Thursday, May 09, 2013

An Italian Giant Passes

Deuteronomy 34:1
Excuse me for this diversion- I’ve been in New York all week for meetings and importer tastings. This seems to be wine week in NYC. I’ve seen everyone; New York has turned into a little wine town of friends and colleagues. But my mind is thousands of miles away, in the desert. Someone who influenced my life, not necessarily in wine, but in life, passed away. And I’ve been thinking about the impact his life and work had on my life and our planet.

Paolo Soleri was born in Torino in 1919. When I first encountered him in the desert of Arizona he was younger than I am now. I was also younger than I am now. The world was new and bright and shiny to me. He was in his bell studio and I was buying one of them. It was a brief encounter, but we had a common friend, a mentor of mine who had worked with Frank Lloyd Wright, as Soleri had. I was interested in architecture, and having grown up in the desert, this seemingly misplaced urban Italian in the desert of Arizona created a compelling counterpoint.

Sometime later I drove out to his project with my young family. Further out in the desert, called Arcosanti, it was a utopian project with ambitious long-range plans for the future. The idea was to build a city organically, along with a new level of society to catch the wave of the next stage of human consciousness. Pretty heady stuff. The French Jesuit paleontologist, Tielhard de Chardin, had published the manual for this human experiment, called The Phenomenon of Man. Arcosanti, as I understood it, was designed to apply a living , moving, dynamic reference to the revolutionary concepts as outlined in the book.

Our mutual friend had prepared me for this in a way. In the classroom, he constantly drilled into his students about the future that was coming. And he nailed it. I’d still be in future shock if it hadn’t been for those years of preparation. What Soleri was doing was physical, concrete steps towards realizing those concepts. I was captivated.

When we went out to the project, it was in the very early days, as the accompanying photographs will illustrate. The energy was high, and the expectations were even higher. I had recently been living in New York and coming back to the West was a relief to me. Horizons, silence, lack of congestion, all the things I grew up with as a child, and Arcosanti was an ideal, an aspiration for the future. I was in Heaven. A very hot Heaven, but Heaven nonetheless.

Tielhard de Chardin, very briefly, posited an evolutionary future where there is a layer of shared consciousness that covers the planet, called the noosphere. I know I am simplifying this almost to the point of insulting the lifetime of work of these men. There are places to go if you want to read more about that. All I will say is the idea struck a chord within me. Carl Jung’s Memories, Dreams, Reflections paved the way. The Phenomenon of Man took it to the next level.

What eventually came out of all this, for me, was to understand what was coming and not to be shocked or put off by it. Today folks wander the streets of New York, banging into other folks, all with their heads in their IPhones, messaging other parts of the organism, this layer that now coats the physical world; I’m a bit disappointed that the evolutionary flow lately is not so elegant. But it is an evolution. And sometimes that can be a little messy. Looking deeper, there are those for whom a smart phone is not necessary. And they walk the streets on New York and the deserts of Arizona. And while we have the modern distractions of the internet age, there is more coming. Paolo Soleri saw that and he dreamed dreams as big as the universe.

How does it relate to the wine trail in Italy? I couldn’t tell you. Once in the 1990’s I was in Campania visiting Mastroberardino and I happened upon Vietri. I noticed a building in the town that struck me in a good way. I was drawn to it. It happened that Soleri had designed it. Life isn’t just about wine. Wine is a part of it, water in the river, not the whole ocean. But the parts, as unrelated as they may seem on the surface, somehow work, wordlessly inside this soul. And because of visionary souls like Soleri, our culture, our civilization, our planet and our universe is a much richer and more colorful place.

Thank you signore Soleri. Buon anima and happy trails.

written (with accompanying vintage photographs) by Alfonso Cevola limited rights reserved On the Wine Trail in Italy
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