Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Jumping the Snark

I’ve been away from the home fires for a couple of days and seem to have landed in a Dantean Purgatory for journalists. As I mentioned to a friend earlier today, I am back in the Invisible Man character. Knowing I don’t live in NY any longer (not any longer than I had to), but when one meets a person a handful of times, you’d think they’d at least try to pretend to remember you. Give it the old Hollywood try. These are folks who are writing about wine and the hospitality business? Seems they could stand to take a cue and become a little more hospitable. Not to mention the benefits from actively working with contacts like we do mulch. The new network? Meh, a lot of these folks are from the dead tree school of writing.

We're sittting in a press conference. Basically a bunch of weary Italian speakers spouting banalities about Brunello and how great Italy is. Along the way a writer (one whose book on Italian wine up to this moment I had recommended to everybody) asks the panel a question. No one on the panel answered that person. So I decided to open up my “no good deed goes unpunished” toolbox and reached on in and tried and help this writer out. After all, we’re colleagues right? Oh wait, the PR firm didn’t get my request for the luncheon so they would allow me to come to the press conference but not to the press meal. I guess they only had so much swag to go around. Not to worry, the merchant’s luncheon was much more fun.

Anyway, I turned to the writer and asked, “Did you get an answer to your question?” The reply, a curt “No.” So in my innocence I volunteered, “Well, you should look up so and so, he’s a professor at the University of Torino and a pretty well known enologist and he is looking after the analysis of the wines of Montalcino. He can do this kind of analysis with any wine and he is the best in the business.” I know this because he consults for a handful of wineries I do business with for many years. He’s a real person.

This expert writer now scowls at me. “I am not talking about anthocyanins; everybody can get that kind of information.” At this point I am really regretting being a nice person from The West who was raised to be polite to everybody, even those afflicted with foot-in-mouth disease. I drop-kick the punt. “It appears you don’t want my information to provide you with the answer. But even if that is not what you are looking for, that is the answer.” And I turn 180 degrees and remove this person from my field of sight.

We have folks in a dying or dead industry. Journalism and book publishing. And we are attempting to exchange ideas, bring them up to speed. Remember? I am the Invisible Man, I don’t exist.

This is where bloggers are the tsunami that are just rolling up over the dead tree scribes who are still waiting for the 9th wave to come take them to some ink-fraught Valhalla. Well, there is no free ride. If you were famous then, if you don’t reinvent yourself again in today’s world, you will truly become invisible.

My point? Other than the endless frustration with the old school media who I have to keep reintroducing myself to at seminars (a very humbling and tedious ritual for a normally shy person like me), I think it is that you think you are going to engage in some brainstorming with fellow colleagues and what you have really done is to have landed yourself in the cockfighting ring. And for some reason, it seems to be worse with females. Maybe they have had to scratch through all those glass ceilings all those years and they are just wary of another white middle-aged male. If that’s all they see, I pity them for their apprehension. I’m not a threat. I have a day job. I don’t want their gig or their assignment or their spotlight.

So where was I? Tonight at a grand dinner, where all kinds of awards were being given out like candy at Halloween, I happily sat next to a young Italian who works in promoting the products of one of the regions of Italy. We talked about some of the things I have wanted to talk about to some of the press folks. But here, we managed to cut to the chase and dig into the idea of what an Italian producer of wine needs to comprehend, and quickly. We have a whole new culture of young people from 22-40 who don’t care to listen through a rash of white haired old speechmakers spouting platitudes and non answers. These are the up and coming generations, who are looking for info in under a minute. They want the message to be cool and hot at the same time. And short. The Italian wine marketer who can talk to that group and keep the lines of communication open will build their business across this country and "land it in the Hudson."

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Clogging & Crypto-kibitzing

Change. Yeah, everybody’s talking about it. From what I’ve seen and heard this week, though, my takeaway is this: Everybody wants everything around them to change, as long as they don’t need to be doing any of the changing themselves.

So, a different era, but the S.O.S.? Good luck with that one, people of earth.

Now we've got all these newbies on board, some of ‘em who want to serve man, and already folks are trying to figure out ways to snake out of the commit. Tryin’ to make it real, compared to what?

OK, I’m ready to change, or else. Straight on down the line, folks. Down-size? Will do. Figure out how to sell wine to a society not driven by consumerism? We might not sell 20% more a year for the next seven years, but I bet we will give the wine drinkers a better experience. It’s already going in that direction anyway, so we might as well step out of the showers and break out of the camp. It’s going there.

