“How does Mark decide on designs for his tattoos?” Another question that we’re often asked.
All of his tattoos have significance, but as with, “How do you decide where to go on your travels?” – it is a question with an equally convoluted answer.
Nearly twenty years ago, on a trip around Castello Falletti in the town of Barolo, I saw a mysterious pictograph on a bed. It summed up the favourite elements of our life. Out of respect, I didn’t photograph it at the time, but I regretted it ever since. The figure was Pegasus with a fish tail; it encompasses so much of what I love – horses, flight and water.
Barolo’s castle was the country home of the Falletti, a banking family from Turin who are irrevocably intertwined with Barolo wine.
Although wine has been made in the Langhe for thousands of years, the last Marchesa di Barolo, Giulia Falletti, is widely credited with the creation of Barolo wine as we know it. In 1838, following the death of her husband, Carlo, Giulia inherited the Falletti lands. A sharp cookie, Giulia had the bright idea of inviting oenologist Louis Oudart to apply the winemaking techniques of the great French vineyards. And so, a legend was born.
Giulia aimed high. She sent 325 barrels of her Barolo to King Carlo Alberto of Savoy – one for the court to enjoy each day of the year, excluding Lent, of course. This led to Barolo’s enviable branding as ‘Wine of Kings – King of Wines.’
Entrance to the castle cost €8 each. The good news was that the dogs were allowed in. The bad news was that the castle was also one of the things that had changed radically since we were last in the area.
The tour that we had enjoyed previously had guided us through the Falletti household’s domestic set up and reflected on the history of the family and the area. The castle had now transmuted into a very peculiar museum of wine, which didn’t bode well for re-acquaintance with the long-lost tattoo template.
Although wine is such a joyful subject, the museum exhibits actually verged on the macabre. A lift in a glass tube hurled us to the top floor of the castle. From there, a labyrinth of darkened rooms led us past all kinds of bizarre and disturbing displays. A few of the most memorable were life-sized, cardboard cut-outs, blown up from old photographs, jibber-jabbering away through creepy, LCD-screen mouths; a room of red light and an ‘underground’ chamber with what I presume were vine roots dangling from the ceiling like the treacherous tentacles of triffids.
We narrowly avoided a dousing as we rushed through one corridor when a sheet of water sprayed down from the roof. On ‘The Carousel of the Seasons’, I sustained an injury. A freakish contraption in a circular room, it consisted of a wooden, park bench on wheels, propelled by bicycle pedals. It rotated to the tune of Vivaldi’s Quatre Stagione – Four Seasons and lit up photos of the Langhe at different times of year. With Mark pedaling as fast as he could while I held three of the dogs, I was treated to whirling, stroboscopic glimpses of a confused-looking Kai flashing past on Mark’s knee. A more fitting accompaniment would have been outlandish, maniacal laughter. Then, when it was my turn, in the dark, the sharp, metal pedals gouged my shin and drew blood.
We kept hoping that at some point, we would enter the castle proper, but nothing of the original castle rooms remained. It was all strange, interactive weirdness. As we descended the final staircase, we had given up all hope of encountering any furnishings whatsoever, but there, right by the exit, was THE bed.
I was jubilant! The motif had to be illuminated by torch from the phone, but €16 lighter, happy and bleeding, we left Castello Falletti with our long-awaited template for the next tattoo!
Addendum – What is Special About Barolo Wine?
Creating Barolo is a long labour of love. DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) is the highest designation of quality for Italian wine. Barolo DOCG wines must be produced from one hundred percent Nebbiolo grapes and aged for at least thirty-eight months; eighteen of which must be in wooden barrels. The term ‘Riserva’ can be applied to the label once the wine has been cellared for a minimum of five years.
In the basement of the castle, a tasting area features Barolos from many different Cantinas. A card obtained from the bar released variously-priced examples on tap, for which you pay at the end.
Mark figured that a map on the wall of the official Barolo DOCG Crus might make a nice transfer to cover Big Blue’s peeling paint. We bought an enlarged copy of the map, so Mark might not be the only one to get a new tattoo!
Earth, Air and Water!