Thursday, July 14, 2011

On the Wine Trail in Italy: Dateline 1811

Tutti ne parlano, pochi(ssimi) lo fanno.

The heat of a July summer will do many things to one who actively plows through the hard work of actually trying to make sense of what has been presented before oneself. It’s a little like trying to figure out what the history is before it becomes historical. An odd way to start something that will eventually swing into dream space, but perhaps it is the realities of the present that compel some of us to find relief, perhaps shelter, from the blunt realities of the present, if only for a few hours. So it was during this night before I awakened that I had the strangest dream. I was being sent back to Italy. I was in a windowless room, with bleak fluorescent lights and a rattling fan. A man walks in, perhaps middle aged, but he was bald. He could have been 45 – or 75. No matter, he was delivering my ticket, and my sentence to serve out one year in the Italy of 1811.

I have been marooned on Greek islands, but for a week or so. I have been sent back and forth from offices, sometimes for months. I have been exiled to work on the road, for years at a time. But never had I been sentenced to go back 200 years in time.

One looks at time, especially in this time, like a rubber band. When it is young, it is flexible and indestructible. As time goes on, the band dries out, becomes a little more delicate. With the seasons, heat or cold can affect the pliability, the memory. And ultimately it will break, into a thousand little pieces, to be scattered into the flotsam of infinity.

To be sent back 100 years before my family thought to escape Southern Italy, in the time of Napoleon, could prove to be instructive, perhaps not only to find reasons for why they would leave the idyllic countryside, but also to offer a fresh perspective on 2011. Look, things aren’t that bad here. But there are some bad things happening and initiated by people whom, it seems, have no accountability for their short-sighted actions. It’s going to be hell to pay and though the ones who are making the bad decisions might not bear the brunt of the consequences, someone will. And usually it will fall on the little people. The ones who till the soil, to live the rest of their lives like a schnook. The worker bees.

Thus my dream sent me back.

I arrived in Naples and mistook it for Palermo. The plan was to take a boat to Sicily, to Palermo. Cross over Sicily to Messina into Reggio di Calabria. Take Calabria around the gulf to Taranto in Apulia and then back through Basilicata to Campania. One year. On the wine trail in Italy in the year 1811.


All the different languages! Fortunately in dream space I understood them all. Unfortunately, I don’t remember most of the conversations, save that most of them involved directions or means to get money, food or sex.

Transportation. Slow. About two thirds of my year was spent in transit. But as that was the way in those times, I adjusted. One thing I noticed – people looked you in the eye more than they do now.

Food and wine. Where are all the tomatoes? Down here, with the little people, there were no pomodori. In fact, oddly, we ate a lot more polenta than I would have thought. But it didn’t seem to be made from corn. One note- the food was bitterer than food in 2011, generally. The vegetables seemed livelier. The fish seemed odd. Delicious, but fish I didn’t recognize. Meat? Are you kidding? In one year I had Lamb maybe three times and goat once. Beef was unavailable. Pasta was crude but savory and delicious. Thank God for goats – we had cheese – and even two hundred years ago cheese was my little addiction, although on rare occasions.

And wine? I’ve got to say the wines, when fresh, were out of this world. When aged, if they weren’t fortified, they were pretty dismal. Alice would have loved the young whites. I preferred them when they were fresh – they had a musky quality that I found alluring.

Luckily, I made friends with farmer communities along the way and they liked my new world attitude, even back then, even if they didn’t quite understand who I was or where I came from. I looked like them, and I was younger, about 25 years younger, than I was in 2011. And I spoke with a funny accent, just like in 2011.

One thing was reoccurring. When I got talking with folks around a fire and a meal and barriers started lifting, it seemed we all talked about the same things we talk about in 2011. The rotten government. Greedy landlords. Mean spirited people who are wealthy and in power. Once in a while I would draw parallels from the future and talk about it like that. I remember one young lady, who made wine with her family. We were deep in the south of Apulia and talking about Napoleon. I likened him to an Italian leader in 2011 in terms of his lust for power and anything in his grip. She looked at me with a baffled look. I thought I had frightened her. But no, she told me, “I don’t know what you talk about at times, and it perplexes me, your parables from the future, but it seems like you talk that way to draw upon the moral of the story rather than a particular incident. Still, I am bewildered by your future, and you too.”

It was good to know I affected folks in 1811 similar to the ones in 2011, eh Chiara? Some things never change.

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