today’s commonplace, but even so. I never thought that the day would come when I took a political problem less seriously than Boris Johnson. The PM is having a good pandemic: the tone just right. Yet as the streets of London empty faster than the supermarket shelves, and a chap finds it harder and harder to stumble across a social drink, I remain a closet heretic. I do not accept that the position is anything like as serious as the authorities would have us believe, and as for the notion that anyone over three score and ten has suddenly become a contagious invalid — in that famous phrase of Sir Bernard Ingham’s, ‘bunkum and balderdash’.
I suppose that some sceptics would question my credentials as an expert on public health, though I cannot see why. I have always obeyed sensible dietary rules, avoiding cheese made with pasteurised milk, scoffing lots of raw fish, plus beef grilled (barely) saignant, when not indeed raw and above all, never eating on an empty stomach. I am convinced that such basic common sense will help to see off the plague.
‘Plague’ made me think of Venice, as did the recent passing of Max von Sydow. What does The Seventh Seal mean? Would I still find it as gripping as I did at 15? Returning to von Sydow, I have always though that Dirk Bogarde was miscast as Gustav von Aschenbach in the film of Death in Venice. He came across as a fussy valetudinarian, throwing away the drama of Aschenbach’s crumbling and collapse, as his refined, ascetic self-disciplined morality proves powerless against subconscious stirrings. We observe him succumb to forbidden beauty, the lures of the south, the overthrow of caution: all ending in illness and death. With a face that resembled Rodin’s bust of Mahler, von Sydow would have been much more suitable to convey all that.
A friend of mine thought that he had found a way of exploiting the current Venetian plague. While the airlines were virtually giving tickets away, the Danieli had discounted its rooms to €80 a night. Then came the total lockdown; he was too late.
A consolation was needed. 2 Veneti is an appropriately named restaurant very near the Wigmore Hall. Its cuisine draws heavily on Venetian specialities and its wines also feature good bottles from the Veneto, plus a thoughtful selection from most serious Italian wine-growing regions, including carefully-chosen Super Tuscans. It is one of the best Italian lists in London. We tasted a range, increasing in stature from a Vernaccia di San Gimignano. This is the sort of wine which is life-enhancing when consumed under that city’s towers: you feel that you are in the land where the lemon trees bloom. It ought to be less effective on a dreary pre-spring London day, even without a threatening virus. But it evoked Italy and summer.
A Pieropan Soave Classico reminded us that this often overlooked wine can work well when grown by a master. The same was true of several Valpolicellas in the classico superiore range. One from Romano dal Forno was very much superiore. This was all a fine antidote to worrying gossip about vineyards virtually closing down and a centuries-old Italian tourist industry in mortal peril. As the afternoon went on, we persuaded ourselves that the dangers were overstated and that the inhabitants of wine-growing regions were resilient. Even if this would not work against viruses, they had developed an economic immune system that had brought them through the threats of bad harvests and the exactions of worse governments. By the grappa, gloom had been dispelled and we were planning a return visit.
Since then, 2 Veneti has shut down. We can only hope that this will prove as temporary as possible.
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