Sunday, March 15, 2015

"Venice was the Dubai of the 13th Century"

On a nippy winter night, while having a quiet meal in a dining room in Venice overlooking the Grand Canal, the subject of Dubai arose. A city of two million souls in the United Arab Emirates, Dubai is something of a fantasy, a miracle and a conundrum. Without a doubt, it has captured the imagination of many Italians I work with.

Around our table that evening, the Italians likened Dubai to another city that has, over many hundreds of years, also enchanted many a traveler. At our perch, in the still of a winter night, it taxed the imagination to draw parallels between Venice and Dubai. Perhaps it was the wine, or that we had all had a long day. But upon further conversation, the notion that Venice was the Dubai of the 13th Century was parsed, aided by further bottles of wine.

Having never been to Dubai, but aided by the facility of the internet, one can imagine many things happening in that mirage of a city. My interest in Venice, though, and for many of us who love Italy and her wines, had me thinking on my walk back to the hotel room in the light fog that had settled so very late at night.

This little jewel, with its maze of paths, many different ways to get to one place, how many times have the DNA in these bones trod upon them? Why does Venice compel one to think about things that haven’t been thought about, or maybe things long forgotten? How does this figure into a life of wine?

Put aside that we are in an urban area, albeit a restricted one, and actually one in which time has frozen it. For a moment, allow your imagination to see a place without the daylight hordes of tourists. Let’s just walk around in this little fog of imagination, this Venice, cleansed by the water that imprisons it.

For both places, trade is important. While there might not be a reason for one to go to Dubai, trade has made it a modern crossroads. Venice was not so isolated, although the difficulty of travel made getting around more challenging than in the modern day. But the water made it possible. From Venice, adventurers would launch their voyages and pursue their dreams, bringing them back to this little dew-drop of a city. Treasures found on the other side of the world would be traded all over the Italian peninsula. Trade was the satchel the visionaries put their dreams in.

For winemakers across and down the peninsula, Venice was an important trading post. How fitting, all these hundreds of years later, that next week thousands of us will reconvene in the Veneto, inland from Venice, to spend days in the act of trade, with wine is at the center of it all. And while Venice isn’t as large a part of the conversation as it once was, for some of us who look at things in the light of history, can she ever be that far away? In no small part, we owe a great debt to Venice for the foundation that was prepared for wine in these times. Deep inside the marrow of my bones, as I walk the many pavilions at Vinitaly, I cannot but help to think about the possibility that my forbearers lighten my step as they trod along with me, from booth to booth, seeking something fine from wine to share with the outside world. It’s thrilling to take this idea. I know I will lose the realists ( lost them long ago, I reckon), but those who are still with me, feeling the mist, the cool breeze from the Adriatic, the slippery cobblestones below. We walk the path with Corvina, with Glera, with all the hundreds of natives and newcomers in this brief assembly.

Yes, I imagine Dubai has superseded anyone’s imagination of a shining city of the future. And yes, Venice is now part of a history that no longer is as vital. Except those of us for whom those memories are real, flesh and bone and for whom telling the story of Italian wine is still very much alive and moving forward.

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1 comment:

From Your Mindseye said...

Venice is in your soul as it is in mine. It was conceived in the flight of our ancestors centuries ago. Venice was their refuge from the relentless pursuit of the Ottomans, a way station of safety and shelter.
I have walked, as have you, those deserted paths curling their tendrils around the island. Getting lost in the little paths and alleyways that open up to piazza's and little hidden villages. It is a magical city, especially at night and when it is almost deserted. You can hear the voices of the past echoing on the cobblestone streets. If you listen hard enough, you can hear our ancestors whispering to us through the mist.

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