Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Bursting the Bubble

A little less than a year ago I wrote this post, about a friend of mine who was mentoring wealthy friends in his neighborhood on how to live. Since then, some of those people who live in that neighborhood (in Dallas it’s called “the Bubble”) have had to readjust their lives somewhat. Sell a Ferrari or two, downsize to a Maserati and a Land Rover. Move from their 12,000 square feet home to a smaller 8,000 size. Maybe only a month in Aspen in the summer, rather than the whole season. Or opting out of spending August in Sardegna to scale down to a few weeks in the yacht off Portofino. Yes, life is rough for the alto-borghese, here in gli Stati Uniti.

Several folks have asked me to guide them in the appreciation of wine, life and things Italian. They have asked me to set them up in Sicily and Sardegna this summer. They are cruising in mega-yachts that offer the comfort of things recognizable while in a world they aren’t so familiar with. Why even go to Italy?

I find it to be a futile exercise; why not stay home? The money is familiar, the language is recognizable, the food doesn’t challenge one’s idea of what food should be, and there are always inexpensive fruity wines from out West that they can stock up, from their local big box. What more could one ask for? That’s what we have been fighting all these wars for in the last hundred or so years, so we could protect our way of life.

Well, that bubble is bursting, big time. Everywhere you look, the paradigm is shifting. Everything is changing. Everything.

Where do we start?

Let’s take simple wine, everyday stuff. On another wine blog, this one with a post about a wine that costs less than 3 bucks, check out the comments. It’s pretty amazing what people can talk themselves into.

Saturday we had a family reunion at a park in central Texas and the rule was no glass. So like a rule-abiding citizen, I brought this box wine. When I came up to the event, some of the folks thankfully had some Giuseppe Cortese wines from Italy (part of the family has the name Cortese). I felt a bit of a fool hauling my box wine. Then I saw jugs of wine that I took for Carlo Rossi. Actually, some of the family just re-used the bottles for their home made sweet red and slightly-drier rosé. The rosé was refreshing and simple.

Back to the box wine. In the shade of 95° F weather, it satisfied the need for a liquid to go with the Italian-style baked chicken. I wasn't embarrassed to say I liked it in that moment, or did I talk myself into it?

Driving the car downhill and slipping it into neutral, why not? At the bottom of the hill there’s the inevitable red light. Who needs a Ferrari in this kind of time? You’ll get home at any rate. Or the doctor will call you up and interrupt the plans you’ve made for your life with the news that you have brain cancer. And you must shift gears, just like that.

Last night, while a dear old friend was breathing his last breaths I was lying in the pool staring up at the sky. My sparrow hawk family was foraging for dinner for their fledglings. The bubble is a circle in three dimensions, and the circle of life continues.

So while we try to find a wine to like for under $15 the stuff of life passes me by, as I shift down to 60 and head for the slow lane of life. There’s just too much going on to worry about a fuel surcharge or a foolish brother trying to wrestle money from his newly widowed mom.

Yesterday I decided to take a walk around lunchtime. I was escaping the cube farm, which was cold enough to force me out into the Texas heat. I went out walking, when colleagues passed by me coming back from lunch. Moments later, one of them called. “Is everything alright?” “Yes, I’m okay, just trying to thaw out from the office.” Maiden voyage in these parts, to actually be walking around, like some kind of modern day Vespucci. Breaking out of the bubble.

People are telling me they have to downsize from three homes to two, from a Ferrari to a Maserati. But on the trail I am seeing people who are trying to decide if they should buy food or gas. One person told me they could buy a foot long from Subway for $5 everyday, and eat it for lunch and dinner, and they could exist with a budget of $150 a month for food.

In El Paso and Las Vegas the gas stations are restricting purchases to $50 and $75 per transaction. Sounds like rationing to me. $75 to fill up a truck, half the monthly food budget for the new paradigm. Scary stuff. And we’re worrying about touring a winery in Sicily or Sardegna with some psycho-pop culture guru? Is that "living a life that is more in tune with your "authentic" self (who you were created to be) or your "fictional" self (who the world has told you to be)?"

Maybe it’s a little like the lawn chair man, tying helium-filled balloons to his chair, and when he is ready to come back down to earth, he bursts them as he needs to. So you sell a Mercedes or a condo in Florida and come back down to earth. You go to Wal-Mart and buy some Chardonnay for under $3 or you head to your local Piggly-Wiggly for boxes of chicken and chardonnay. The paradigm is shifting. So are the currents. Hang on to your bubble before the winds of change blow it away.

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