Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Folly of Immortality

The personal Palio this week was unusually punishing, as if to remind us that one doesn’t just get older. There are forces out there that even though they seem to be random, aim to hurt and to mangle. Those in my world have been shaken, but not taken out. Not this time. But then, it’s only a matter of time.

I was talking to a young winemaker in Italy last month when the conversation headed philosophical. “We Italians are trying to do something with our wines that nobody else has tried. We are reimagining our history; recasting our future.” He was so young, and so serious. And so ardent. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that when he went to bed that night and woke up the next morning it would be 30 years later. He wouldn’t have understood, or even cared. The purpose of being young is to be in a constant state of youth. After all, what does a young person have their whole life except their youth? Let them enjoy it; time will chip away at it sooner than they think.

Back in Siena, as I walked around the Piazza del Campo and made the circuit a time or two, clicking off the minutes before I had to meet some friends, I thought of the blood, sweat and tears that infused this place in July and August . Some folly, but what a great drama nonetheless. Due palio così.

Running around in circles, no rules, anything goes. The heat of summer, the medieval costumes. The grilled meats, the wine, once thought to be cast from the blood of the gods. Now we know it ain't necessarily so. The surrounding hills until 50 or so years ago, the site where sharecroppers lived their lives. Not overly elegant or romantic. But who remembers that now? Now the generations have changed over a time or two and there is the ongoing “malessere” for the past four years or so that Italy hasn’t seemed to be able to shake off.

Going deeper into the Tuscan countryside, toward Montepulciano, there wasn’t so much of that urban discomfort. No, there were matters of the farm. The vines needed to be pruned, plots needed to be replanted. Spring was in the air. There was no time for malaise, not enough hours in the day for such vanities.

I’ve been to Montepulciano a handful of times in those last four years, maybe even more that I have been to Montalcino. I feel comfortable there, as is there aren’t the expectations and the hopes for such quick fame and fortune. Folly held at bay.

Montepulciano isn’t the first son or even the more handsome one. But in its quiet way, there is a depth and a draw. Just like the time I tried the 1970 Nobile di Montepulciano some 30 years ago. Or what seemed like yesterday in time.

They rest, they wait, they alter, all the while the humans chase after the fire, hoping to win the race against time. But it’s a big circle, and a pitiless one at that.

So what is one to do? Are you close to a cellar? Is there wine and an empty glass or two nearby? If so, grab a bottle and those glasses. Forget about the conquests of Monday. Dismiss your plans of grandeur, to be the preeminent expert or to corner the market. Or to even think you are anything more than the grain of sand we all are on this infinite beach along the universe. For a short moment, let it all go. Open that bottle, pour it, share it and let the horses and their riders whisk on by, taking time with it.

Besides, who wants to live forever?

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