Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Foreign Influence

Sitting back home, listening to the remnants of Gustav rattle the bamboo chimes and Solari bells, I have taken to thinking about influences. Gustav slipped in over the walls and the gated communities and now the region is wetter and windier. Italians crept into the American landscape and wine and the kitchen flourished under their influence. American film makers have transported their visions across the continents and moved audiences in the dark around the world. So it is in this new world where we all are under the influence of something, many things.

How did the American armed forces influence farming in post war Southern Italy? For instance, did the Marshall Plan get Italy “up and running” in a way that once the daily needs had been met the farmers looked to their history and went about resuscitating the old lost vines?

Tourism, at once a dreaded scourge and a needed shot of economic stimulus to any economy. But how has all the tourists changed a place like Rome all these hundreds of years? Or would Rome not be the Rome it is if it weren’t for the constant flow of people through her gates? After all it also attracted great artists like Caravaggio and Michelangelo. Their Roman holiday became our must see attractions. Rome has always been under the influence of something or other, even its past.

When young women in medieval Sicily became pregnant outside of marriage, often these fatherless children would be put into orphanages. They would be given surnames such as Esposito (from ex positum, "of this place"), Trovato ("found"), Proietti ("cast out") and d'Ignoti ("parents unknown") until 1928 when it was deemed those names would unduly influence the lives and the future of the unfortunate children.

Nobility has long been an influencing factor, on the Italian canvas and anywhere in the world where someone seeks power and status. We call a wine noble or assign nobility to certain grapes, be it the “French varieties” or some other way to parade one’s ossified rational. So those ancient workhorse "bastard varieties", Cannonau or Corvina, Malvasia or Montepulciano, because of their identification with a rustic past, have no opportunity to claim title to nobility? I think the influence of the democratization of taste has uplifted the alluring and the authentic to new levels in the post revolutionary world of saporosity. New masters arise in the hierarchy of hunger; a young virile flavor replaces a silverback languishing in the crowded forest of flavors.

Not to say some of the old champions’ day is done. But in the streets of New York and bayous of Baton Rouge, the heavyweight must still be relevant, still be able to wield with some influence. Cabernet, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio still have an audience, even if we sometimes daydream that they’ve fought their last fight.

A young winemaker from Tuscany or Piemonte makes a tour through America. People come to listen and taste and take some of the wines home. It happens all the time. The same winemaker who has just influenced those 60 people will go to a western shop and buy a pair of Lucchese boots or Ed Hardy slip-ons. Foreign persuasion with mutual permission to change, alter and reset one’s way of thinking about something. When a French wine making family sends one of their young ones off to harvest in Australia or when a Davis grad picks grapes in the Côte-d'Or do you not think they will walk away from the experience unchanged? We are all connected by our mutually non-exclusive influences.

You can cover your head any number of ways, but it won’t exclude you from the locomotion of influence that you are under in these times. And while it has become fashionable to go back to simpler times and recast this or that philosophy as more essential, because it resists pressure from outside forces, that is simply trying to shield oneself from the inevitable. Politicians get people all worked up with this because they try to influence voters into thinking they (the voters) can be immune from outside persuasion. But that is exactly what the pols are working up to.

And likewise with food and wine. There is no Kansas to go home to. Everyone and everything touches one another, like it or not. We have not arrived at the end of the river to carry out a mission that does not exist – nor will it ever exist.

At least not as we could ever imagine, without some outside influence.

Graphics from the Polish cinema poster site


Marco said...

I like the Polish movie posters. Cross cultural influences can't be avoided. Some of the richest cultures are an admixture of cultures. I'm not a fan of isolationists. Off topic but still somewhat relevant, the Italian word "influenza", I recently learned, refers to the idea that the planets had a bearing on epidemics and plagues.

Unknown said...

And don't forget that Captain Corelli taught some Greek islanders how to play the mandolin.

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