Sunday, July 06, 2008

Once Upon a July

It’s my month, definitely my month. This is the period when I take a breather from the daily grind, crank back, calm down and tan up. Often there is some beach time on the Adriatic. But this year, it’s all done as a remote viewer. There’s too much going on here. The wine trail in Italy must wait. And maybe my month as well might need to be put on the back burner.

I went looking for signs of economic life in America, in the restaurants, in the markets, in the liquor stores, in the lakeside dancing spots, looking for hope that the America I grew up in was still there. Maybe a little dented, bruised, but not down for the count.

The thing is, it looks like all across the globe, except for the extremely wealthy, we are in a pinch. Italy is in a crunch, things there are expensive. Across America, East Coast, West Coast, flyover country, there are signs not only that things are slowing down but the people don’t seem be able to recognize what we’re in. My 94 year old mother commented to me today, that she thinks this could be worse than the Depression she went through as a young American. My mother, who is paying almost $5 for a gallon of gas.

And folks at farmers markets, selling their organic berries, still think Barack Obama is a foreigner or a Muslim? We are standing in the square at High Noon and this is one noir moment in our history.

And what is the Italian response? From Italy, it seems that silence is what they are serving back. I am astonished that they think this would be an appropriate response. Like the cat that sits in the corner and pretends to not see you, thinking if they don’t look at you, you will think there aren’t there. Invisible. Not culpable. Unbelievable.

I have been reviewing wine lists across my region and am amazed that no one has thought to re-adjust their mark up so that folks could actually be persuaded to get in their SUV’s and go out to dinner and possibly order a bottle of wine. Salespeople all across my region are telling me, in places both reasonably priced and high end, things have slowed down, body count is down. Except in Afghanistan.

Listen, you buy a bottle of wine for $25, you charge $90. Wrong. You charge $60, maybe, and give the diners a break. They are already taking it in their tanks; find a way to bring them back in. Because if you don’t, you might not be able to get them back in, even if you charge only $50. It’s heading that way, faster than a brushfire in Southern California.

Here’s a sign of the times. We have 700-800 cases from a winery in Puglia, the wine just showed up. Suits on Stockton Street decide to move the wine over to another house. Happens all the time. This here now is fresh wine, retails for $11-12. Although a year or so ago the same wine could be found for $9-10. Anyway, I get to offering this wine for $5 for the whole lot, way below cost. Don’t know why, maybe to slow it down in its next life cycle, maybe to give a friendly account a deal. Now here’s the shocker. I run it by a couple of accounts across the state and the wind-up is, they can’t take it all. Yes, it’s a good deal, they admit, but cash flow or body count is low. So, no deal.

That, my friends, is not a good indication. For any of us. Not for the bio-dynamic, free-range, sulfite-free crowd and not for the let’s go get some K-J at Cost-Co crowd. I have been talking about this for a while now and folks are just trading down, not one or two price points, but more. Hey, Rumsfeld and the Pentagon tried it, and didn’t that work out real well for all of us? Now we have a whole country looking for something from somewhere cheaper than China? Good luck.

Is it all doom and gloom, sky is falling, badder than bad? Of course not, but the signs are all there.

A bunch of Italian working men go into a club at then end of their shift, have a beer or a whisky. Talk about their lives, their family, their women, their goomadas. At the end they all go home, where their kids and their wives are waiting for them, water boiling on the stove, a pot of sauce simmering, some pork riblets in it to thicken the sauce and supply some meager protein. The same story across the country for two, three generations. And then, no more, it’s gone. They’re gone, the people, the traditions, the hopes the sauce, the boiling water. The goomadas. La commedia è finita.

Forty years later we stare into screens, looking for meaning, searching for our simmering sense of belonging to something on a Sunday night in the middle of the desert on a hot night in July.

Yep, definitely my month.


Gastropoda said...

Whatever you do, don't listen to Daniel Schorr singing a Depression song. It may put you over the edge.

Marco said...

Is Julius any relation to Thelonius Sphere? Drink more wine, not that seersucker stuff, the brooding kind. Listen to more and different sounds/music. For a while, I thought you went to Pantelleria.

Alfonso Cevola said...

'nother island, bub...

Anonymous said...

you, my friend, are a soothsayer.
not soothing, but saying.
and saying it like it is.
''my month'' is definitely prescient...because it is 'now.'
it's scary.
$5 for the wine and they can't take it?
i'm hitting the same thing over here: i run a summer camp.
by most standards, it is not expensive. it is not the price of the town camp, but close.
more parents have come to me for scholarships than ever before.
parents who have been making a good living.
the ones who never make a good living are not shy to ask for the scholarship.
for them, it's a way of life...for the others, it's just: oh my god, we've never been here before.
but i'd rather have more kids than i give scholarships: they have to pay something, though, and then
i go out and find the rest of the tuition from people who can write a check for $200, $500, $1,000.
there are fewer of those around now than before. i've got another $3,000 to raise before i can say the strategy worked...if i don't raise it, i don't get paid, but the camp survives...which is it going to be?

you are right...the choice is reduce the cost of everything, or risk losing the constituency on the back end...because people are starting to have memories and loyalties kick in. you are right...there is no place left to go to find 'cheap' stuff. in my opinion, that's a good thing. why? because maybe finally the world will stop running around looking for the 'cheapest, best deal' and get back to a time when 'quality' actually had some meaning; when 'long lasting' actually meant you held onto your well-made car, your well-made golf clubs, your well-made iron, your well-made telephone, your well-made shirts...and you held onto them for years, not months. i am more of my grandfather's era: he had a pair of clipping shears to trim the cherry trees that were his father's from Sicily - my brother now has them - they are over 125 years old, well-made, and still do the job. Smith&Hawkins would have you buying another one every year, if it were up to them.

why? because the credo in all business now is 'innovate or die.' yes, innovate, but don't get stinking rich over it.

ah, never mind. if i was stinking rich i would have probably paid for us to go to Italy and buy our own winery and call it a day.


Anonymous said...

speaking of mark-ups, one of our "up-scale" grocers has gone through and arbitrarily increased prices EVEN MORE. some under-twenty bottles went up as much as FOUR DOLLARS.pretty soon, if we can actually afford to drive to the grocery store, pay 3 dollars for broccoli, and 4 for a loaf of bread, we certainly won't be able to buy the restaurants?! fugeddaboutit.

John said...

Love the photos.

The problem is everywhere. Here in the UK it cost me £1.22 for a litre today; that works out at something over $9 a gallon. People don't go out much anymore, but let's hope for better times and another glass of something red.

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