Bartolo Mascarello’s famous label, “No Barrique, No Berlusconi,” a now iconic image that empowered wine as an ideological expression. Photo via Spume.
The great 20th-century novelist, poet, essayist, and politician Leonardo Sciascia employed Sicily as synecdoche for Italy in his novels Il giorno della civetta (The Day of the Owl, 1961) and A ciascuno il suo (To Each His Own, 1966). The works were parables of what he would later call the “Sicilianization” of Italy: a phenomenon whereby the Sicilian model of bureaucratic and political bankruptcy and clannish self-interest had contaminated the entire Italic peninsula as the nation first tasted the sweetness of prosperity thanks to the “economic miracle” of that decade.
Today, as I joyously read the news that Berlusconi has pledged to resign, I am reminded of Sciascia’s parables. In many ways, Berlusconi’s 17-year tenure as Italy’s leading politician is a parable of the Italian nation’s overarching abandonment of the social ideals that emerged in the period immediately after the second world war, when social and economic equality, dignity, and liberty were paramount in the hearts and minds of Italians who had suffered through the tragedy of fascist and Nazi domination. The memory of those wounds was still vibrant in 1994 when Berlusconi first took power. Today, the generation that embraced the humanist ideals of Italian post-war communism has greyed. And the greed and moral bankruptcy embodied by Berlusconi will remain as the legacy that has reshaped Italy and swept away the renaissance of Italian greatness — in design, technology, fashion, cuisine, etc. — of the decade that preceded his reign.
His tenure corresponds neatly to the tragic Californianization of the Italian wine industry that took shape in the 1990s when scores of Italian producers abandoned the values of the generation that had made wine before them.
Berlusconi may be on his way out. But, sadly, barriques are here to stay.
In the face of the European debt crisis and the social and economic turmoil that has gripped Italy (my first love) and Greece (my new love) — “Crisis in Italy Deepens, as Bond Yields Hit Record Highs,” New York Times — it’s been difficult to write about wine here on the blog.
Tonight Tracie P and I will raise a glass of traditionally vinified Nebbiolo to Italy’s future… and tomorrow I’ll pick it up again…
This is the second time in as many days that I’ve heard oblique references to Southern Italy as the culprit in this mess. Here we go, again…
A very poetic post but alas before 1994 it wasn’t all liberal and pure. If you remember Craxi, Andreotti, and Fanfani and the DC who ran Italy for 50 years, they weren’t all animated by love of country. Additionally, lets not forget that many Italians suffered at the hands of other Italians who were fascists and nazis. One reason that Berlusconi was able to take power is that people were tired of those that ran the First Republic for 50 years. Have your forgotten ‘Mani Puliti’?
Just like some of those many wines in a different style perhaps were initially pleasing to those that wanted a change, they like Berlusconi have led to an unappealing excess but let’s be historically correct, as I know you to be in your exacting writing.
Bellissimo titolo.Degno del grande Bartolo:-)
Thanks for the photo props!
Yup. The shit is going to hit the fan big time re: the Euro. But the bright side is that it might make some of these wines more affordable.
A good post. As a foreigner in Italy it saddens me to see the country in such a mess now. So what are true, hard working Italians
at home and abroad thinking and feeling…?
It may now be time for a mass clearout of bad things that have helped to create such a massive debt to GDP, high youth unemployment and negative or little growth for the last ten years or so.
The fraud, corruption, and money wasted by people at all levels of society and wealth must be reduced as much as possible.
Also, the negativity towards foreigners and foreign businesses wanting to invest in Italy has to change. The bureaucracy overseas companies face is unbelievable – look at the experiences of Ikea for example.
The reforms required (some requested by the European Union) should include the relaxation of shop opening hours and changes to the workers’ associations. These groups limit people starting new businesses and this negativity of preventing competition is keeping people unemployed.
These associations for working class people and small businesses (example hairdressers and taxi drivers) are also keeping prices high.
The EU and IMF are now watching Italy’s government (which is undecided at time of writing) and want to see reforms in place and fast action. It may be necessary that outsiders are put in government to enforce this.
It will take many years to get through this crisis, even with the reforms. If politicians and others use bureaucracy and other ways to prevent the reforms during this time then I feel there is no hope.
Thanks, everyone, for the thoughtful comments and insights here. The one thing that brings us all together is our passion for Italy and the great things it can produce… It’s a tough time for Italy and the Italians right now and our hearts go out to our friends and the many Italian winemakers whose wines we love…
@Alfonso by no means do I believe that Southern Italy is to blame for the current crisis! It’s actually the opposite: Northern Italy’s overly ambitious development is what has created the crisis in my view. It’s the industrial north and the greed of its oligarchy that are to blame… Sciascia’s notion of Sicilianization is not a racist one… it has more to do with the homologation of Italy during the years of post-war development…
@Alfonso and Susannah my observations are more metaphorical than based in historic fact. And yes, the corruption of the socialist party in the 1990s was widespread… What I’m talking about is the abandonment of communist ideals, embraced by many in the period immediately following the war… now forgotten… Berlusconi is a synecdoche of that phenomenon… Sciascia was first and foremost a communist… Today, the communist party and its ideals are unimaginable for most Italians… Berlusconi is the final nail in that coffin, as it were…
thanks again for taking time to read and for the thoughtful comments…
thoughts and prayers for Italy…
If Berlusconi can be gotten rid of, barriques can too! And since when have normal hard-working Italians ever cared about the politicians running/robbing the country? We get on with it despite those thieves/liars/clowns/criminals!