Carpe diem never seemed so appropriate as on a cool but sunny November day in the Italian city of Bologna.
It turned out to be one of those extremely rare days that, even as it enfolds, you understand what a special event it is and you savor each moment as you would a fine piece of chocolate.
We were in Bologna covering an international farm equipment show, guests of the Italian Trade Ministry who demonstrated that the United States, even the Southern United States, has no monopoly on hospitality. We were well fed, well kept and well tended to as we sought out interviews and information about how Italian equipment manufacturers help fill needs of U.S. farmers.
And on the last day we met one of those manufacturers for an excursion over to the East Coast of Italy. He motored us across some of the most beautiful farm country imaginable. Vineyards, grain fields, vegetable plots and small woodsy areas dotted the rolling landscape, splashes of yellow and green with black spots of rich loamy earth.
An hour’s drive took us to the seaport village of Ravenna and to a non-descript side street we probably would not have ventured onto without a reputable guide. We were ushered into a small seafood restaurant and back to the rear where a large table had been set for us.
Our host, Alois Haringer, chairman of Macmoter Company, had invited a dozen or so of his business acquaintances and friends to help host the half-dozen agricultural and equipment trade press members. Over a glass of a sweet bubbly wine, Mr. Haringer toasted us and thanked us for coming. His friends then sang a toast, their rich voices filling the small restaurant with what could have passed for a choir of professional singers.
Most, we learned later, participate in amateur singing groups.
When two of the group got up, retrieved a violin and a guitar from a side table and began singing, in Italian and German, songs that we recognized as universal standards, we realized that this was going to be a day to remember. They serenaded us throughout the five-course meal, each course building on the last until the piece de resistance, desert, gelato (Italian ice cream) and a caramel pudding that melted in our mouths. Dessert presentation was so elegant I took a picture of my plate.
Lunch took three hours, wine glasses never empty. Then the city manager of Ravenna, a board member of Macmoter, gave us a personal tour of the town, an old city where Dante lived for some time and is buried. (They have several burial sites because they kept moving the body to keep the nearby Florentines from stealing it.)
About dusk, we left Ravenna and headed to Modigliana (I’ll leave pronunciation to your imagination.) where Mr. Haringer lives and has his factory. He gave us a tour, showed us designs and a video of a new machine he’s working on and then showed us the prototype. It was impressive.
We figured we’d stop and pick up a bucket of chicken or something on the way back to Bologna but the day was not over. We left the factory and wound up a snaky road to the top of a large hill and Mr. Haringer’s villa. We were told that the view during daylight hours is breathtaking. The view from inside at night is astonishing. We saw his collection of 3,000-year old Etruscan pottery, exquisite paintings and an elegant but comfortable home.
We also enjoyed a five-course dinner, prepared by Mr. Haringer’s chef. We dined for probably two hours, again each course outdoing the last in presentation and gustatory delight. Dessert included two puddings, a crème caramel and a milk-based pudding that simply melted in our collective mouth.
We sat and talked through a translator. (Mr. Haringer was hesitant about speaking what he considered poor English, but which had to have been better than our non-existent Italian. We are a bit arrogant about our language in this country.) WE commented on his new machine and about American consumers. I hope he received useful information.
We left, reluctantly, knowing that the fairy tail would end, the clock would strike midnight, the carriage would turn back into a vegetable and that not even a golden slipper would save the day.
On our way to the van, however, Mr. Haringer made certain we did not leave without a memento of Italy, roses for the ladies and for each of us a nice package of fine Italian wines.
Fortunately, Pat (that’s my wife) accompanied me on this wonderful journey. We looked at each other several time during the day and said: “This is one of the best afternoons we’ve ever spent.”