Controguerra, Abruzzo 1984 - Italy was a mess then too
The recent articles about Italy being in a funk, having just been surpassed by Spain in living standards, the national discussion about the “malessere”, and a general discontent with the way things are in Italy are part of a cycle that the Italian soul goes through. I cannot offer any solutions in the short term, but I think there is parallel story.
The discussions are often at a table at the end of a meal, when bellies are full and the room is warm. When one eats well and then sits back to discuss the other problems that need to be solved (hunger having been vanquished), it’s easy to see why this kind of dialogue is taking place. During the holidays, when more families and friends are gathered in such a manner and when the topic is flying about, there is an inherent love for discourse, for argument, for conflict and resolution.
The arguments can linger, after grappa, after the short Tuscan cigars, after all the telling and the retelling of the jokes. If nothing is resolved, then there is always that faithful plate of spaghetti al peperoncino in the early hours of the morning.
It’s easier on a full belly. But is the farmer in the country having these conversations, these fears, these doubts?
We sit in our luxury of affluence, able to talk about where such and such a country or a culture is heading, while someone on earth dies of hunger every 3.6 seconds.
Bucita, Calabria 1977 - The economy ground to a sudden halt. Political crisis and stagflation led to the formation of a government of national unity, as left-and right-wing terrorism spread.
It wasn't that long ago when I went to visit relatives in Southern Italy, and hunger wasn’t that far removed from their daily fears. My cousins, Luigi and Antonio, were simple fellows who worked the land. They were farming their crops and harvesting their grapes. They made wine and worked their little plots for food for the table. The table that we take for granted, as we bring home groceries and worry about what to do with the bags they came in.
A woman in Rome recently lamented, “I’m buying fewer presents this year, and cheaper ones. And as for food . . .” Eleven per cent of Italian families live under the poverty line.
David, who lives in the US but whose daughters are Italian citizens, worries about them. He confides to me that one of his daughters is getting politically active, that there is an undercurrent of anger among the young, tired of waiting for the older population to share the wealth.
So while we witness this stirring in the Italian soul, what about the farmer? Where is his place in this opera? And what have we to say to the ones who help to provide food for the tables which fill our bellies which lead us into discussions of whether we have lost our way or our soul or our purpose? What about the farmer?
From my perspective, I also wonder, once one gets all that they think they need, from a materialistic point, then what? And if one continues to want a bigger house, a faster car, a younger wife, and gets it and it doesn’t solve anything, then what?
I had a note from another friend in California who, it appears, is shedding his materialistic trappings. He almost died a few years back when he turned 50, from cancer, and since then his discipline with yoga has helped to keep him alive. He actually has become a different kind of person. I think he might look at this and simply say that we have too much stuff. I agree.
Italy, take this holiday time to discuss with your friends and family. Delve into what really is essential for your life. Do you really need another perfume? Or another leather handbag? Or a new motor scooter? Do you really need to buy that villa in the Maremma or that vineyard in Montalcino? Does that Super Tuscan blend really need to cost as much as a Napa Cabernet or a second growth from Bordeaux? Do you really need to raise prices to keep up with the appearance of success because your neighbors are? Do you really need to take all that time off and then, when it is all said and done, not even have the money to spend in that free time? Do you really need to “keep up” in a time when 800 million people around the world go to bed hungry? Ask yourself these questions, and while you are at it, get down on your knees and thank your farmers for giving you the sustenance so that you may ask these very civilized questions that have you and your countrymen in such a quandary.