The Spinetta Affair (and the Virtuous Burglar)

Who dunnit? Neither Franco Ziliani nor I could have done it because on the night of Tuesday, February 12, Franco was at home with his family typing away at his computer and rubbing sleep from his eyes in Bergamo and I was eating a porterhouse at Keens in midtown Manhattan.

Who were the daring thieves who, according to La Stampa, arrived at the winery in a van that night, entered the cellar through an unlocked window, opened and tasted a few bottles, and then carried away more than 1,000 lots of La Spinetta’s “top-Wine Spectator-rated” wines? (Click the image above, left, to read the account in Italian, published February 14.)

Could it have been the mysterious underground organization The Committee for the Liberation of Barolo and Barbaresco from Modernist Hegemony?

Joking aside, the thieves knew what they were doing because they took only top-rated bottles: “evidently they had read the [wine] guides in which Spinetta has been one of the most highly rated wineries for the last three years.” It’s remarkable to think that the thieves, who somehow carted away more than 1,000 bottles of wine, took the time to uncork a few bottles and sample their booty.

Reading the account (sent to me by Franco), I couldn’t help but think of the classic play by Italian anarchist and Nobel laureate Dario Fo (left): “Non tutti i ladri vengono per nuocere,” literally, “not all thieves come to do harm” (the title has also been translated as “The Virtuous Burglar” and “Some Burglars Have Good Intentions”).*

Here’s the opening of the play:

A half-dark stage. Sound of breaking glass. Enter burglar. His flashlight shows a living room filled with expensive things. Phone rings. Pause. Rings again. Burglar picks up phone. Very long pause. Burglar, into phone: “How many times have I told you not to call me at work?**

The caller is the burglar’s wife.

The play — a farce — is a about a thief who spends an evening in the home of bourgeois family. As he leafs through their belongings, the man of the house comes home with his mistress. The thief hides but when he can no longer conceal himself, the couple contemplate how they can dispose of him so that he will not reveal their secret. Then, the lady of the house appears and her husband asks the burglar to pretend to be the husband of his lover. Then the burglar’s wife appears and then… well, you’ll just have to read the play yourself.*** In this satire of bourgeois hypocrisy, it turns out that the thief is the virtuous one.

By virtue of their theft, the Spinetta burglars didn’t do anyone any good and I sincerely hope the Rivetti family gets their wine back. So be on the look out for:

160 6-packs Barolo Campè 2003
20 6-packs Barbaresco Valeirano 2004
360 6-packs Barbaresco Gallina 2003
600 bottles Barbaresco 1999, 2000, and 2001****

That is to say, look out for those wines if you like the same wines as the editors of The Wine Spectator.


* First printed in 1962 but first performed in the late 1950s.

** For brevity’s sake, I’m borrowing Ben Sonnenberg’s paraphrased version from his 1993 Nobel recommendation of Fo (The Washington Post, December 5). “The main reason I choose Fo,” wrote Sonnenberg, “is because he writes satirical plays that people applaud and governments fear.”

*** For an English translation, See “The Virtuous Burglar,” translated by Joe Farrell, in Dario Fo. Plays: One, Portsmouth (NH), Methuen, 1992, pp. 313-49. I also found this flawed translation online.

*** As reported by the Rivetti family.

Interesting, miscellaneous facts about Dario Fo:

– He won the Nobel Prize in 1997.

– In 1980, the U.S. State Dept. refused him (and his wife Franca Rame) entry to the country. He was supposed to attend the Festival of Italian Theater in New York. Arthur Miller, Norman Mailer, and Martin Scorsese — among others — attended a rally to protest the U.S. denial of his visa.

– As is the case with “Non tutti i ladri vengono per noucere,” most of Dario Fo’s titles have a proverbial or aphoristic sound to them. My favorite Fo title is “La marijuana della mamma è sempre la più bella.” I’ll let you translate that yourself.

9 thoughts on “The Spinetta Affair (and the Virtuous Burglar)

  1. Jeremy:
    I really enjoy your site but I struggle with my Italian. thanks for the occasional translation. What a curious robbery. Perhaps if the first bottles had been corked the theft would have been much less.

  2. Dave, thanks for the comment (I think you’re getting the joke!). It’s unbelievable that the thieves took the time to taste the wine in the first place. Makes you wonder what was really going on there… as they say in Italian, ma!

  3. They must have had extremely sophisticated palates. Any run-of-the-mill thief would have opened the bottles and declared them Californian-crap masquerading as Italian wines and then moved on after evaluating the sweet, oaky red juice as something not fit for sale. Unmarketable… But the thieves knew just how marketable this precious juice was.

    My guess is James Suckling. He must be having a hard time financing those cashmere turtlenecks and leather driving shoes…

    The Committee for the Liberation of Barolo and Barbaresco from Modernist Hegemony photo is now my new desktop background.

  4. Am reading “Non tutti i ladri vengono per nuocere” for my Italian class. It’s a real ‘page-turner’ and funny. Highly recommended.

  5. I must admit (ashamedly) that I never read in italian, apart from emails, requests for samples and visists and samples, and occasionally the local newspaper…

    I have heard of and seen Fo on Italian TV, and knew he was a Nobel Laureate, but wasn’t familiar with his work. NOW I have a real desire to check it out, and maybe even give it a shot in Italian.

    Thanks J!

    • Wayne and Ed, the one time I got to see Dario Fo with Franca Rame on stage in Rome (when I was student in Italy, so many years ago), it was one of the most hilarious and thrilling evenings at the theater I have ever experienced (and I am, after all, a song and dance man). His name came up recently in the discourse about Euro-centrism in the history of the Nobel: because of his thorny relationship with the U.S. government, his award has been viewed as polemical in some circles (on this side of the Atlantic). Having said that, I love his plays also because they are accessible and fun. If you can find it, be sure to check out “La marijuana della mamma è sempre la più bella.” It’s hilarious. Thanks for checking out my Spinetta affair post. I’ll never forget meeting Giorgio Rivetti at a party last year and texting Franco for advice on what to tell him: I can’t reprint Franco’s repsonse! ;-)

  6. Pingback: Angelo Gaja, please call me! « Do Bianchi

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