Friday, August 31, 2007

Tocai and Tilapia

I had lunch the other day with pal Sam who has been traveling all summer. France, Colorado, Seattle, Costa Rica, Florida, San Sebastian, South Carolina. I’m exhausted just thinking about the packing.

I’m one of those people that take two days to pack for a three day trip. I labor. No, I sweat blood over every thing I put into a suitcase. I have another pal, Hank, who goes away for three months at a time. Sri Lanka, India, Cambodia, China, Italy, another one with endless wanderlust. He packs everything in a little carry-on. A great role model, but still it baffles me.

How did I get onto the subject of packing?

I had an email from Lewis Cutillo, who read about my family and their talent with sewing machines. Lewis works for Bontoni, an artisanal shoe company in the Marche. The Marche, where my friend Hank’s family is from and where he spent two months (with that little carry-on.) Near Hank’s family village of Fermo is another hilltop town called Montegranaro. It seems that's where Bontoni and a few other shoe making dynasties live. Montegranaro is to shoe makers like Casalnuovo is to tailors – a Mecca.

Shoes – a weakness of mine passed on from my father’s father’s father and on to my son. We share the same shoe size, so he often covets and gets shoes that I relinquish.

Luxury stuff. Suits, shoes and wine. Throw in travel, a good car or two, and anything else that strikes your fancy, and we are starting to see a picture develop in the tray.

Sam has taken on the task of mentoring the affluent and successful in his neighborhood. And for what purpose? It seems that Sam is an action model of how to live, for these two Ferrari families. Over achievers who work hard, play hard, make a ton of money and spend it too. But they have no free time. One couple asked Sam to take them to Italy. The caveat was, they only had three days, and needed one to visit the Ferrari factory. Excuse me? Someone else needs to be thrown out of the plane. This time it would from be their very own Hawker or Gulfstream though.

OK, OK, focus. These folks are wildly successful in channeling millions of dollars in their direction. But they don’t know what or how to appreciate the finer things that money can acquire. So Sam and I, talk it over, over Tocai and Tilapia.

When I was in my 20’s and had very little money, I found a way to feel like whatever I had coming in my direction was of a certain quality. Look, I was making maybe $7-10,000 a year. Maybe. But the food we bought was fresh. It was often organic. We’re talking 30+ years ago folks (California, not Texas, much easier on the west coast than in the south west). There was a Trader Joe's down the street, and even though Charles Shaw was yet to be reinvented, one could easily get a Two Buck Chinon. OK, so my cars weren’t so wonderful. A Corvair and a Ford Falcon station wagon. I could take the heads off the Ford's engine block and have them ground and put them back on. And the Corvair was a bit sporty, and now so very collectable.

And clothes, hmm. Well, I did know where to find gently worn threads. I worked at nights in Hollywood, so I must have passed muster somehow. Looking back, I was treading much lighter on the earth than now.

We were a family of four living in a little California cottage. I measured it on the outside, 20 feet by 20 feet. That would be 400 square feet. Today it is worth $250,000. The simple truth was, we felt the quality of our life wasn’t too bad. Were we poor? Yes by some government standards. But we had fresh eggs and great milk and wonderful veggies (we were also vegetarian at the time- so no meat = less contribution to the then unknown global warming crisis looming in the future). It was a simple life.

Did we want more? Yes. But it wasn’t something gnawing away like I see in so many folks today, young and old, rich and poor. It seems that if you’ve made it or not, there is always something more. Like Hank says, if you’re worth $10 million, you look at the guy that has $20 million and wonder how he got so lucky. So we have these up and coming young professionals, wanting the house, the cars, the wife, the husband, the lover, the nanny, the personal shopper and the therapist.

And then you have the guy with the $20 million and he doesn’t know which wine to drink (or collect), where in Italy to go ( besides the Ferrari factory), what to order at Bice or Babbo, or why he should be requesting mozzarella di bufala on his thin crust Napolitana style pizza. Isaia or Kiton? Bontoni or Area Forte? Panarea or Porto Cervo? Supertuscan or Silver Oak? A real quandary.

My little 400 square foot bungalow is now written up in architecture magazines. Seems folks spend hundreds of thousands for some property way north and west of Taos and want to put up something small, like a glorified fishing cabin. And now the small is becoming upscale. Tiny is the new big. As long as you don’t have to abandon your McMansion in the safety of your personal bubble, back home.

There are plenty of folks out there who want someone like a Sam to teach them about roasting coffee and the difference between full city and city plus. Or helping them write a book about their life. But first they have to get a life with some meaning. And they aren't going to get it in three days or less.

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