A while back I wrote that I was scaling back to two posts a week @ On the Wine Trail in Italy because of another blog-gig in development. Well, it’s up and running, called The Blend. Right now I’m doing a bit of “repurposing” on it, but the (self-imposed) parameter is to provide pertinent wine and spirits info to my colleagues in the day job, as well as anyone else who’d like to surf on by. So now, I’m a clogger too. We’re still getting our legs, but the reception (and the traffic) has been way over my expectations. I guess we done had us another baby, ma. Anyway, check it out, The Blend.

I seem to be obsessed with older television and motion picture themes lately, sorry about that. My sidekick in Austin, Dr. J, ("Hutch") has been passively encouraging me to run this out of my system. Like it has been said so many times before, it ain’t dogma, it’s just a blog, ma.

The V.P.'s and general sales managers have been streaming out of the office to California for the end of year sales and performance reviews with the wineries, and some of them have been coming back saying we here in Texas have been showing the rest of the country how important tenacity is in these times. Having lived here all these years, I’m not sure if it is just plain stubbornness or perhaps not buying into the bicoastal American dream. You know, lots of credit, other people’s money, buy low, sell high. Or don’t even buy, just take the money and tell folks how great everything is, and don’t invest a penny. Well, we here in flyover country probably have a retinue of sins, venial and mortal on our bloodied hands, but for the time it looks like we made it through the year with only flesh wounds. We’re talking sales now folks. But 2009 is barreling past us and things are s.l.o.w.i.n.g. d.o.w.n. Duh.

I don’t mean to rant, but last week I was in two steakhouses and two Asian restaurants. The Asian places had food that seemed to be more serious. Smaller portions (and prices) higher sourcing and quality. I had a Carbonara at one of them that was better than any Italian place nearby. And I had a Bolognese at an Italian-inclined (?) concept that had nothing to do with Bolognese. So, go figure. I’m crazy. Hey, while my Austinopoli co-conspirator wants to make the world safe for Italian wine, I just want to serve man. With as little salt and garlic as possible.

I had a Petite Sirah from Seghesio and a Zinfandel from Pellegrini Family Vineyard this week and I loved them both. This week over a corked bottle of 2001 Brunello ( it said it was 100% Sangiovese on the label, I kid you not! ) and a better 2004 Sagrantino I chatted with Robert Pellegrini about the history of Italians growing wine in early Californian and the impact it has had on the industry. It’s part of research I am doing for a presentation in July in Sacramento for the Society of Wine Educators Conference.

So, that along with folks in Washington getting to keep their Blackberry to communicate with the outside world, that’s about all these is in my little Kanamit Cookbook tonight.

Buon Appetito!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

A Period of Adjustment

It was Tuesday at 11:50AM, Eastern Time. I got a call from someone wanting to know about a place to stay in Italy. I asked them if I could call them back after the new president took his oath and gave his speech. “What you’re listening to that used car salesman?” was the reply from the other end of the phone line.

No matter what your political leaning, we were witness to a rare piece of history that wasn’t cataclysmic. A new era, a time when the torch has been passed to a new generation of leaders. But no, my caller wouldn’t have anything to do with that.

Yesterday in the office, I was overhearing conversation after conversation with our programmers (folks who deal directly with the wineries and importers about their mutual business). I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. We just finished a very difficult quarter for sales and January is traditionally a slow time. A time to catch our breath. To analyze our year and to plan our new year. But no, these well-rested (and well-tanned) winery folks wouldn’t have anything to do with that. They wanted to send palate after palate of overpriced wine into already bulging warehouses. As if they have been taking a siesta these last six months and think things are just as they have been. Business as usual. What a rude awakening they are in for.

The blatant reality is out in the streets. For two nights this week I have been in high-dollar Texas steak houses. And they have been empty. No one is picking up $150 Napa Cabs. They just aren’t. Sorry folks, but if you were to get away from your computer screen and go out and see for yourself, we wouldn’t have to push back so often.

Oh, I get it; the owners want to move their inventory. They’ve made big investments. We have to find a way.

