Sunday, November 24, 2013

Hyperindividualism in Italy and the Obstruction of the Collective Well-Being

It seems everywhere we turn, someone is shoving it in our face. Maybe it is part of the price we pay for this hyper-connectivity. Perhaps some needy souls are just not ready to share the stage with their brothers. However it plays out in our time, for now, the world of the hyper-individual seems to be controlling the remote.

In Italy we see it with the last vestiges of the reign of Berlusconi, a man so narcissistic that he would rather have the government founder than to exit gracefully and let sounder minds attend to the affairs of state. The curtain is falling on him, but there are plenty of other like-minded sociopaths for whom the final act is still many pages away.

In the United States, we see it in the gridlock and the petty squabbling of our Washington politicians. People, professing to be God-fearing Christians, who would rather their lesser kin wobble in their wake, relegated to the emergency room of life, rather than taking the road their Prophet preached. Everywhere we look, especially in this Holiday season, is there anyone telling us to back off, to curtail our consumerism, to give something up? It rather seems like the opposite. Everyone wants their own way. But when folks don’t agree, how is this to be?

Years ago, I started to read about the decline of civility in our times. And during the past 20 years, I have witnessed an acceleration of this. Yes, there are still good people around. But they are either not as visible or vocal, or have they been silenced by other forces?

Tradition. Family. God. You hear it all the time, from all kinds of people. But ask those same people to give (or give up) something that they find too dear, and will there be a quick retreat back to the safety of their home, their channel, their God? God isn’t dead. Dialogue is. And even among families, dissension has never been more widespread.

In Italy the youth are growing ever more cut off from cultural circulation. They recoil into their smart phone, their laptop or their drug of choice. Has Italy created a generation of mammones, unable to cut the cord in a country that has given them just enough rope to be useless? Even in the wine industry, where if you are lucky enough to be born in a family with some land and a working winery, if you aren’t up to speed with the fashions and tastes of the clients the winery serves, you could risk losing everything.

The temptation to trim, maybe buy some grapes from outside the appellation, is still strong. Witness the recent revelation in the Veneto which is unfolding in real time. How does one get to be a Dal Forno or a Quintarelli? Two ways: work hard and do your best or formulate a wine to collect high scores, accolades and prices. The easy way is always the quickest way, but always through a chasm.

In Tuscany, one of the bright lights of Brunello, Biondi-Santi, what is happening to this place now that the patriarch is gone? Who tends the flame at Tenuta Il Greppo during these cold days in Tuscany?

In Piedmont, Bruno Giacosa may have just finished his last harvest. Who is standing by to fan the flames that made those wines so full of life and hope? Or will we just read someday, after he passes on, that the estate was sold to a wealthy oligarch?

What of our humble families that still believe in family, in tradition and in a God that guides them to do the right thing for the collective well-being? I know they exist, I have met them, walked with them in the vineyards, sat at their table and ate and drank with them and listened to their stories.

Italy and America, this is a crucial time for all of us. There are those who want it all for themselves. And then there are the rest of us, who just want us all to get along. But we all need oxygen for our fires, and even more essential, the dignity for a simple life lived in a world of people connected by the invisible thread of promise.

written and photographed by Alfonso Cevola limited rights reserved On the Wine Trail in Italy
B&W images courtesy of RAI3 
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