Monday, April 08, 2019

How tall is your mountain? How important are you? How do you rank?

Life, after years of work and a "career," is an unknown until you get there. Just like life after school, or life after an eventful course of certification. For many of us, we just don’t know what lies ahead in our future heres and nows. What I do know, here and now, is that mountain climb we call a career is just that, “a” mountain climb. Not all mountains. Just one. Maybe a tall one, maybe not the tallest. And not the only mountain on earth.

When I first went to Italy, I had this idealistic notion that all the people in Italy were kind, generous, loving people. How could it not be? Here I was in the land of my ancestors, walking the streets and alleys of Rome, everything so bestowed towards my Utopian vision of Italy and Italians. With a war waging in Vietnam, and a low lottery number (90) and being all of 20, I wanted a world in which there was peace and happiness. And time.

And there I was, one day, walking in the hills above Rome on the Viale del Museo Borghese, when I saw a car screech to a halt, a man get out of the car, pull a woman out and start beating on her. She screamed bloody murder and I’d like to say people came out in droves to rescue her. But no one did. It all happened so fast. Like he was getting out of the car to pee. He threw her back into the car, tires squealing, and tore off. It took maybe 15 seconds.

I was petrified. I remember my parents having arguments almost like that, and as a young child, I would eventually run out of the house and head into the desert, far away from their yelling and anger.

But this was Italy, my precious vision of peace and harmony shattered, just like that. So, it wasn’t Utopia?

Years later I went to my first Vinitaly, the 17th (we are now in the 53rd year). I was full-on with a career in the wine business. Again, I was exhilarated with the notion that everyone who was anyone in the world of Italian wine was here. And so was I. I was part of this great thing, which in my head I had built up, as most of us do, with the full force of the illusions we splay about with our careers, over how important we are, the job is, it all is. And in the presence of Piero Antinori and Angelo Gaja, and Luigi Veronelli and, and, and.

Twenty or so years after that, I was dug in on base camp of that mountain. I had made it so far, but I had to take the summit. And I spent hour after hour chasing the sun and the moon. My identity was all tied up in being the Italian wine guy. And the company I worked for was powerful and bought a lot of Italian wine. I calculated that for every case of Italian wine that came into America, the company I worked for (and the category which I was accountable for growing and looking after) imported and sold one bottle in every of those cases, about 8%. It would eventually grow to somewhere around 12-15%. This was a very tall mountain.

Along the way, I spent three years caring for my wife who had a debilitating disease of the central nervous system, multiple sclerosis. It killed her. And it threw me into a valley. And the only way out of that valley was through a tiny little tunnel, which I had to crawl through on my hands and feet. Slowly, slowly, one day at a time. For years. The tall mountain was of little concern to me at that time.

As I wrote here in 2011, “There is luck, good and bad, but there is resilience. Resilience is good luck combined with a spirit to overcome the disappointments life hands you.” Yeah, I had some bad breaks, not as bad as my wife, for sure. But I was going to climb that mountain, if it was the last thing I did.

And I did. And along with it, success, recognition, accolades, awards, even a trophy.

But once I got there, I decided not to climb down the mountain. I jumped off of it. The words of Richard Alpert (now Ram Dass) emblazoned upon my windscreen as I fell to earth, "I was no longer needing to be special because I was no longer so caught in my puny separateness that had to keep proving I was something. I was part of the universe, like a tree is, or like grass is, or like water is." Ever the idealist, always searching for Utopia, be it an outer manifestation or an inner aspiration.

I’m really happy that the wine community in Italy is making wine better than they ever have. And I’m pleased that the world is responding, by obtaining, enjoying and promoting their vinous joy in ways that the rest of us can see and feel and hear, 24/7. It’s like watching millions of people climbing their very own mountain, all at the same time. It’s a moment in time which I’m sure the likes of Gaja and Antinori, and Veronelli, if he were still alive, revel in. It’s a victory. It’s a cause for celebration. It only took a couple of millennia. And the sweat and blood and dreams of scores of farmers, winemakers, and all the friends and families that supported that surge to their personal mountaintops.

If one could look at Italy from space and see the emotion of time as manifested in the hard work that all these souls have put into making Italian wine great, it would probably be ten times taller than Mt. Everest. I have no doubt. And we are all here to witness this great success.

As far those of us who fell to earth? Well, it’s not so bad. I mean, look at all the wonderful wine we have to enjoy now? And if one is healthy, there is that great gift. If one misses a seminar here or there, a tasting here or there, or a not-to-be-missed event here or there, so be it. It’s somewhere on someone’s journey to their mountain top. I’ve been there, had those longings, those unstoppable goals that I thought were so very important at the time.

But I’m on another journey now, to another mountain. I’m not sure if there is a mountain top or even if there is, if I’ll get there. I’m fine with that, for when I fell to earth, something inside of me broke open. It was like being born again, except I didn’t have to learn how to walk or talk. The child inside me, and the childhood I left behind as an adult, broke open. And along with it, creativity, and fun and time, or what is left of that time. I’m really excited, I have to tell you all. I never imagined all the things I thought were so important could be supplanted with a deeper sense of direction, a journey that will take me to God knows where. What I do know is this: I don’t have that insatiable drive for success, for recognition, for some kind of elite ranking in the world of wine. Or even another mountain top. The folks at base camp can have at it now. I’m good, right where I am.

wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W
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