Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Mark of Zaia

It has been one busy year for Luca Zaia’s Italy. From his power chair on the deck of the Italian Titanic, he has attempted to banish pineapples and kebabs, sell kiwi’s (who knew they were indigenous to Italy?) back to China from whence they came. He defended the Crucifix, Mozzarella di bufala and Sangiovese. He elevated Prosecco to the heights of Barolo and the once mighty Brunello. He was into everything, even collateralizing bank loans with wine. You name the cause and it seemed Luca Zaia was there to defend the proto-Italian position.

He finally, single-handedly, anointed Amarone, the darling red from his beloved Veneto. I am surprised he didn’t move the minister of agriculture offices to Padova, so he could be closer to his dearly loved Veneto. But it seems that will change soon. Luca Zaia is running for President. Not of the world, not of Italy. But president of the region of the Veneto. Does Luca Zaia have his sights set on a higher role in the destiny of Italy’s future in the 21st century?

And why, you ask, is this of interest to Italian wine lovers? Well, dear listeners, there are a myriad of reasons. Luca said this last summer, “Italian vineyards are under attack.” The political is always involved in the doings of food and wine in Italy. And politicians can be a help or a hindrance to those who toil in the fields. Luca Zaia has been an enormous advocate for his Veneto homeland.

But if he becomes president of the Veneto region (and there are those who say he is a shoo-in for the post) will his Lega Nord secessionist leanings unite the wine world? Or will things become even more fragmented? Will the Veneto morph into a San Marino or an East Timor? Will we find easier parking near the Fiera in Verona or hotels we can walk to from the endless pavilions? Dare we dream a dream so large?

Viewing the movie, Gomorra, I can understand why a productive, ambitious Italian from the North might want to put a little distance between him/herself and the tentacled dealings of the South. Both my grandparents walked away from the region, in fact, the country, 100 years ago. My kind can never go back. I got sick to my stomach looking at that film, even though one can point to a series like “The Wire” or even “Weeds” and ask why America would be the preferred zone for setting up a life. We all have our blinders. But this is about Luca Zaia, so we must get back on our high horse and contemplate the New Italy.

“Solo chi conosce bene la propria identità può costruire un ponte.” (Only he who knows their own identity can build a bridge.) -Luca Zaia

Will the new Italy banish tomatoes? They came from the New World. And chocolate? And potatoes? What about gnocchi? And corn? What will the polenta eaters do? How about Cabernet Sauvignon? Or Primitivo? Are they now indigenous, really? Or eggplant, brought to Sicily by the followers of Mohammed? Or rice, brought by traders through Venice from Asia? What will the Italians eat? Or drink?

Luca Zaia, you will have some explaining to do if you achieve your next ambition, which might be a stepping stone to your ultimate goal? What will you disassemble in the world of food and wine to advance your cause? And what is your cause, really? Are you some kind of Manchurian candidate from the Veneto and the Lega Nord, hell bent on taking apart this young unified country we know as Italy? Do you aim to be Savior? Or Sultan?

Is this good for Italy and the food and wine business? Is having a Prosecco Godfather such a bad thing? After all so many things from Italy have been stolen and now they come from other places, like Parmigiano, Prosecco and Pomodoro di Pachino. The nerve to take tomatoes from their ancestral home in Sicily to grow them in China? That would be like taking the Kiwi’s away from the Marche, an abomination.

From a younger country (albeit an older democracy) looking towards you from the shores of America, it appears you want to perform some kind of surgery to the body of Italy. Anyone who studies the culture and the language and the food of Italy, know that Italy is far from “unified”. But tread carefully, lest you take her back to a new renaissance of darkness in your desire to have your prowess magnified.

In reality there are places where things have their origins. Yes, tomatoes, potatoes, even pasta didn’t originate in Italy. But Italy did their best to make the experience of eating those foods something uniquely Italian. And yes I do not like to see wine producers ripping off the popularity of Prosecco by bringing it out from places like Australia. But what is the real motivation for Supernova Zaia? What is behind the mask?

“Let them eat Panettone.” might be the apothegm, as long as you freely pour Prosecco to your legions of admirers (soon to be sans polenta?). Will you wage a larger Holy War to make sure there will be no citron or rum in any of the cakes in the land? Denounce the infidel eggplant and the pagan potato to your legions of followers as you march from Pordenone to Predappio in search of a purer and nobler expression of Italianism? Search for a new name, as the word Italy has no root in the land, it is merely a word invented by the Greeks during their hostile takeover of the Southern lands, those same lands that some wish to someday break away from? Will you break clean and soon? And retire to your eagles nest in contemplation of a new order in which your vision will someday be a reality?

I will leave you dear listeners, and Zaia, with this last thought. If you truly want your destiny to rise up listen to the words of Don Alejandro, advising his son Don Diego on his future:

"Get life into you! I would you had half the courage and spirit this Señor Zorro, this highwayman, has! He has principles and he fights for them. He aids the helpless and avenges the oppressed. I salute him! I would rather have you, my son, in his place, running the risk of death or imprisonment, than to have you a lifeless dreamer of dreams that amount to nought!"

Give it a stab, Zaia - make your mark!


Anonymous said...

It's refreshing that someone from America understands Veneti and our desire for a new Veneto.

Anonymous said...

The Zaia family from the Veneto region made it to Australia in 1881. We also have an Italian tradition... and excellent wine.

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