Italian wine, winemakers and movie stars, and American politicians, make for strange bedfellows indeed
Once upon a time, Italian wine importers tried desperately to sell their juice to America. They went to any length to sell wine. Once such effort was to make these decorative fired clay vessels shaped like donkeys and elephants and color them up real bright and perky and then hang a little thingie around the neck with the slogans, “Vote Republican” or “Vote Democratic.” The Italians were very good about making sure every party had a mascot filled with bright and sassy red wine, usually from Emilia-Romagna. Probably a Sangiovese or some high yield red wine that could be utilized for little or no cost. The clay figures now are worth more empty as a collectable, although some of the ones in my collection still have wine in them.
The donkey is a perky, happy-go-lucky character. He makes you think he might be your best friend who would never let you down.
The elephant is a little more self-reassured, standing on his hind legs for his pleasure, not yours, and deigning not to make eye contact. But he is an elephant decorated in such a strange way, almost like those Indian Ganesha statues that they put into the Ganges every year during the Hindu festivals.
These and many other characters were brought in by an importer who made a lot of money bringing in wine from Italy, first from Emilia-Romagna, then from Tuscany. Nowadays, we wouldn’t take an importer seriously if they tried to market Italian wines in this way. But you have to remember it was barely 15 years after a devastating war. Remember 1993? That doesn’t seem like so long ago, does it? Well in 1960 that was the situation and to make matters worse, Italy wasn’t taken seriously as a wine producer of any consequence. That was the purview of France. So what do the Italians, and their American importers do? They make some silly wine casks that represent the political parties in America and schlep them over filled with some inconsequential red wine. Very cute. But not very serious. And now so very kitsch.
Which leads me into my final political/wine reflection piece. This time it covers the influence and possible separated-at-birth coincidences of some of the frontrunners with various Italian winemakers and Italian film stars. Huh? Well not quite to the letter. There is kind of a maverick twist for the last one. You’ll see, don’t scan ahead, work with me, ok?
Bruna Giacosa and Cindy McCain, what is going on here? Is it deer in the headlights or maybe a little too much time under the sunlamp? I’m sure both of these women are loved by someone, if not just by their parents, both whom are alcohol industry giants in their own way. One in the beer business and the other in the Barolo business. These girls know their way around a curling iron and a blow dryer. The only question remaining: Do you go for “Drinkability” or “Age-ability?”
Joe Biden and Bruno Giacosa – both proud fathers. Joe, of course had to go it alone, with a little help from his remaining family. Bruno went about carving a neat little niche with his stable of mighty fine reds. Bruno has a daughter who is succeeding him in running the business. Joe has a son in politics, so there is a possibility of dueling dynasties. But aside from the vague resemblance and the serious demeanor, what else do these guys have in common? I’m not sure Joe has ever Jonesed for a Dolcetto. And I rather doubt Bruno craves commuting on Amtrak. So these gents are as polarized as most of the people in this country are from each other. The only remaining question is: Do you prefer single vineyard wines from Piedmont or a single payer health care system?
Sophia Loren and Eleanora Brown and Michelle Obama and Jill Biden – We’re doing a Two Women riff with this one. And while Michelle and Jill are not at all in the same predicament as Sophia (Cesira) and Eleanora (Rosetta), all the woman represent overcoming some kind of tragedy and rising above their circumstances to become more than they started out as. I know this seems like a bit of a stretch. The only remaining question is: How do you want your pizza, Margherita or Deep Dish?
Marcello Mastroianni and Barack Obama. I doubt if they really have anything in common other than liking cigarettes and posing in a pensive manner with their hands on their heads. Mastroianni had a nickname, Snaporaz, and Obama’s nickname is Barry. I prefer Snaporaz.
What else? Best Reaganesque advice Snaporaz can give to Barry: “I don't understand why these Americans have to suffer so much to identify with their characters. Me, I just get up there and act. It's great fun. There's no suffering in it.” What Barry learned from Snaporaz? “It's only when you hitch your wagon to something larger than yourself that you will realize your true potential.” The only remaining question is: Red wine with chili or white wine with linguine con vongole?
And finally, the pièce de résistance.
Don Corleone: Why did you go to the police? Why didn't you come to me first?
McCain: What do you want of me? Tell me anything, but do what I beg you to do.
Don Corleone: What is that?
[McCain gets up and whispers in the Don's ear]
Don Corleone: That I cannot do.
McCain: I'll give you anything you ask.
Don Corleone: We've known each other for many years but this is the first time you've ever come to me for counsel or for help. I can't remember the last time you invited me to your house for a cup of coffee, even though my wife is Godmother to your only child. But, let's be frank here. You never wanted my friendship and you were afraid to be in my debt.
McCain: I didn't want to get into trouble.
Don Corleone: I understand. You found paradise in America. You had a good trade, made a good living, the police protected you and there were courts of law and you didn't need a friend like me. But, now you come to me and you say "Don Corleone, give me justice." But you don't ask with respect. You don't offer friendship. You don't even think to call me Godfather. Instead, you come into my home on the day my daughter's to be married and you ask me to fix an election.
McCain: I ask you for justice.
Don Corleone: That is not justice, your race to Washington is still alive.
McCain: Let them suffer then. As we suffer. How much shall I pay you?
Don Corleone: McCain. McCain. What have I ever done to make you to treat me so disrespectfully? If you had come to me in friendship then this scum that ruined your election chances would be suffering this very day. And if by chance an honest man like yourself should make enemies then they would become my enemies. And then, they would fear you.
McCain: Be my friend... Godfather.
[kisses Don Corleone's ring]
Don Corleone: Good. Someday, and that day may never come, I'll call upon you to do a service for me. But, until that day, accept this justice as a gift on my daughter's wedding day.
McCain: Grazie, Godfather.
Q : Guns? or Cannoli's? Buonasera. Buonasera.