Yes we do. But no we cant. Not right away. Not this time. If those same folks who were mocking the events in our nation’s capital had been listening that day, they would have heard that we all are going to have to make sacrifices. All of us. Well, the end of the line consumer already is making sacrifices and they still want to drink wine. But they want to be able to afford to pay for it. What is so wrong with that and why as marketers, do some of our colleagues not “get it?”

I sat in a few meetings lately and my mind wandered off. I wasn’t hearing any new ideas. I wanted to think we could brainstorm, but I seemed to be picking up the feeling of desperation from people who have run out of ideas and just wanted us to take their products off their hands. Or else.

Or else what? They’ll take their products to another house? As if the conditions on the other side of the road are any different? Large or small, these times are calling for new ideas, for folks willing to sacrifice their margins, or their pride, and get on with the show. Make ‘em laugh.

I heard the story of an uber-wealthy Napa Valley wine producer. They make a red that sells for $80-90. So already you can surmise their business isn’t tearing it up. But sitting in a second floor office with a 360 view of the vineyards on a beautiful winter day in Napa Valley, how can the sale manager not think the rest of the world is equally blessed. “Just take your allocation. Or else.” That’s the extent of his strategy?

Or else what? You’ll surprise all of us with an original idea? You’ll come down, off your lofty perch, and get on the dance floor? You’ll actually talk to a front-line retailer or one of those struggling steakhouses and make them see the sense of your argument? The evil of their ways?

And importers, too. They’re thinking Obama is going to save their world? Obama is drinking Prosecco, so now Prosecco will outperform Champagne. Poor, poor Franciacorta.

Or the Tuscan producer whose basic Chianti Classico has been designed to sell for $25? Now it’s not selling so well. But of course it is the fault of us here in America for not understanding the value of their product. Value is not the driving force. Money is. And money has dried up. Disappeared.

The French and the Italians, too, are being unbearably thick about this situation. This is not the time to cast a deaf ear. Don’t believe me? Just walk around Manhattan and see all the empty restaurant spaces that cannot sell your wine anymore, for any price.

The game is still the game. Folks still gotta want to be receptive. Ya dig?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

From the Mall in Washington D.C. ~ Inauguration Photos

This just in from Andrea Fassone, who is in Washington for the inauguration. Later this evening he and his wife, opera singer Lorraine Hinds, will attend the George Washington University Ball.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

" If we want things to stay the same, things will have to change. "

My grandfather Alfonso and Giuseppe Tomasi Di Lampedusa were the same age and from the same town. Both families frequented certain circles of Sicilian society. But when my grandfather was fifteen, he traveled to Texas and never moved back to Sicily.

I’ve often wondered why he never looked back. The family business was doing very well. I wonder if his father advised him to go to America in search of wider horizons. Perhaps my great-grandfather saw that Italy wouldn’t fit in my grandfather’s future.

When my father and his sister were born in Dallas, it wasn’t too much later that the family moved to Los Angeles. My sisters and I were born in Southern California and they still live there, as does most of my father’s family. Most of my family in California have very good business and are in good shape for the future.

Somehow, thirty years ago, I decided to move back to Texas, one step closer to the Italian reality that my grandfather left 100 years ago. And while I doubt I’ll complete my grandfather’s circle and return to Italy permanently, I somehow am attached to Italy more than my grandfather. All of this through a period of change, revolutionary change. It seems the last 100 years has been one giant change machine. And it looks like more is on the way.

I look at the life we hold up and want to continue, but know it was never sustainable. The large fast cars and even larger houses, the piles of money needed to warm a 9,000 square foot home that houses two, maybe three people, those days are coming to a close. Maybe not in two or three years, but in the next 50, most likely that will all be a memory of a time when folks took more than they needed.

If you’ve gotten this far, if you’re not a scanner of the first paragraph, then you’ll probably want me to get to the point.

Just like the book, “The Leopard", by Giuseppe Tomasi Di Lampedusa, which chronicled the last days of an era that had outlived its purpose, so now we are living in a time when in order for us to keep an equilibrium in our lives we must be agents for change, embracing it and moving with it. I am ready for this. Looking forward to it. This is our destiny and it is an electrifying time.

Further, with Italy and Italian wines, I feel purpose-bound to be a transmitter of that energy that will unbound us, to express the thoughts and necessities that those of us involved in Italian wine and culture must be cognizant of. I’m aware of the game. A line from The Leopard, “Forgive me for saying say, Colonel, but don’t you think all that hand-kissing, cap-doffing, and complimenting went a little too far?”, conveys a bit of the root problem, in places like Montalcino, Verona and Nuova York.

