Sunday, July 09, 2023

Reinventing Italy

The Italy that Americans forget

Lately I’ve taken to reading excerpts from people’s trips to Italy. Wine country, the cities, the fashionable resorts, the restaurants, the countryside. And one thing has stood out from some of those missives. It is the unique position we all have, the singular perspective of Italy from our own point of view, and how it affects how we see and interpret Italy to others. This is no simple thing, for there are as many Italy’s as there are people experiencing it. But what makes some of those dispatches noteworthy are the way they not only envelop the teller of tales and their particular cosmogony, but how it brings others into their whirlpool in a way in which the Italy they have created is fully believable and not just a hopeful fabrication that they’ve hoisted once again upon the rest of us.

In other words, that they have given to us an Italy we can share in and not just revel at their prowess in getting there and throwing everything into the kitchen sink of detail in order to regale and influence us, to magnify their place in the pantheon of Italianita, and make it seem they are more important than the story they are trying to tell. This is no easy thing, for it requires self-confidence, for sure. But it also requires stopping the world and letting their intimacy with place take over and be the over-riding influence over one’s perceptions. So much for being invisible, to an extent, yes, but also being open to the cuckoo call in the glen, the gurgle of the stream below the window of one’s hotel, the absolute quiet of the moment, which is always there behind the incessant rattling of the monkey-brain.

From Randazzo to Cartizze, it’s so easy to project one’s own experiences (and cultural leanings) onto the landscape, in an effort to explain to oneself (and anyone else listening) what it is one might be seeing and experiencing. But how much of that is carry-on baggage, brought on board to shore up one’s own prejudices? I say this not in an accusatory manner, but as a way to ask the reader (and those on their own journeys of self-exploration) to really peer deep into the essence of experience. Is it reflection? Or is it immersion?

Too often, we are reflecting the landscapes and our own cultural predispositions rather than going through an acculturation from the place we are set into. Some might say, “Why not lay over our own unique set of experiences and folkways? After all, many people have been made to see it only one way, and often it is that from the perspective of a white-western male!” To that, I’d concur, without a doubt. I also see that what it is many of us are objecting to, those viewpoints, to the point of causing a mini-cultural revolution to change those worn-out practices, can run the risk of eventually supplanting one set of biases with another one. What I am saying, is that we still need to delve deeper past ourselves and search for the essence of the place, as it is, before man or woman or animal or culture or politics or money or influence. Think geologic time, not just the moment. Tapping into that energy, one might reinvent a whole other Italy, world even! That would be revolutionary - the Italy that Americans forget!

Actually, it would be less like reinventing (or remembering) Italy and closer to discovering it. Imagine what that world might be like? Not white, not Black, not natural, not coerced. Not anything, but anything. Or everything. Or some other thing. Just not what one might think it is.

This, to me, is the promise of Italy, or anywhere for that matter. But in this case, Italy, it can be so much more than what our own little world-view will make of it.

I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been doing an Italian wine event and people will come up to me, wanting to talk about their trip to Italy. Or asking where they should go, what they should see. I listen to their stories about their trip to the Amalfi Coast, or Tuscany, or Venice, or Rome. And then when they ask me for recommendations, I usually have one or two. But even when I get recommendations from friends, sometimes events outside of our control dictate where we will eat, not our friends. As much as I would have liked to eat at trattoria X or visit church Z, sometimes its just not in the cards. But what does show up is often as good. I mean, the recollections I have seem to be alright.

But I think what I am getting at is (for anyone who cares to take this advice) to not let your personal slant skew too much in favor of your cultural predisposition. For instance, if I go to Alaska and view it through the lens of an Italophile, something will be lost from that perspective, rather than keeping an open mind (and heart) to whatever will cross my path. I don’t know the indigenous culture of the Aleuts or the Inupiats, for instance, and it would be a mistake to assume I would. Likewise, the original cultures of say, for instance, the Colli Euganei, is probably something not a lot of people are familiar with, let alone consciously aware of. But they were there before us, and for a very long time they rose with the sun in those hills, and made a life. A life having little or nothing to do with nearby Verona or Venice or Padova or Valdobbiadene, perhaps? Yet, we rush to make comparisons and similarities and homogenizations over a long-gone people.

I reckon what I am saying is this: No matter how popular it is to be politically correct these days with regards to matters of race and culture, none of us can 100% crawl out of our societal skin and see what is in front of us with an absolute indifferent ethnological clarity. And while all of our opinions matter, the essence of place still commands the default position.

Arriving at a place where one can understand that is a lifelong exploration.

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