Sunday, February 04, 2007

Under the Big Tent

I have been getting e-mails daily, from hopeful Italian wineries, looking for distribution in the US. Along with that, our current group of wineries is bringing up new items for us to look at. The market for new is still conservative, but all doors must be opened, all thoughts entertained. That’s the way life is under the big tent, the uber-distributor that must serve many. And as there are many grapes in Italy, there are as many kinds of people in our eno-circus.

Sometimes it feels like being a juggling ringleader, with all the creatures from the circus clamoring for their time under the lights in the main ring. We have the elephants, who put of lot of folks in the seats with their drawing power. They know what they are and how much weight they carry. Often they are kind, knowing their footsteps can crush. They know how to balance, though they sometimes run amuck. But they are entertaining and loved by the masses.
The clowns can be a challenge to organize and co-ordinate. There are the happy clowns, who accidentally make it big and don’t know why. But they are content to run around the ring and satisfy the needs of their fans. There are princess clowns who must be attended and catered to. They usually have special needs. It might be pathological or they might just really be princesses from an era that has long since left the harbor. Usually the happy clowns help them to forget, holding up an ageless mirror, proclaiming their immeasurable youthfulness and splendor.
Then there are the acrobats, folks willing to stand on their heads to do whatever it takes. These folks fall and hurt themselves, but they are so driven, and their energy is so contagious, that one cannot help but wonder how they go about it day after day. They often have new ideas and products, and there is innovation in their duffle bag. They are always practicing.

Like the circus, the wine business is seasonal. Many of the winemakers and marketing representatives are now coming back into the markets and making the circuits. Dallas, Austin, San Antonio and Houston. Sometimes they book out to Corpus Christi or El Paso, Lubbock or Harlingen. You really have to not mind living out of a suitcase. And once the season is over, it starts all over again. It’s not like you find a cure for polio and move on to finding a cure for measles. You just keep going around and around, year after year, making the kids laugh and finding a way to get the adults to buy the front-row tickets for the whole family.
Then there are the big cats and their tamers. They are big draws for the show, under the big tent. The represent danger, uncertainty. The lions, with their hostility and their rage. The lionesses, their uncertainty and erratic traits, one moment docile, the next moment lunging for the throat. They are out of their cage but they are still captive. Their wildness gnaws at them. Those few moments that they perform serve only to exacerbate their longing to be home in their kingdom, at peace in the grass, napping and taking in the breeze and the sun.
Once in a while, a new act auditions, and we find room for them in one of the rings. One never knows if they might be a star someday. There’s a bit of instinct and a bit more of the risk factor. And of course the clowns must like them, or no one can stay in the ring for long. There’s always that one serious clown, maybe in white face, maybe with a banjo or a performing dog, but there’s a solemnity in his presence. This is the conscience of the ringleader, the outside perspective that allows him to keep the show moving. He might have a sheep dog, herding and moving the show along. Or a terrier, hunting and rooting out the undesirables in the ring. But that serious clown has a purpose besides entertaining or comedy.

“The serious clown is the soul of the circus,” a friend once said.
It’s all intended to make the acts under the lights in the ring perform to the best of their ability, to answer their calling. Italians have loved the circus, from the earliest days of the Roman Empire. Performing, training, stretching their wings in the air and bringing joy to people, this is an ancient calling and a vital part of the psyche of the Italian.

It’s not called the greatest show on earth for nothing.

1 comment:

Carlo Pellegrini said...

You have captured the essence of circus, both its elements and place in the psyche of performer and audience. Like wine, a circus performer ages and begins to react differently to his/her environment. Sometimes, as you said, they don't know why they have become famous - they just did their act over and over again and found new ways to keep themselves interested and entertained and present in the moment. Maybe it is the same way inside a bottle of Italian wine. Maybe the vintner's pre-show performance has given the grape the proper environment (tent) within which to 'make things happen.' And happen they do. Accidents do happen, to everyone's surprise. Many great clowns were great (or second-rate) acrobats first, had an accident, and couldn't be an acrobat anymore. They had to 'step down' and become a clown if they still wanted a job. The step down became an elevation and tapped new resources they didn't know they had. This was the path of the great Otto Griebling and Emmett Kelly. What I love about the circus is all the elements in the air and on the ground, fermenting in one ring, waiting for the cork to be pulled on the whole experience.
In Italy, il circo is a way of life for performer and audience. It is a family affair and anyone who attends the circus is considered family.
Thank you for your circus/wine reveille.

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