And because of the comfort zone that some folks in the Italian wine business have arrogated, I feel Italy is unwilling to go forward in these times. Some of it from hubris and some from lack of hope. But the numbers don’t lie. If Italy does not get beyond personal self-gain and self-inflicted drama, the market will leave them behind. There is too much energy coming from places like Argentina and Australia and California, wines and people who will tap into their spirit of place and send creations that will commend our new era.

Italy can do this, with the help of the many who can constantly recalibrate the momentum forward into the future, not stagnating along some tributary held hostage by narcissism.

“The Leopard” or “Il Gattopardo” is, for me, one of the greatest books ever written. Maybe because it taps into a level inside me that is molecular. DiLampedusa’s Sicily, from outward appearances, is gone. Without regards to the broken shards that are strewn all about, the steady flow of the molten dreg pushes us ever so steadily towards transformation.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Italian Wine 2008 - Report from Flyover Country

The intell is in. 2008 is wrapped up and put to bed. What an interesting year it has been. Lots of good data in this post, as long as you don’t mind it coming from flyover country. Not the high highs (and the low lows) of either coasts, but the steady drip of Middle America, the drum beat pounding. The mill of God grinding slow, but exceedingly fine.

I’m not quite giddy about the results, but considering that patch of Dante’s Hell we just walked barefoot through, not too bad. Italy, even with Brunellopoli and any number of shortcomings, is rising from the ashes of the world economic meltdown. Not to say 2009 is going to be a stroll in the glen. That it won’t be. Unless you are an importer or a merchant who just can’t stand people, it should be tolerable. But my warning (or prediction) is this: This is not going to be a year to get uppity or impatient. And as much as the world wants to help everyone to what they are entitled to, the pie must be sliced a bit thinner this year. Old vets and young startups alike, this year will be about the people left standing. So, talk among yourselves and make friends. On to the data.

I have at my disposal an analytical tool called Diver, pretty much the industry standard these days for mining data. One of our Diver Diva’s has set me up with a couple of markers that I can tweak. What I am reporting is the tip of the iceberg data, that is, I will not dive deep. For one, it is proprietary information. And secondly, it isn’t relevant to this post. But what I do share is an overview; let’s say the view from 30,000 feet as we are stealthing across flyover country. Middle America from Texas to Ohio, Iowa to Indiana.

Two areas, dollars and cases. Important for both because of the fluctuation of the dollar/euro exchange in 2008. For the most part, dollars showed greater increases (when they did) than cases. More with less. I analyzed sales from Italy, France, Australia, California, Japan and the whole kit and caboodle, that being everything wine, beer, spirits. Interesting year, but I already said that. It bears repeating.

This year Italy surpassed France in the world I look at. France is in the crapper. Champagne sales and high dollar Bordeaux, along with what seems to be a self-destruct mechanism in the French government towards the growth of sales of alcoholic beverages. I have no idea what they are up to in France, though I have read that perhaps the En Primeur (the annual Bordeaux showcase for the recent vintage) might or might not happen in March. This year they also host Vinexpo.

Australia and Italy were neck and neck in dollars this year. Impressive showing by Italy, seeing as the bulk of the sales of Australian wine are in the Yellow Tail price range. Foster’s wine sales in Australia have been lagging and that accounted in part for the Italian/Australian photo finish. Except Italy was trending up and Australia was trending down. The Italian market is in a bit of a sweet spot because the folks, who in the past would spring for a bottle of wine, say at $40-50 retail, are now looking to the $20-30 range. And there Italy has a great range of viable products. Not Brunello or Barolo maybe, but certainly a better than average Chianti Classico, an Aglianico, Barbera, plenty of options. And Italian culture is just hitting its stride here in America. What used to be a phenomenon on the coasts now is becoming more integrated in the developing cultural life of America and how she eats and drinks. That, along with a new political atmosphere, would be in most times a moment for a spike in growth. But seeing as we are still enveloped in the world financial meltdown, I remain optimistically cautious. This isn’t the year to gamble the dance contest on a newly learned tango. Maybe something like a waltz or a rumba. I have no idea what that is supposed to mean, but my inner editor let it get by.

I broke the analysis down to three areas of comparison: December 2008 vs. December 2007, 4th quarter 2008 vs. 4th quarter 2007 and all of 2008 vs. all of 2007. I was looking for patterns.

