* The wolves are watching over the sheep
As we were in Rome, so it is also the same as we are back home. Several days ago, I cold-called a new Italian place in an older part of town. The owner was receptive and friendly. So I handed the info off to a colleague. Yesterday I walked into another account to set up a wine event for women only, and our company order was rolling in. Everyone was out taking lunch, so I checked the order in and, seeing as it was the lunch hour, put up part of the order. Part of that “now go back home and sell some of this stuff” business. Who has time to look for a job? I have more work than I can say grace over. A couple of articles needing to be written, deadlines looming, a panel of tasting notes for another piece, an educational piece I’ll be needing for next Tuesday, and a proposal for a tasting today in Cowtown. Too busy selling this stuff to worry about mergers and acquisitions. Selling, not buying, that’s the game. Getting harder, but not as hard as being on the outside looking in. That’s a bowl of future-tripping.
Anyway the salesman finally shows up to the account with his young acolyte in tow, and they are giddy. Seems the youngun’ has written a proposal for the new Italian place I handed over to his older sidekick. They wanted me to take a look at it. Now mind you, I just went in and talked to a potential customer about an Italian wine list for an Italian-styled restaurant. The youngun' hands me his list, and there’s a Malbec from Argentina on it. I ask him, what the hell is that? I’m sitting looking at a pile of wine for the tasting today and there’s an Aglianico and a Montepulciano, a Monica and a Cannonau. Why Malbec? And then I see the proposal populated with California wine and wonder if we will ever get off this not-so-superstrada of New World wine somnambulism and get back to the Italian wine trail. Yeah, right.
I woke up a few hours later and went to my office. Jet lag was rousing me from my Italian-time afternoon nap and telling me to get busy, lyrics from Dylan’s “Highlands” clamoring in the pre-cappuccino pre-dawn,
Woke up this mornin' and I looked at the same old page
Same old rat race, life in the same old cage
I don't want nothin' from anyone, ain't that much to take
Wouldn't know the difference between a real blonde and a fake
Feel like a prisoner in a world of mystery
I wish someone'd come and push back the clock for me
Well my heart's in The Highlands wherever I roam
That's where I'll be when I get called home
Rome is a walking town; the she-wolf always seems to get you on her turf. I was lucky enough to have my wife Liz still able to walk, when one June we pressed all around the place looking at the antiquities. Stopping in a bar to drink that cool white Colli Albani wine that then flowed into the ever-so-willing carafes. Eyes always staring out from some quiet corner.
Caput Mundi has her silent sentinels stationed in every quarter. In this memory, the most recent of the Roman reminisces, somewhere between the Sistine Chapel and the Colosseum, I eyed a tiny alley with some tables. It was a cool day, and we had miles to go. A few minutes earlier we had stared at and touched a Michelangelo sculpture in an anonymous church, no guards telling us to stand back, no €6 Euro entry fee. Now flatbread and fresh mozzarella called, a spray of arugula and some prosciutto, and that damn carafe of red wine.
Why, when I can have any Italian wine from any list, do I order the red in a carafe? You have a sweater and it fits after so many years. It is broken in. No, it doesn’t go with the Isiaia suit, isn’t meant to. But it is comfortable and familiar. I like to go back to the carafe, especially in Rome; it’s a barometer of the state of Italian wine.
Walking Rome stirs one to reflect about Italy, and all that those of us who work for her wine industry all these centuries. The missionaries in flyover country, the stylists on the West Coast who are like Terry Riley or Harry Partch in their orchestrations of the wines and the interpretations of the food. The driven ones in New York and Chicago, those who actually sell wine for a living. And the Roman salesmen, the home boys on the cobbled streets, with their Vespas and their briefcases, walking the Testaccio and the Trastevere, The Parioli and the Via Veneto. The not-so-silent sentinels. Pressing the flesh for the fruits from the wine press. For hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Just like 3,500 years ago, when the Chaldeans worked with the female Egyptian factors to ensure a continuous flow of red wine to the Pharaohs. Or am I being too archetypical for you?
Rome has become a coarser urban setting, more people with their hands out, hands looking for your pockets. On one of the days, there wasn’t a moment when someone didn’t want to interpret (for a price) what I was looking at. As if seeing it for the twelfth time in 27 years didn’t inoculate me from the swirling bats. Always in threes, non ce' due senza tre. We swat them back into their caves and endure the travesty of time and humanity with our limited interpretations of such things. Or am I getting too paradigmatic for you?
Those old faces staring back at me from behind their glass cases take on a resemblance that 30 years ago I wouldn’t have recognized. Now it’s more like staring at my death mask. Rome is filled with death masks, and they are beginning to look more contemporary to me. Maybe it’s just the familiarity of the remembrance after so many visits, like visiting an aunt in Alcamo or a cousin in Cosenza. These cold, stone carvings are like my family now. Or have I become too paronomastic for you?
And then there is that tattoo-dosage of modern reality that tells you as long as there are people on this planet, there will be those who will have to learn it all, not from staring at the ruins of a long gone empire, but by walking in their own flip-flops amidst the gaze of the Capitoline wolf and making their own mistakes, going their own way without the benefit of history. To survive or perish.
There is fear and dread in every corner, and there is hope and clarity after a long night in the corner of a cold room on top of a hill in some forbidden village. How one interprets that opportunity or yields to the udders of the she-wolf, well, that’s up to each and every one of us in our own way, isn’t it?