Sunday, April 28, 2013

Italia, Quo Vadis?

Post #1,000
This past trip to Italy, I had the chance to wander the streets of Milan with a camera. I’d been hitting it hard at Vinitaly and on the wine trail, but the country seeps with emotion. Ever since my first trip to Italy, I have looked at it through the eyes of a photo-journalist. And this time what did I see?

Something I saw, in Trento as well as in Milan, and also in the countryside, was a growing anger among the youth of Italy. I’ve seen it for some time in America, but Italy was always a little more restrained, more measured in that all-out, let’s-take-it-down kind of nihilistic attitude. With 38% unemployment among the youth of Italy, that restraint could be coming to an end.

Along with that though, I witnessed other youth in Italy, musicians, playing with a nostalgia for things from the 1960’s. I heard a three piece band cranking out tunes from the Grateful Dead and other SF Bands at an exposition and it literally took me back to the Cow Palace in 1969.

Yin and yang? Desperate youth with angry eyes and saggy pants vs. scraggly musicians rocking to the music of their parents or even their grandparents? A paradox at the very least.

In my heart, I’m a dedicated counter-culturalist. I understand the angst of youth. And in many cases, I stand with them. Then again, as a single-dad in the late 1970’s-early 1980’s era I had to make some serious sacrifices and fit a lot of things into a little amount of time. So while I had the heart of a rebel, I had to put a lot of my desires on the back plate for another time. Yes, I did it willingly.

Italy is like a huge pot of riso Adriatico, that simmers, generation after generation, with “everything from the sea, chopped very finely and then slow steeped until it gets a little ‘dank.’” As I walk on the streets of Italy, ever with my camera by my side, looking, feeling, listening, hunting emotions and harvesting images, the people and the land are generous in what they give up to even the most casual observer. Am I worried about Italy? What would it matter if I were? Italy will continue on without me and all of us, for many millennia. It might not be recognizable to us in 2013. But to an Italian like my grandfather, 2013 in Italy would be barely recognizable, save for the monuments.

Back to the youth, for a moment. I was talking to a winery owner. Not a wealthy industrialist turned gentrified winemaker. One whose family worked the soil, first as sharecroppers, then when the conditions changed, eking out a living as farmers first, winemakers second. This person, who was in her 20’s said this: “we have a few things that need to be done at the farm. But we cannot get young people from Italy to apply for the jobs. The pay isn’t high, about €1200 a month with benefits. But my peers do not want to do this work for this little money. They want to make more. And so they stay at home and live with their parents. They say it’s not worth their time to work for such low pay. So we have to find people from Albania, Hungary, Ethiopia, who don’t have a family structure to hold them until they find their high paying dream job.

Wow. Did I just hear that? It reminded me when I got out of college with a degree and there was a full blown recession brewing. I took the oddest jobs, cleaned toilets, took minimum wage jobs. Bought a used Corvair for $50. It sucked. But it didn’t suck forever.

My sense is the youth of Italy think they have it good at home. Momma cooks, cleans, loans the car and the young adults at their parents’ home dream of the day it will all be theirs. In the meantime, migrant workers are coming to Italy and working their way up the ladder, economically and eventually socially. This has been Italy since the days of the Roman Empire. Italy might not be recognizable to us in 2113. But it will still be Italy. Italy as a concept that different cultures move through, as has been happening for millennia.

Fear of loss – that will be the great motivator. If the indigenous Italians don’t go for the golden ring, the naturalized Ethiopian or Cypriot will take their place. And Italy will change again.

I say that as an American whose Italian blood carries the genes of the Moors, the Normans, the Greeks, the Albanians, the Phoenicians and who knows what else? We’re individual gene pools in flux – why should countries be any different? The race is to the swift – the strongest will survive – that’s nature.

Am I worried about where Italy is going? Not as much as if I were living there. The momentum of Italy has slowed – in America we’re still trying to prove our dominance to the rest of the world, as full of folly as that exercise might be seen in 200 years. But there is huge energy here in the US. In Italy, it seems the sun has passed the zenith – folks are sitting it out waiting for the sunset.

Of course, when in Italy a different culture takes the reigns of dominance, they will bring changes. The Russian who makes Cabernet in Tuscany, or the Italian who plants Tempranillo in Tuscany, which is the way? Italia, quo vadis?

written and photographed by Alfonso Cevola limited rights reserved On the Wine Trail in Italy
wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W
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