First off, December really pulled everything out of the tailspin. November helped a bit in the 4th quarter analysis but looking at the three areas of comparison, the 4th quarter (October especially) was where everything came unraveled.

California was mixed. High dollar volume and cases, but there is resistance to the prices. $60 and up California wines are dormant for now. Italy is in a good position to take some of that business, as long as we don’t let the Brunello consortium steer the ship.

While we’re talking about the embarrassment that has emanated from Montalcino, I am happy to report that even though it seemed to be all we heard last year, there are a slew of regions and producers who are going about their business and who haven’t been affected by the Montalcino meltdown. I’m sure somewhere Luca Zaia is patting himself on a back and taking a long drink of milk in a self-congratulatory victory lap. Would that it was just happening inside his head, but from what I can tell, he is itching to take credit for all the good that is happening.

Rising star? Japan and sake’. Huge increases (albeit on a small base) but the potential for growth is exciting. It seems that Japan is committed to quality. And while sake’ might never be another Pinot Grigio, it could take some business away from California and France, especially in Asian restaurants.

Pinot Grigio, by the way, showed growth in sales from production areas outside of Italy. That would be California, Oregon, Argentina and Australia. If the trend continues at the pace it is right now, in 3-5 years more Pinot Grigio will be sold from areas other than Italy. So a country that defined a category is threatened with losing the lion’s share of the business, out-hustled by California and Australia. Today I was in a retail store and saw California Pinot Grigio’s in the set with Italian Pinot Grigio’s. The Trophy Generation doesn’t know and doesn’t care.

In Texas, Italian wine now dominates the import market, being a larger dollar volume than any other country (Australia, France, etc), for 2008. And we’re talking about the land of Bud and Crown Royal. That’s huge news. New York might be the center of the world for most Italian importers, but the center has some shrinkage.

After 25 years in the hinterlands doing missionary work, it’s a nice affirmation that we are actually going somewhere besides just trying to outrun the authorities. Onward, through the fog.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Allure of Velour

We’re deep in the thick of winter now. The seersucker has been shoved to the back of the closet. Wool and other warm fabrics shelter us from the cold. And our wines? What comfort are we getting from them in these days?

I am fascinated by the use of velvety in describing a wine. That rich, deep pile mouth-feel a wine shows when it has a full flavor. And seeing as we often cuddle with cast-off fabrics of the past in this blog, why not embrace velour?

My first real brush with velour was with a 1975 Petite Sirah from Souverain. Bill Bonetti was the winemaker and he brought out a wine that even in the tumbler that it was poured into showed this thick, embracing and very seductive red wine off in a way that after thousands of wines and almost thirty years, it persists. Ya feel me?

For some reason a 1955 Biondi-Santi Brunello comes to mind. When I drank this wine we were profoundly ensconced in the 1980’s, a decade where velour was foundering. But the wine wasn’t. I remember the color as being this deep clay going towards the ripe crimson of an early morning sunrise. And the wine had some stuffing, real meat in the flavor, something you could wrap your palate around. Gorgeous, juicy, classic Sangiovese. And gift wrapped in velour.

In the heady days when California wines were styled as big immense reds, there were too many to recall on this post. I’d have to say a wine like Randy Dunn’s Howell Mountain Cabernet, in those early days, ran the plays for everybody on the valley floor. Now we have too many players on the field and those high price tags have a lot of them looking for an arena they can play in. The 4th quarter meltdown gave ‘em all a bit of a concussion.

Italy also has a Maremma full of velvety dawgs, but I’m not sure who be wanting ‘em on these corners. Yeah, they gots ‘em some bling, but the rest of us soldiers down the line, and the little people, they don’t have the cash to crack open a Bolgheri once a week.

Is there a plush red or two we can ride for the next six months or so and get on over it? Something you can get for a Jackson? Anyone reading this have any feedback? Remember the rules (Marco):the wine is lavish, rich and velutinous.

Sidebar: There is a hybrid roaming about. The cardinal aspect of this deviant has merged the feel of summer (seersucker) with winter (velour). You will find this among many winery owners especially in Bordeaux and once upon a time in Italy. They would walk around wine tastings in their winemaker’s jacket uniform. Benjamin Siegel popularized this in the last century. And we all know what happened to Bugsy, no?

The Italian stays true to his roots. Milk is milk, sugar is sugar and velvet is power. Velour is recombinant command. These two pictures illustrate.

Personally, I have been enjoying a little red from the Langhe, from Ca` Viola. The wine is Bric du Luv, 95% Barbera and 5% Nebbiolo. It’s a little spoofilato, hey we’re talking velour here, not linen. But it’s got me begging for more.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Regarding Shrinkage

“There is a lot of juice in a shrinking market,” an Italian wine exec recently said to me in a meeting. I couldn’t agree more. This week, in the day job, we finally closed out our year. Initial reports are showing a rally in December and the Italian wine sales were better than I expected. In fact, in the flyover world that I track, Italy outpaced France and Spain (easily) and might have eclipsed even Australia. I will post a more detailed report when the bandwidth cools down in the building from everyone wanting to pull reports at the same time.

That said, I have had at least four calls this week from suppliers looking for a home. My terse advice in this moment is a two parter: 1) move here and dig in or 2) stay home and wait it out for the next 18 months.

The ark is full and there is absolutely no more room in the market for anymore Italian wine. If you have an importer and a distributor, stick with them, work with them. Stay where you are. If you are homeless, I am sorry for you. The market is over saturated. For now.

More to come.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Exodus and Anamnesis

While visiting my friend Mario I noticed a National Geographic from 1916, the same as his birth year. Italy in 1916, the year my Aunt Mary and Aunt Josephine were born. They are all still alive and well. Here was a magazine with many great images of the Italy that both of their parents had left. Fascinating stuff, looking back at Italy some 93 years, to see how it has changed. The photographs on this post are from that issue.

Oddly, I think many of us want to find those back roads (and wines) of Italy in 1916. A return to a day when things seemed so much simpler and easier. But then one needs to factor in that time. 1916, World War I, with 37 million casualties (16 million deaths, 21 million wounded), an incoming influenza pandemic that killed 40-100 million people world wide, many younger than 45 years old. So, it wasn’t all rustic charm and simpler times, for those who lived through it.

Not to dwell in the past, especially one which, one might argue, has little significance for the new generation, folks from 14-30. There were barely paved roads, or toilets. Nano I-pods? Bluetooth? How about a toothbrush? No, it was like it happened a million years ago, to the inheritors of the future.

The oldest Italian wine in my possession is a 1936 Est!Est!!Est!!! Amabile. It will never be opened. It sits there, twenty years after the National Geographic issue, in the time of Mussolini, at the edge of another World War.

Wines in those times. Now we see them nostalgically, their wild yeasts and oxidation-rich profiles, and we’re not talking micro-oxidation either. A shame, because we talk about the heritage of great wine from Italy, but is there really much to ponder on before 1945, when the world experienced a change on such a level that in the Olden Times it would have been called Biblical? We sexy it up and call it “quantum change” as if the atomic age affected winemaking. Which it did, if not directly.

The linear acceleration of agricultural progress hasn’t been without its casualties though. The story teller, the master and the apprentice, the craft of the wine business, all this has morphed into some 15 minute superconducting version, where, in their place, now, young sommeliers walk on water in restaurants across the planet. I was there too, man. We have all been there before.

Maybe I should get out my Andre Simon, C.E.Hawker and T.A.Layton and read them now. These were writers telling the story of wine from a time long forgotten by followers of Galloni, Meadows and Vaynerchuck. It worked for Merlin, to travel through time from the future to the past; maybe with wine it would be equally magical. From what I read it sure seems folks want to find something that has gone missing.

When it comes to Italy, one can actually do this quite easily. Calabria or Liguria would be a great place to start looking for those core experiences in the Italian landscape.

Or, if you want something simpler, something a little less “nano”, you could read the old books, find the random National Geographic from a million years ago, or you could sit back, pour a glass of ancient Marsala and crank up the Rossini and let your imagination take you away.

I’ve found the Italian of our imagination and our dreams can be a better substitute Italy than the reality on the ground now or 93 years ago.

But if you want to go for the experience of Italy, and you have had your share of visiting museums and restaurants and churches and Autogrills, next time, choose the slow train from Rome to Catanzaro and take a trip back to an Italy that linear time has not accelerated with the rapidity of modernity. You can find vestiges of Pythagoras, Federico II, and Mascagni. You might even find a piece of your Italian soul which you have been looking for.

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